October 03, 2009

I don't know how to say this [in Hebrew], but I'm kind of a big deal [on the internet].

I'm blogging from Terminal Three in Ben Gurion Airport, where I left myself plenty of time to get through all the security checkpoints. The first time I visited Israel, in December 2006 on another research trip, I was extensively interviewed both on arrival and departure. I was strip-searched on the way out, and on the way in I sat in that waiting room they have in front of passport control for a good four hours before someone from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with whom I had a meeting that morning called and intervened on my behalf. An excerpt from one of the security interviews that time around:

Her: Have you ever been to Iraq?

Me: Yes.

Her: What were you doing there?

Me: Overthrowing the government.

[She looks confused.]

Her: Have you even been to Afghanistan or Pakistan?

Me: Yes, to Afghanistan.

Her: Well... what were you doing there?

Me: Overthrowing the government. 

My entire passport, really, might as well read "DO NOT ALLOW INTO ISRAEL. EVER." From this summer's travels alone, I have visas from Morocco, the UAE, Lebanon and Afghanistan. So it was a surprise when I waited only 15 minutes in the waiting room on the way into the country before they came back with a stamped piece of paper and told me to have a nice visit. Neither my friends nor I could figure out how I had passed through security so quickly. On the way out this afternoon, meanwhile, I left plenty of time to make my flight and was, sure enough, stopped by a very pleasant woman who proceded to interview me for a full 30 minutes. She had noticed a tag on my carry-on with my name written in both Roman and Arabic script. I cheerfully told her why I had been in Lebanon, how much I enjoy Beirut and why I learned Arabic. I told her all about the people I had interviewed here in Israel and how I had met them. I told her about my friends in Israel, how I know them, and where I traveled while I stayed in the country. We had a debate about whether or not Baka, where I was staying, was a neighborhood in East or West Jerusalem. I told her about my job in Washington, the kind of research I do, and the origins of my last name. But you could tell it just wasn't adding up for her. Who the hell is this guy? I could see her asking herself. So she took my passport away with her, and I sat on my bags for 10 minutes. When she came back, she had a big smile on her face.

"Did you know you have a Wikipedia page?" she asked.

Ah, that explains it. They Googled me. How this blog -- and its name -- wasn't a giant red flag I will never know, but it's nice to know the security staff here in Israel are masters of the interwebs. They didn't even feel the need, after confirming my internet fame, to run my bag through the scanner.

Such is the collective authority of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, I guess.