Eight Days in Palestine – Day 8
A new feature with excerpts from a Diary by “Ted from Liverpool”.
Day 8 – Dead Sea to Tel Aviv Airport
This is about travel – we 4 men in a Ford Transit bus – the colour of licence plates identify the nationality of the driver, blue for Israeli, yellow or white for Palestinians. This makes all vehicles readily identifiable to the police and army. When we were nearing the Dead Sea, 400 metres below sea level, we were overtaken by an unmarked car, executive class, something like a Vauxhall Omega. This car pulled in, in front of us, and we then proceeded at a more leisurely pace behind the car and a large goods vehicle in front of that. We were late and our driver saw an opportunity to overtake and did so – we could see it was a bit dodgy as the road unaccountably narrowed just then – but he did it. The driver of the unmarked car, which turned out to be an Israeli policeman, overtook us and flagged us down. Our driver got out and having spoken to the policeman was fined 500 shekels.
This apparently is a routine procedure, not performed upon Israelis, perhaps part of the morale sapping routine – and the creation of income. Abed later asked for a whip round for the driver and we having put up 450 shekels suggested that the driver should pay something as he had been over-ambitious. Abed replied that the driver could ill afford even that and that his brother had been killed by the Israelis – so we put up the full amount, the equivalent of about £90 for a bit of dodgy overtaking.
The day was very warm, something like 350, and we much enjoyed our soak in the Dead Sea. Like an idiot Ted plunged into the sea and swallowed some water and got some in his eyes. I had never tasted anything quite so salty and the salt in my eyes was akin to teargas. Beth was kind enough to pour water from her bottle onto my forehead and this washed out the salt. The women had caked themselves in the mud from the sea bottom and they looked gorgeous – when I got the salt out of my eyes.
Back at Friendship House we were told to be ready to leave at 3.30 although the coach driver had wanted to leave for Tel Aviv at 3pm and was very restive, if not angry. It was clear why when we got to the town of Aizaria where the traffic snarl-up was horrendous – the result of a lack of traffic lights or any traffic control was very clear. However, with great skill, our driver who was also an ambulance driver (he also had been in prison) weaved his way through the traffic and across traffic lanes to find a quiet route and we arrived at Ben Gurion airport in good time.
It was fortunate that we were in good time as our passage through immigration was tortuously slow. In the initial queue we were each asked where we had been and where we had stayed and our passports temporarily taken away – our bags were then given a sticker. On arrival at the usual belt-drive through a scanner our bags went through and we followed them to a rectangular area of desks, inside which were an array of x-ray and other machines, with their operatives. Rob, who is tall and lean and 29 years old was told to put his bags on the desks when a lengthy period of taking out all his clothes, cameras and laptop followed. Ted put his bags on the desk but was told, ‘no need’. Apparently our stickers showed a number – in Ted’s case ‘2’ and in Rob’s case ‘6’. A minute search of all of Rob’s belongings ensued, followed by his being taken away for a strip search – down to his underpants – it took 2 hours from entry into the first queue to our sitting down to a coffee inside the airport. The women of our party fared even worse, all 14 of them – their ages ranging from 22 to 65 – were put through the same rigorous procedure as Rob, but in their case taking 2¾ hours; we later found they all had a ‘6’ sticker on their bags.
Why the rigour – in the case of Ted who got away scott-free, it may have been his age of 74 – in the case of Rob, well he was of an age and strength to be a terrorist? But was anyone less likely to be so than our group of women – they did go through as a group who had attended a Women’s Conference on the West Bank and this was perhaps their undoing. We two men had been told to have no connection with the women at the airport and had been careful not to claim to have stayed in the West Bank.
It was good to get on a BMI flight home and return to Heathrow with no fuss or harassment – but what an adventure.