Questions at Tel Aviv (Israel) Airport: There are several things that are important to know before traveling to the Excellence Center regarding entering the country. There are several ways to enter but for this article we have spoken with volunteers who entered the country through Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and we will speak about their experiences. Firstly, to enter the West Bank you must go through Israel, all borders are controlled by Israel. It is Israel who will issue your visa and upon receipt of this you will not need any additional documents to get into the West Bank. It is not illegal to travel to Palestine but Israel is extremely weary of western activists entering the country and engaging in protest. The second issue Israeli immigration is concerned with is people coming into the country and illegally overstaying their visa.
One of the main aspects to consider is whether or not you have booked a return ticket. Not having a return ticket will immediately put a red flag on your name upon entrance at Ben Gurion Airport. Most of our volunteers have return tickets booked before arrival. This is definitely recommended. Only two of our current volunteers arrived in Tel Aviv without return tickets and both were stopped and questioned. Having a return ticket does not mean you will not still get questioned as Israeli security takes many factors into account when stopping people. However, not having one just adds one more possible reason you could be stopped for.
Reason for Your Visit?
The next topic is the issue most likely to affect the degree to which you are given trouble from when entering Israel. Reason for your stay in Israel and where do you plan on visiting? Everyone who comes in is asked this question and Israeli security is not going to be thrilled with your answer. Nonetheless, we at the Excellence Center strongly urge you not to lie to immigration security on this issue, go ahead and tell them you are coming to Hebron to work with us. There are some people who try to lie and claim they are just tourists coming through, this is not wise. Remember, it is not illegal to come to Palestine but if you are caught lying to Israeli security you are going to be in a lot of serious trouble and best case scenario you will be put on a plane back to wherever you came from.
What to Expect
The best way to approach the time between exiting your airplane and leaving customs is with acceptance and patience. It is a definite possibility that upon telling them your destination is Palestine that you will be pulled aside and questioned for a good amount of time.
Engi who is from Australia and participating in our Volunteer and Learn Arabic in Palestine program gives sound and wise advice, “be prepared to be questioned for some time and just be as honest as possible.” Participating in the same volunteer program is Victor from Belgium, he was stopped and held like some, but was not questioned at all, he just had to wait while they did an extensive background check, once it came through he was immediately released.
Ola from USA and is participating in our Intern and Learn Arabic program had the exact opposite experience, after being completely truthful to the immigration officer about coming to Palestine she says, “it was easy, they didn’t ask me any questions and just let me right through.” A fourth volunteer from USA had a similar experience, asked some questions for roughly 10 minutes right in immigration and then promptly let through.
The takeaway from all this is: if possible have a return ticket booked and be honest with Israeli security at Tel Aviv airport. They may ask you the same questions again and again and again, just keep calm and cordial and continue answering with honesty. Finally, we see that our volunteers’ experiences at the border cover a wide range of possible outcomes so it is all very hit and miss. Just be prepared and try not to get rattled if you get questioned. Many people do get pulled aside, there is not some particularly bad thing about you as an individual. Remember, what you are doing is not illegal.