Here is a direct quote from the official Israel Travel Warning put out by the United States Department of State. Keep in mind these warnings are very conservative and always air on the side of caution. They can seem scarier than they need to be (Mom).
American citizens are cautioned that a greater danger may exist around restaurants, businesses, and other places associated with U.S. interests and/or located near U.S. official buildings, such as the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem. American citizens are also urged to exercise a high degree of caution and to use common sense when patronizing restaurants, nightclubs, cafes, malls, places of worship, and theaters, especially during peak hours. Large crowds and public gatherings have been targeted by terrorists in the past and should be avoided to the extent practicable. American citizens should take into consideration that public buses, trains, and their respective terminals are “off-limits” to U.S. Government personnel… The State Department urges American citizens to remain vigilant while traveling throughout Jerusalem, especially within the commercial and downtown areas of West Jerusalem and the city center. Spontaneous or planned protests within the Old City are possible, especially after Friday prayers. Some of these protests have led to violent clashes.
Even though they are quite serious, I always find these warnings a bit humorous. I am a tourist here, but I am supposed to avoid “restaurants, cafes, buses, or any large, crowded places.” In other words, anywhere popular or cool – I should not go there. So you may be thinking, “what places does that leave?” I guess I can hang out in the suburbs or just stay holed up in my hotel room watching bad Israeli Television – that would be fun.
Even though Israel and its neighbors are often gracing dailies’ front pages and CNN top of the hour video clips, you would never know it by being here. The sun is shining, people are walking about doing people things. There is security everywhere – especially in Jerusalem. Whenever you enter a big restaurant or bus station or mall your bag is searched and you walk through a metal detector. Plus, since Israel has erected its very controversial and much-discussed ‘security wall’ there has been a major decrease in suicide bombings. In fact with all the security here, sometimes I feel like there could be no safer place. It’s so safe in fact, that I personally was detained by security guards at the house of the Prime Minister for more than one hour.
I was walking around one of Jerusalem’s nicer, more posh neighborhoods where the President’s and Prime Minister’s mansions are located. I was actually following a walking tour in a book a friend had given me. I walked past the guards in front of the PM’s pad and was asked to show my passport. They handed it back and I went on my way.
The tour actually took me past the house and then had me retrace my steps and come back in front of it again. Perhaps this made me look suspicious? Or perhaps it was my shifty gaze or dodgy attire?? Either way, I was questioned by a second guard and then basically a whole gaggle of guards – young, good looking, and barely twenty-years-old – guards. I thought perhaps they were just bored and it would be fun to question the ‘obvious foreign girl’ as she walked by. But after the first hour, I figured they now had to follow a complete protocol all the way through.
They kept my passport, looked through all the pictures I had taken on my digital camera, and asked me a litany of both normal, and slightly strange, questions including some of the following:
- Were you in any Arab countries?
- Is this your first time in Israel?
- How long are you staying in Israel?
- Are you Jewish?
- Where are you staying? What address? Phone number?
- Are you married?
- What is your job?
- Where are you going next?
- Do you have your plane ticket with you?
- Do you like Israel?
- Why don’t you move here?
- Do you know what house this is?
While I stood outside on the sidewalk, they went back and forth with my passport into their little security booth to look things up and check me out. Who knows what fun nuggets they were digging up on me? It seems the biggest problem was they couldn’t reach my friend with whom I was staying. I found out later she had turned off her cell phone to take a nap and had received 9 missed calls from a ‘private number.’ So I think I was there so long… just because they couldn’t reach her to confirm my ‘suspicious’ story.
They chatted with me a little and occasionally a grin would creep across the face of one of the guards, but they all tried very hard to keep straight faces and stay in ‘character.’ I mean of course this was actually serious business. But, you know me, and at first I thought it was kind of funny, but after being held for so long I grew weary and cold as the sun set over Jerusalem and wondered what they were possibly keeping me for, knowing I have absolutely nothing to hide (well, almost nothing). After a cup of tea and a pee break, they handed me my passport, apologized for any inconvenience and with no more information I was on my way.