Hunter S. Thompson wrote that “arriving half-drunk in a foreign place is hard on the nerves. You have a feeling that something is wrong, that you can’t get a grip.” When I touched down in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, I was fully drunk and there wasn’t simply a feeling that something was wrong. Instead there was the overbearing reality that Israel was currently at war with Hamas. I was wasted and unnerved upon entering Israel, and the latter didn’t change during my stay, even if my blood alcohol level occasionally did.
Before boarding my flight, I heard that Hamas had recently fired rockets towards Ben Gurion, with the presumed intention of downing a plane. Consequently I decided to get drunk off of many miniature bottles of pink champagne from the duty-free shop in Turkey’s Ankara airport. My logic was thus: legend has it that one of the Titanic survivors got very drunk right before the ship sank, which raised his body temperature and allowed him to avoid hypothermia as he floated in the freezing water. I figured that, if I was able to raise my own body temperature, maybe I wouldn’t feel the flames from the burning heap of fuselage I’d be trapped in after my plane got shot down. Okay, so maybe I wasn’t thinking clearly. I’d never been in a warzone, after all.
The plane landed on the tarmac and we took a bus to the airport proper. Speech slurred, I asked an airport cop a question and accidentally burped in his face (I wouldn’t have been surprised if a pink bubble floated out). He pulled me aside and demanded to see my passport. Not a great start, I thought. Fortunately, he let me off, and I wandered in the direction of the main airport lounge. It was around 3am, and I’d elected simply to pass out at Ben Gurion instead of trying to make it to a hostel in the middle of the night. Throughout the airport, I saw cheerful signs pointing in the direction of bomb shelters and, strangely, young people in street clothes – not military uniforms – carrying massive rifles strapped to their shoulders. It was disturbing.
I finally arrived at the main lounge. Being a habitual cheap traveler has taught me to forgo notions of “comfort” and sleep in strange places. This means that, despite my large frame, if forced to I can contort like a goddamn pretzel and sleep in barely-padded metal bench with arm-rest dividers jutting into my back like a CIA stress position. And that’s just what I did in the airport lounge, wringing four hours of REMless pretzel sleep from those benches like a boozehound wringing out a bar rag for a few drops of Jameson. It was not good sleep, and when I awoke – groggy and disoriented – the smiley face balloons held by the couple in front of me loomed like psychotic leering clowns.
I gathered my luggage and my sanity and struggled sleepily to a hostel in Tel Aviv, where I met Paul, a laid-back American studying Arabic across the border in Jordan. He was giving away a few things he didn’t need anymore and I graciously took a universal power adapter. About the size of a softball, the thing had considerable weight. He warned me that it tended to set off the x-ray luggage scanners used at border crossings, and advised taking it out of my bag and putting it through the conveyor belt separately since I’d invariably have to explain what it was. The advice was innocent and kind, but when I followed it three weeks later, I ended up getting fucked so hard that it might have been a shower room scene on Oz.
I passed a week in Tel Aviv doing the usual touristy things: exploring the ancient ports of Yafo, meandering along the Jaffa Flea Market, contracting food poisoning from falafel and leaving a trail of diarrhea through Rabin Square. I spent some time at the famous Tel Aviv beach, where one afternoon I suddenly heard two explosions and quickly looked up to see a puff of black smoke in the blue sky above. Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense grid had intercepted and neutralized an incoming rocket. I personally didn’t know what had just happened until another hostel acquaintance, a suave Italian warzone reporter named Davide, explained it to me. I was flabbergasted that we came so close to coating the yellow sand with red goo, but none of the locals panicked in the least. Holy shit, I thought. These Israelis must be some hard mothers. I’d find out just how hard in two more weeks.
On the beach, Davide and I predictably saw a lot of kids in swim trunks and bikinis. Less predictably, many were also carrying big guns slung over their shoulders, like the civilians I saw in the airport after my drunken touchdown. Turns out they weren’t civilians at all – merely soldiers not currently soldiering. A guy on the beach explained to us the “three lock” principle: as a soldier, unless you were able to secure your weapon behind three distinct layers of locks – the front door to a house, the door of a room, and finally a gun case – you were expected to keep it safe by carrying it with you at all times. I wasn’t sure how widespread this principle was, but there were a lot of gun-toting teens on the beach with us. Guess there must be a lock shortage in Israel. There sure wasn’t a gun shortage; everyone was packing. The place looked like marshal law in Mississippi. Causal gun displays on the sand mingled with exploding rockets overhead and my less-than-sober mindset, and I couldn’t help but think that I was on the verge of my own personal apocalypse, now. Good thing I love the smell of napalm in the morning.
Eventually, a German friend of mine named Lou arrived in the city to join me for a bit of my travels. Lou and I first met a year prior in Thailand, not long after which a scooter crash left me covered in road rash and bedridden for a week. Good guy that he is, Lou stayed for a week longer than he originally planned to see me through recovery. Neither one of us expected it, but he’d soon be sticking with me through another pain-in-the-ass ordeal.
We first traveled from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, with its old walled city and its fantastic architecture. One of the focal points of the city is undoubtedly the Western Wall, part of an ancient structure were an important Jewish temple once stood and the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray. One afternoon, Lou and I learned that there would soon be a ceremony at the Wall so we waited around to see it. It turned out to be a military boot camp graduation, where soldiers were issued a copy of the Torah and a machine gun from heaping piles on the same table. Extended families were there: moms, dads, grampas, grammys, and lil’ baby sisters in strollers. There was lots of hugging and excited jumping as each pimple-faced 18 year old pulled away from their families to wait in line for their brand new killing machine… and gun. When they did, they took one in each hand and jumped in a mosh pit of teenagers hopping up and down and chanting in Hebrew. This ceremony must be a real blast for the twenty-five percent of Israeli citizens who are not Jewish but must serve in the military anyway.
“Jesus Christ,” Lou sighed. “At what point do they start firing wildly into the air?”
After this, Lou and I traveled through the West Bank before crossing into Jordan via Israel’s eastern border. We toured Amman, the capital, and the spectacular ruins of Petra. Next up was Egypt, which shares a border with both Jordan and Israel at the corner of all three countries. We had the option of taking a ferry from Jordan straight to Egypt, or crossing back over into Israel first and then entering Egypt by bus. The latter option turned out to be cheaper so, frugal backpackers that we were, we soon found ourselves at the checkpoint between Jordan and Israel. We made it through the Jordanian side of the crossing with no issue. The fun began at the queue forming just outside of the Israeli part of the crossing.
As we were standing in line, I remembered Paul’s advice about the power adapter. I was ever-aware of Israel’s hypersensitivity to security issues, and I thought that it might speed things up with security if I took out the power adapter before I set my luggage on the conveyor belt to be scanned. As Lou walked ahead with some backpackers we met on the Jordanian side, I was fumbling with my backpack, trying to remove the adapter – which was wedged near the bottom – when I opened the door from the hot, dry desert air to the ice cold security station. I finally retrieved the adapter and held it at my side, slinging the backpack back over my shoulder and dragging a rolling suitcase behind me. I looked up from my backpack and barely had time to register my surroundings when a young female Israeli Defense Forces soldier walked swiftly to me.
“Excuse me, what is that device and why did you just take it out of your bag?” She was short and dark haired, her olive drab uniform pressed crisply into accordion folds. She gave off the vibe of a premium bitch. I never learned her name or rank, but for the sake of this story I’ll call her “CC,” which stands for “Colonel” followed by a descriptive, four-letter word.
“Well,” I replied, “It tends to set of x-ray scanners, so I’d figured I’d take it out before it did.”
“Why didn’t you want you want to set off the machine? Do you have something to hide?”
“Um, no. I just wanted to get through here as efficiently as possible.”
“Why are you in a rush?” It appeared that I could give no answer that did not make me appear more suspicious. The situation was getting very tense, so I tried to calm it down with a charming smile. I explained that I just wanted to get to Egypt so I could catch a bus, and that the adapter was just an adapter. CC stared at me coldly for a full ten seconds.
“Come with me,” she said, walking me out of the line to a corner of the room where she upturned my backpack into a shallow grey bin. This sort of disproportionate reaction would have been more understandable if I made some Meet the Parents-esque misstep, saying “it’s not like I have a bomb.” But nothing so egregious occurred. No, apparently removing a blocky black object from a bag was in itself sufficient for the third degree. In any case, the story would end here on a note of minor cultural misunderstanding if the most insidious object I was carrying was indeed a power adapter which might be mistaken for a bomb if it was dark and you were squinting. But, dear reader, I was carrying something much more dangerous than a bomb that day: I was carrying an… ACADEMIC PAPER!
You see, the reason I flew into Turkey the previous month was to present my own research at the International Peace Research Association conference in Istanbul. My paper addressed the political conflicts between two factions within Palestinian politics, Fatah and Hamas. (Hamas was, of course, the group currently in rocket-y conflict with Israel.) Both factions see themselves as the rightful representative of the Palestinian cause yet shoulder this burden in very different ways. Hamas is, generally speaking, more militant towards Israel and Fatah more diplomatic. My paper proposed a series of peacebuilding workshops between representatives of both groups with the goal of spreading understanding and, in the case of Hamas, reduce the tendency to fire rockets at civilians. The paper was received at the conference about the same as it was received there at the border: with open hostility.
CC was rifling through the contents of my backpack and, at first, I thought that she would pass over the paper entirely; it was stuck within the pages of a Lonely Planet Israel and looked harmless enough. When she picked up the book, I bit my lip and prayed to Jeebus that she’d set it down again without removing the paper. Of course, she did not. Perhaps the title, which included the word “Hamas,” caught her eye. Oh, shit, I thought. Taking the document in hand, she looked over the abstract and skimmed the first few pages and I knew that I had a problem. I looked over at Lou, who had already made it to the far side of the security station and was sitting with the other backpackers on a bench waiting for me to pass through.
“Why do you have documents about Hamas in your backpack?” She asked. I felt flush, as if I had done something wrong. For a second, the dull chatter of tourists and soldiers in the crowded security station became deafening. I explained my research and the conference at which I presented.
“And what do you think about Hamas?” She was clearly running some sort of play straight from the Israeli military handbook, the Hierarchy of Suspicion chapter: “If A, then B” – “If Suspect does Not Deny Right of Palestinian Existence, Subject to Extreme Unpleasantness.”
I chose my words carefully. I wanted to be honest, but I also wanted to not be cavity searched. “Well, obviously they’re a militant organization. And of course I disagree with them resorting to violence.”
“But this paper suggests negotiating with them. How do you explain that?” The fact was that Hamas, however violent, was democratically elected by millions of Palestinians, so no effective peace process could exclude them. I didn’t mention this, instead more tactfully replying that, from what I’ve studied about peacebuilding, an essential part of conflict resolution is finding out what makes each party hostile and addressing those issues before moving on. Wordlessly, she waved one of her hands in the air without breaking eye contact with me. In an instant a huge blonde soldier resembling Dolph Lundgren appeared at her shoulder, eyeing me suspiciously. I’ve watched enough cartoons that I next expected her to snap her fingers and exclaim, “TO THE DUNGEON WITH HIM.” By this point, Lou had stopped idly chatting on the far side of the room and was standing up, peering towards me over the crowd of people still moving slowly through the security screening, trying to see why I was taking so long. He couldn’t see me past Dolph’s troll-heft.
“You propose negotiating with terrorists who kill Israeli women and children?” She spat the last words out like bugs that had flown errantly into her mouth. She looked at me like I was a bug too. But instead of a fly swatter and Raid, she was packing an Uzi and tear gas grenade.
“I think we’ll have to check your bags a bit more carefully. You seem a bit suspicious.” Somehow I knew it would be this way. Her mouth curled into a witch’s sneer. As I felt a sinking in my stomach, I imagined her rising into the air on a broomstick, pumping a green fist while flying in circles and cackling dementedly. But her only green was the military uniform, which on Dolph incidentally strengthened the resemblance to a troll. Halloween was still a month away, but my horror was just beginning.
At this point, Lou came to the threshold of the x-ray machine to speak to me. As he asked what was keeping me, CC cut across him. “Is he with you?” She asked. “He’ll have to be searched as well.” Our backpacker friends at the opposite end of the room shrugged and left for town; they had a bus to catch. Lou and I did too, but it seemed we were destined to miss it. We stood in a silent fury next to CC and Dolph and were joined by a few more nondescript soldiers, none much older than teenagers. They had us sit until the crowd thinned out and, as the last border-crossers exited towards Israel, the soldiers spread our luggage out on one of the two long conveyor belts in the room.
Every single item in the four bags Lou and I carried between us – each sock, each souvenir, each vitamin in my pill bottle, each individual Q-tip in my pack of 200 – had to be swabbed (ironically with another Q-tip) with a chemical to test for explosive residue. The soldiers wanted to see if Lou or I had any connection with bomb-making terrorists, at which point we would presumably be summarily executed. Or beaten to a pulp in the dungeon by Ivan Drago.
Every now and then, CC would ask a question with nefarious implications about something in one of the bags: “What do you carry in this small pouch?” “What are these pills for?” “These pants appear too big for you, are you holding them for someone else?”
“Well, obviously that pouch is where I store pipe bombs, the pills are cyanide capsules (for when The Mission is complete), and – you got me – I’m carrying those pants for Ahmed, they’re part of his IDF uniform for The Infiltration.” …That was how I wanted to reply, but I instead gave straightforward responses in the hopes that cooperation would lead to a speedy release so that Lou and I could be sipping rum on an Egyptian beach by sunset.
But that was looking increasingly unlikely. An hour in, Dolph picked up a pack of cards and his jaw dropped. At a junk store in Amman, Jordan I bought two sets of playing cards picturing members of President Saddam Hussein’s government, which were given to American troops during the 2003 Iraq war to help them identify targets for capture. I was going to keep one deck and give the other to my uncle; he would find the cards amusing. My captors were visibly angered. They were apparently unaware of the cards’ original purpose and at first thought that I held some degree of reverence for Saddam. (Followed by: “Why do you have these cards? For a laugh?! Was the Iraq War funny to you?”) I took small satisfaction from the fact that they had to swab both sides of all 104 cards individually.
After the bags were stripped, it was time for me to strip. CC and Dolph took me in a little adjacent room. With her trademark stone face, she said, “now we have to search your person.” I immediately realized that this would be a little more invasive than a simple pat-down. Whereas many would feel violated at this, I have a preternatural knack for nudity. My superpower is being naked and not giving a fuck (my college roommate learned this the “hard” way each morning). I whipped off my shirt, dropped my pants, and tossed my junk onto a nearby table with a shit-eating grin on my face, keeping eye contact with CC the whole time. (If nudity is my superpower, then shit-eating grins are merely something I’m really really good at; it comes in handy during all of the potentially embarrassing moments I seem to get into.) My balls landed with an audible plop like waves against a breakwall and I was pleased to see that CC became visibly uncomfortable, her first emotion thus far (unless you call “bitch” an emotion). Apparently Jews really don’t like pork. Dolph clapped on a pair of latex gloves and I experienced Israeli Rape Culture firsthand. Of course, I hadn’t stuffed anything up my butt (recently), and the procedure was over relatively quickly.
The luggage inspection ended shortly after this as well. When they were satisfied that we hadn’t smuggled plutonium in our Samsonite lining, CC told us that they were checking our passports against criminal databases and that we could wait either in that room or outside in a little courtyard. Predictably, when asked, she “couldn’t even begin to guess” at how long it would be until we got our passports back. She, Dolph, and the rest of her underlings filed out, leaving Lou and I alone. I took the opportunity to snap some pictures.
For the first hour of our post-search waiting, we had the company of two French-Algerian backpackers, who had by that point been detained there for seven hours. They weren’t even carrying a nefarious academic paper. Their crime was being brown and Muslim and, like us, all they wanted to do was pass through Israel into Egypt and continue sightseeing. Nevertheless, they were detained without an explanation. Finally the two got fed up, demanded their passports back, and returned back to Jordan the way the came.
After their departure, Lou and I were only 3 hours into our own detention and I assumed we’d be released soon. Thus, it was with tongue firmly in cheek that I joked, “they’ll probably keep us until right before the border closes for the night.” As you might imagine, that’s exactly what they did. The border closed at 8pm. Four hours later, at 7:55, CC exited an iron door, ambled up to us slowly, and handed back the passports. We had just enough time to have them stamped at the nearby window – by a clerk whose name tag may or may not have said “F. Kafka” – before we were chucked out into a dark parking lot on the Israeli side.
Take a moment to consider this. We clearly didn’t pose a security threat, or else they would have had us arrested or kicked out the back door into Jordan. At the very least, they wouldn’t have allowed us to pass into Israel. But they had no legal justification to prevent us, so they had to allow us through eventually. Thus, they chose the pettiest option available: detain us until the very last moment that they possibly could. The Israeli government had just given us a blatant “fuck you.” And for what? Having the gall to recklessly display a power adapter, followed by the inexcusable offense of having written a paper seeking to understand The Enemy? Maybe I should have expected such a bellicose response. Having studied Israeli politics, I knew I’d meet a lot of reactionary fossils in the country, but I didn’t realize that they’d all be walking stereotypes of Fear and Loathing.
Indeed, I’ve met a lot of stereotypes in my travels. People worldwide are pretty conforming. But for every hundred human cartoon characters, I usually meet a few who break the mold and defy their culture’s stereotypes. I once dated a Mexican girl who – contrary to her country’s Catholic zeitgeist – was a staunch atheist. I’ve met drug fiend Japanese punk rocker guys and bra-burning dominatrix Bolivian gals. I even once met a sober Irishman! However, there are a few, ultra-rare Mewtwos that have evaded my cultural Poké Ball. For instance, I’ve not met a Russian who doesn’t idolize Putin, resulting in my impression of Russians as fairly disadvantaged in the art of Critical Thinking. I’ve also never met a Jew with anything approaching a balanced, objective opinion of Palestinians.
In Israel, this wasn’t surprising. Plenty of cultures demonize out-groups with far less motivation. The French get a real kick out of dicking with Algerians, an atavistic colonial impulse with no real logic behind it (although it has made the Parisian disco scene more bombastic of late). Meanwhile, Asians love to piss on their countries’ “hill people,” whose only crime is living on mountaintops and having an incrementally darker skin color. On and on it goes; just about every country has a slightly-browner race to pick on. Such racism usually stems from some combination of historical oppression and contemporary competition for limited resources – arbitrary and illogical reasons to despise your countrymen. But in Israel, justifications for discrimination are more broad: politics, history, geography, culture, and religion all come together in a steamy melting pot of anti-Palestinian hate.
The shadow that hangs over the state of Israel is, of course, the Holocaust. The Never Again mentality is the rationale for every Israeli seeking to justify aggressive policies against Arabs. Three quarters or more of my discussions with Israelis on the Palestinian situation started off with their logical arguments against Palestinian statehood due to security reasons, and then devolved into full-tilt racism, in which Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims (rarely was there a distinction) were labeled “savages” besmirching God-given land. (In the other twenty-five percent of conversations, this was merely implied rather than stated outright.) Ironic, given the Nazi classifications of Jews as “subhuman,” that a significant amount of the Israelis I spoke to used that word in justification of state treatment of Palestinians. The most wildly racist allegations I heard about Muslims involved sexual deviances with livestock and lubrication. I can only imagine what CC and Dolph thought when they retrieved a bottle of K-Y from Lou’s luggage.
At least the Israelis are upfront with their racism; they won’t beat around the George W. Bush when talking about how they’d like to prevent the Third Intifada. (The answer usually involves a combination of carpet bombs and piano wire.) Everything boils down to security, security, security. Palestinians stand in the way of Israeli security and therefore must be squashed like irksome, hookah-smoking bugs. It’s a crude, yet straightforward, appraisal. Other Jews in the diaspora are more hypocritical. New York Jews, for example, are notoriously liberal and overwhelmingly vote Democrat. But with a minimum of prodding, one can expose the inconsistencies in their professed commitment to human rights and uncover their own vicious Final Solution to the Palestinian Question. I lived and worked for several years in Manhattan’s heavily Jewish Upper East Side. Here’s a common, unsolicited conversation between me and my Jewish neighbors:
“Boy, that Trump, what a whack-job,” they’d say to me as we stood in line at CVS.
I’d take out my earbuds to reply: “You read what h-”
They’d interrupt, working themselves into a frothing, liberal rage: “The man is almost as bad as Reagan! Now, sonny boy, you’re too young to remember Reagan, but the human rights abuses he authorized in Latin America were horrifying! I doubled my annual donations to Amnesty International and the ACLU when Reagan was in office, just to show the world that human rights are important! And now, Trump is following in Reagan’s footsteps – the things he says about Mexico! I mean, how could a country build a wall that would prevent an entire race from crossing a border just to make a living?”“I agree,” I’d respond diplomatically. “And what Trump says about Muslims is just as bad as what he says about Mexicans.”
The tone of the conversation would then shift a bit: “Muslims?! Now wait a minute! Those goat-fucking turban fetishizers? You can’t even talk with a Muslim; they’re all barbarians who make their women dress in ridiculous, traditional clothes and cover their hair!”“And don’t get me started on Palestinians!”
I’d interject: “I have had conversations with Palestinians. Most are good people, they’re just frustrated by a lack of economic opportunity in the Palestinian Territories.”
My interlocutor would jump back a foot and stare at me like I’d spontaneously grown a thick toothbrush mustache and my right arm was just itching to spring into a rigid, shoulder-level salute. Looking at my basket of groceries with newfound horror, their eyes inevitably widened as they saw the water-soluble personal lubricant and copy of Livestock Monthly. Reaching into their pocket to surreptitiously dial 911 while inching backwards out of the store, they’d mutter in disgust, “Not in this neighborhood! Maybe in Williamsburg, but not the Upper East Side!”
Ah, the memories. But such reminiscing did nothing to resolve my dilemma at the border crossing. Despite our moral high ground, Lou and I were in fact at sea level with limited options. We were in Eilat, an expensive Israeli resort town on the beach that shared a border with both Jordan to the east, where we had come from, and Egypt to the south. Our goal before the detention was to take a public bus to Eilat’s southern border and, after passing through, catch an overnight bus to an Egyptian city much farther south. Now, given the time, the Israel-Egypt border was closed and public transportation wasn’t running. Hell, even cabs were sporadic at this hour. Something tells me that CC had this predicament in mind when she kicked us to the curb.
Hostels in Eilat got no lower than $30 for the night, which would have been an outrageous price for a backpacker even if we weren’t pinching pennies – er, shekels. Thus, the beach was our first choice to sleep. However, it was the weekend and tourists crowded the many bars along the narrow shore. We couldn’t get far enough from the bars to avoid the noise without risking a high tide coming up on the surf and giving us a wet wakeup. In any case, we’d probably be pissed on by a drunken Russian tourist in the middle of the night. Although I had my power adapter to defend myself, we decided that the beach was not a safe option and continued walking along the shore.
We came across a pier, which was far removed from any bar and offered overhead shelter. Sadly, it was already occupied by a grizzled man in a tattered olive drab military jacket eating a can of beans straight from the can. He was a cartoon caricature of a crazy Vietnam vet. Nevertheless, he actually offered to share his space with us. And it was clearly his – all the debris strewn about inspired a lived-in feel; there would have been a cozy vibe if we weren’t surrounded by filth. I was just beat enough to take his offer, but Lou pointed out that he’d probably kill and eat us in the night. Conceding this point, we pressed on.
Finally, we arrived at the edge of a park, with benches facing a main road. We reasoned that sleeping in such a public area was probably the best way to avoid a stabby death for the evening, and laid down with our luggage underneath us.
We were both exhausted and the sleep wasn’t bad. I was personally happy to have added an adventurous night of sleeping in a park in a foreign country to my dubious travel resume. Lou and I had one final reason to wake up overjoyed: we were getting the fuck out of Israel, with all its bad craziness, never to return. We caught a bus and a cab to the border with Egypt and got the hell out of Dodge.
A week on, Lou and I were relaxing in Dahab, an Egyptian diving town on the Red Sea with a tourist population consisting almost entirely of old, rich, fat, pasty Russian businessmen and their prepubescent girlfriends, whose frequent PDA reminded me of small blonde Ahabs grappling with chain-smoking Moby Dicks. One morning I was laying in the hostel’s common area, watching a gaggle of antisocial Japanese pass around a hash joint, when I got an email from my mom in Ohio saying that the FBI were looking for me and requesting that I call her immediately. Had I taken a hit of hash, my head would have exploded immediately with a crazed fear (although the Japanese were so high that they may not have noticed the fleshy mess). As it was, I was sober but still pretty freaked out. I Skyped Mom and she told me the story.
Two guys in suits turned up at her door, identified themselves as FBI agents from the Cleveland field office, and asked if they could come in for a chat. Dumbfounded, Mom agreed. They were kind, soft-spoken, clean cut. They resembled Wally Cleaver.
Mom sat them down at the living room table, where they laid a fat file with my picture stapled to the front. She noted that the picture was the one from my passport. They explained that they had to investigate every American who bought a one-way ticket to Turkey, as that was the preferred method of extremists linking up with ISIS in nearby Syria. (Great, I thought. Now I’m linked to both Hamas and ISIS. It’d be more efficient to actually become a terrorist at this point.) Mom in turn explained my motives: I had flown in for an academic conference and intended to travel the region afterwards; I bought only a one-way ticket because I didn’t know where my tourism would take me. She offered to show them my childhood room in a final attempt to convey that I was not in fact a Muslim extremist, but they politely declined and left as abruptly as they came.
I found it strange that they should be conducting this investigation months after I left for Turkey but only days after my incident at the border. If the intent was to catch a fiery youth blazing a militant trail to a nation of decapitation, then they were procrastinating a bit. I think it’s more likely that, after the border, they were tipped off by Israeli intelligence that I might be a “problem,” and only then did they spring into action.
Out of morbid curiosity, I pulled up my Facebook page. The day after our border detention a week prior, I had gone online and posted a rant about my treatment. Along with the text, I added a picture I took from inside the border station. As I feared, the post was gone, deleted. I meticulously compared dates and timestamps from my posts that day, the day before, and the day after. It was the only post that had been removed. I certainly didn’t remove it; Facebook is a repository for my political rants. The only explanation is that it was removed by someone else. Since the FBI was aware of me, and I was most certainly recently investigated by Israeli intelligence, I can only conclude that the post was deleted by some shadowy security agency objecting to either my political rant, my picture of a sensitive area, or both.
My first reaction was dejection. I had, only months before, completed a $150,000 master’s degree in – ironically – international security. I had probably burned a few bridges with any potential employers in the American security services, making my diploma little more than an expensive piece of toilet paper. However, I decided to turn lemons into lemonade, capitalizing on my newfound criminal infamy to kickstart a career in food criticism.
After all, as Hunter S. Thompson was fond of saying, “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”