The Jerusalem Western Wall, a remnant of the Second Temple, is considered to be one of the holiest places in the world. For a long as I could remember I’ve always wanted to visit this religious site. But my journey there was not without perils. Living in the United Arab Emirates and having a working visa from this country made it exceptionally difficult for me to enter. Let me begin from the start from when I arrived into Tel Aviv. My friend Veronica was supposed to fly in to meet me the following day.
I had understood in order for me to enter Israel and re-enter back to the Arab Emirates, I had to be sure the immigration officers would not stamp my passport upon my entry and departure, although secretly I would have loved to admire that stamp on one of my pages. It didn’t seem out of the ordinary with the officers until they saw the UAE working visa, in which he looked and marvelled at it before handling it down the whole line of booths ensuring all the other curious immigration officers had a good stare. I heard laughter, but I wasn’t certain if they were laughing at my photograph on it or the visa itself. After my travel document was paraded down the whole line, it finally arrived back into the same booth in which it first started it’s oddly bizarre journey. I was asked around 10 questions. The usual ones you’ll expect. I answered them with flair. Too much flair I assume, as then I was brought to another area by a vending machine and told to wait, while my passport went into a special office alone. 15 minutes later, I was given the passport and told to give a piece of stamped paper to the security officer on the way out which I abided. The two female officers walked me to my luggage on the conveyor belt and questioned me further. This was where the questions were a little more interesting. ” Why do you choose to live in UAE and not Australia”, ” Do you have any local friends there”, ” Do you live in a building with local people”, I was caught off guard at some of the questions and they proceeded to usher me in a another private room where my luggage was put through scrutiny. They swiped all its contents for traces of “bomb making materials”, including my underwear, and the insoles of my shoes. It was put through another x-ray. This whole process took about two hours in which I was the only traveller there. After further interrogation I was told I could leave. Mentally exhausted, I left the room, which I affectionately call “the room of scrutiny”. I hauled my luggage out unto the arrival halls about 30 meters away. It was at this time I realized my Etisalat phone network had no coverage in Israel.
I went straight to the ATM machines and realised my UAE ATM card and credit card did not work as well. I had not planned for this. Alone in Israel with no money, and with my credit cards unusable, no network coverage to call anyone, I was pretty much screwed. How was I to pay for anything? As I rummaged through my wallet for foreign currency and I barely had time to think what I was to do when I was approached my a burly man dressed as a civilian. He flashed me his ID and asked for me to follow him into another room. At this point I realized I was targeted or profiled for something. He would not hear my explanation of how I already spent 2 hours having my bags and myself scrutinized. He said now he was checking for drugs. At this tiny seedy room which I have also affectionately named ” Get me the fuck outta here room”, he told me to strip. This was NOT the type of strip search I had in mind. As I proceeded with removing my clothing, he pressed me further with more questions. ” Are you smuggling cocaine in your stomach”? At this moment, I just visualized myself banged up abroad alone, like the TV series of the real people I had watched on NAT Geo. Now I would finally get my own episode in which I was the star. Again, not how I envisioned I’d make my international prime time debut. He took a long stick with a cotton ball at the end and swiped the entire circumference around my private parts inside the band of my boxer briefs. After checking almost every inch of my body, I was allowed to put my clothes back on. He whipped out a letter in Hebrew and asked me to sign it. I had watched enough dramas on TV to know that I was not going to sign anything in fear of admitting to things I was not aware of. At this point, I said “I’m not signing anything and I want to speak to the Australian Consulate”. He did a smirk and handed me another form in English. I read the entire letter twice before penning my signature acknowledging that this was just a routine check. Mr serious finally cracked a smile, looked me in the eye and said, “Welcome to Israel.”
An interesting start to my trip, 3 hours of interrogation and a strip search later, I left in a hurry but not before I exchanged whatever currency I had in my wallet to Israeli Shekels for the taxi fare. Frantically I managed to use the free WiFi at Ben Gurion Airport to contact Veronica, my friend who was meeting me the next day, via Whats App, a messenger application on my iPhone. If anything, at least timing was on my side. She was in transit in Amman Jordan waiting to connect to Tel Aviv when she received my texts. Thankfully I thought to myself, as long as she made the flight over, I would be able to eat and pay for the accommodation.
I alighted the taxi on Ben Yehuda 130 at around 2 am at the entrance of the apartment we rented. We had booked this apartment online and both our credit cards wouldn’t go through while booking it. On hindsight, that should have been a clear indication that our Arab credit cards wouldn’t work here. However after an exchange of emails, we managed to negotiate to pay once we are here. I was also given directions on what to do once I arrived since there wouldn’t be any one working when I got there.
I pressed several numbers on the panel to access the building. Once inside I was to go next to the lift and punched in 1115A on the Safe to retrieve the key and my room number. I loved it. I was an international spy assigned on a mission in Israel. What a wet dream!
I took my shady “surprise package”, proceeded to the apartment for a hot shower a but not before noticing that the entire apartment had wooded shutters that covered all the windows and glass doors. I chuckled to myself in the shower, had a good scrub on my poor weary body, rolled over the sunken bed and fell asleep.
Around noon the next day, like a little puppy waiting for his parents to come home, I perched myself on the balcony eagerly awaiting for every taxi that stopped along the street for signs of my friend. I saw a glance of what looked like blond hair and a pink scarf and raced downstairs to meet her. I planted a big fat kiss on her cheek.
“You have no idea how happy I am to see you!”
She laughed hysterically.
” I bet you are”
Everything was back on track and thus began our trip in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
I found these scattered around the lobby calling my name to be photographed.
First stop, checking out Tel Aviv city. Nothing better than a stroll to discover the surroundings.
Out to sample a few local beverages.
Off To Jerusalem we go.
First we took the local transport, the Sherut. Quite comfortable and sits about 10 passengers.
Then we took a bus at the interchange straight to Jerusalem.
We alighted in the pouring rain, and we took another bus to The Western Wailing Wall. Here are some shots at the interchange.
while travelling in the bus….
raincoat for your hat.
And we have finally arrived.
The Western Wailing Wall! The great about travelling in torrential rain is that the tourists and worshippers are scarce. Better for us I say!
The photos here are from the side where only males can enter.
I touched it.
All the Tzetel (hand written notes of wishes and prayers pressed into the crevices)
And to finsh this entry, I’ve saved my favorite shot of myself for the end ( because I am just a tad hedonistic )
New calling as a Sharon Peacekeeper? Har!