The Samovar

Ineffective and paranoid (but I had a nice holiday)

One of the things about the paranoid security measures involved in international travel is how unreasonable and obviously ineffective they are. These new measures only burden the ordinary passenger, they would be pretty ineffective against someone who had malicious intent (as Bruce Schneier keeps going on about). I had my own experiences of this recently, but before I get to that, here is a picture of the view from my hotel window from last weekend:


The first incident was taking the Eurostar from Paris to London. When I arrived at the station I realised I’d forgotten my passport, but I thought it was worth trying to get on the train anyway. You have to pass through two separate passport controls at Gare du Nord in Paris – the French controls and the British ones. The French control didn’t really care, he just told me that it would be illegal for me to come back into France without my passport and waved me on. The British were a bit more paranoid, and after a few minutes of argument, they decided to test my Britishness by asking me questions about where I lived: what is the name of the pub on such-and-such street, etc. Fortunately for me, despite answering that question wrongly, I obviously said it with enough confidence that they were convinced I knew what I was talking about. Moral of the story: if you’re white and can bluff well you can get through security without a passport.


The second incident was travelling to Israel for a conference. Before they let me on the plane, I was questioned by Israeli security for 45 minutes. They noticed that I have a Jewish surname so they started off by asking if I was Jewish and if I had any Jewish family. Intrusive questioning continued, they asked me about why I was only carrying a small rucksack, why I was going for such a short time, who invited me to the conference, what theoretical neuroscience was, … Before they let me on the plane, they got me to log on to my email and show them the invitation to the conference.

Everyone at the conference was pretty surprised at this treatment, but on the way back I met someone at the airport in the departure lounge – he came up to me and said “I just got the 45 minute treatment. They made me do a 10 minute presentation on the talks we heard at the conference!” What if he’d been asleep during them?!

Anyway, after being questioned, they swabbed my bag meticulously and used their “Ionscan” to test for explosives. Very sensible you might think, except that having done that they slapped a ‘checked’ sticker on it and let me wander through the main terminal before checking in. D’oh!

Anyway, here’s a picture of the Golan Heights which you could see from the Technion university:


And the Bahá’í gardens:


Israel is actually a very nice place and I would have been entirely happy to be there if it weren’t for their government and relationship with the Palestinians. As it was, I felt a little uncomfortable, especially about the fact that the people around me would all have been in the army and might even have killed Palestinians.

Still, I’m not going to complain too much – they took me to two excellent restaurants in Haifa after all. 😉


What??? You went there and back again without a passport? Hell, they wouldn’t even let me into Gibraltar to buy underwear when I forgot mine.

Did you have babaganoush?

Comment by azahar

Sadly there was no babaganoush to be had – seems that the Israelis prefer Italian food…

Comment by Dan | thesamovar

“As it was, I felt a little uncomfortable, especially about the fact that the people around me would all have been in the army and might even have killed Palestinians.”

Did you think that the people around you may have lost loved ones in terrorist attacks across Israel? Perhaps one of the restaurants you visited was the scene of one of those attacks – like Maxim restaurant in Haifa:

“The Maxim restaurant suicide bombing occurred on October 4, 2003, Hanadi Jaradat, a 28-year-old Palestinian terrorist, detonated an explosive belt she was wearing inside the Maxim restaurant in Haifa. 21 Israelis, Jews and Arabs were killed, and 51 others were wounded, including:

Five members of the Almog family from Haifa:

Commander (res.) Ze’ev Almog, 71,
his wife Ruth, 70,
their son Moshe, 43,
and grandsons Tomer Almog, 9,
and Assaf Staier, 11
Five members of the Zer-Aviv family from Kibbutz Yagur:

Bruria, 59;
her son Bezalel, 30,
and his wife Keren, 29,
with their children Liran, 4,
and their baby Noya, 2-months old.

Zvi Bahat, 35, of Haifa
Mark Biano, 29, of Haifa,
and his wife Naomi, 25
Hana Francis, 39, of Fassouta, chief waiter
Mutanus Karkabi, 31, of Haifa, the security guard
Sharbal Matar, 23, of Fassouta, waiter
Osama Najar, 28, of Haifa, cook
Nir Regev, 25, of Nahariya
Irena Sofrin, 38, of Kiryat Bialik
Lydia Zilberstein, 56, of Haifa died of her wounds on Oct 9
George Matar, 59, of Haifa died of his wounds on Oct 15.” From Wikipedia).

Just wondered if that had crossed your mind…

Comment by shelley

Hi shelley,

Did you think that the people around you may have lost loved ones in terrorist attacks across Israel?

If I had been walking around a Palestinian university, and if it had been the case that most Palestinians had been involved in a terrorist group, I would also have felt uncomfortable.

I’m not unsympathetic to Israelis, but it is a fact that the Israeli military kills more than 4 times as many Palestinians as Palestinians kill Israelis.

Comment by Dan | thesamovar

It’s also worth pointing out that the argument that the Israeli forces use to justify civilian targets – enemy organisations are embedded amongst them – arguably applies to the civilian population of Israel also. This is not to justify suicide bombings, nor any attacks upon civilians by either side. As as sincere, non-aligned outsider I wish Israel peace. This will not be achieved through self-perpetuating military force. Reconciliation with Palestine is in Israelis’ interests.

Comment by Edward the Bonobo

Anyway…after that, your next trip is going to be even more hassle. 😉

Comment by Edward the Bonobo

Damnit! I think you’re right.

Comment by Dan | thesamovar

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