The Interview

2019 Writing Competition

- C K, Japan - 

In late June, I took my first trip to Israel/Palestine to attend an aikido seminar in Jerusalem. Hailing from the U.S., I had been living in Tokyo, Japan the past 25 years, working as a voice actor and practicing/teaching aikido.

With a brief connection in Moscow, I arrived in Tel Aviv just shy of midnight. Expecting greater security measures at Ben Gurion Airport I was surprised to sail through passport control and immigration inside of just a few minutes. I scooped up my luggage and quickly exited the airport. Curiously, it may have been the smoothest disembarkation of any country I’ve ever visited.

My host picked me up, and drove me straight to my hotel in the German Colony area in Jerusalem where I spent the next several days teaching aikido while also visiting the many sites: The Old City, the Salty Sea, Jordan River, Yad Vashem, and other sacred and revered locations. On my final day in the Holy City, I joined Green Olive’s Ramallah/Bethlehem tour which included stops at Qalandiya checkpoint, Banksy Hotel, and Aida Refugee Camp. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and eye-opening tour!

Afterwards, I was dropped off in Tel Aviv. From my centrally-located AirBnB, I spent the next five days exploring the City That Never Sleeps—Carmel Market, Modern Art Museum, Rabin Square, Jaffa Port, the beach, etc.

On the day of departure, I took a taxi to Ben Gurion and waited in line with my suitcase and a couple carry-on bags. Soon, I was approached by a tall, youngish airport official who asked to see my passport and ticket. He left but soon returned and led me to a nearby counter where he began to pepper me with a variety of probing questions.

Why did you come to Israel? Who bought your tickets and when?

Alas, this was the infamous interview/interrogation I had been expecting. He promised I would not miss my flight.

When did you first meet your host? How do you communicate with him? How long were you in Jerusalem? Where did you stay? Where were the classes? Where did you go during your off time? How did you get around?

As he grilled me, two other women, also airport officials, quietly listened in, one taking notes on a clipboard.

What’s your job in Japan? How long have you lived there?
Your passport shows you’ve been to Indonesia several times. And Malaysia. Why did you travel there? Who do you know there? What are their names?

The interviewer breaks away to confer with the others and then continues with another angle of questioning.

What is aikido? How long have you practiced it? Where did you first study it? What is your rank? How does the rank system work?

Another short break with his superiors. Perhaps he’s in training. He’s very focused and I notice his armpits are sweating through his shirt.

You said you visited the West Bank. Where did you go? Why would you visit the Aida Refugee Camp….that seems very political. WHY? What are your politics? What’s the name of the tour operator? Show me the tour confirmation email.

During another short break, I texted my host to let him know what was happening. This was taking an awful long time….45 minutes.

Did anyone give you anything to bring back with you? Please show me your business card….your website…the Facebook chat with your host.

As requested, I opened my suitcase and showed him a baptismal garment that one of my friends (an Armenian priest) had given me to take back…as well as my aikido uniform.

He seemed to finish the interview, and one of the female officers stepped in to ask a few more questions, variations on things already covered.

Seemingly satisfied, the tall guy then led me to a check-in counter where I dropped off my suitcase. I was then led through immigration and to a special security screening station where I was asked to remove my shoes and place my bags on the counter. I stepped into a body scanner and received a light pat down. I then sat while a young woman scoured every pocket and fold of my carry-on bags, checking and swabbing every item. Several minutes later, I was allowed to my gate and journeyed back to Japan without further incident.

Should I risk returning to Israel/Palestine? Would I be allowed back in?

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