Security gets tight

Next time I travel to Israel, I'm going to wear a dark wool suit, however hot it is. Israeli airport security, it turns out, are sticklers for correct dress.

“Why do you have no formal clothes, sir?" said the security agent at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport, in a forthright monotone that sucked all the politeness out of "sir". I was wearing cream linen trousers and I pointed to the matching jacket in my holdall.

“And why do you have so few casual clothes for the four days you've been here?" said the agent, a short redhead in his late twenties.

“I've got four shirts, four pairs of socks and four pairs of boxer shorts," I said. That seemed enough to cover four days at the Anglo-German-Israeli-Palestinian conference I'd been to in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

“And why do you have no documentation to prove you were at this conference?" I had had our full itinerary, but had thrown it away. A woman at the conference had been interrogated at Heathrow for three hours on the way out, as a security agent had noticed from the itinerary that we were to visit Yasser Arafat's tomb in Ramallah.

Going on my inept, if terrifying, interrogation, Israeli security ain't what it used to be. After my agent had asked me repeatedly about my lack of clothes, formal and casual, he called over his supervisor, a woman, also in her late twenties.

“We're going to have to run you through the computer, sir," she said. The two agents led me to a computer. "Now, sir," said the woman, "if you wouldn't mind putting in your name?" On the screen was the Google homepage.

Now, I've googled myself before, but usually when I'm alone and bored, not when I'm going through airport security. "It's very slow,
I'm afraid," said the woman.

After an age, the screen flickered and a Wikipedia entry revealed my identity - a journalist who has just published a fairly uninflammatory book about old British buildings.

“I'm sorry for the inconvenience, sir," she said, scanning the entry. "But I hope you understand that we have to go through tight security procedures."

I understand. I just hope Osama Bin Laden doesn't also understand that, as long as he keeps his Wikipedia entry nice and uncontroversial, he will sail through Ben-Gurion Airport security, no problem.

This article first appeared in the 27 July 2009 issue of the New Statesman, On tour with the far right