Let me travel in peace

By Semih D. Idiz


Tevet 25, 5765

I am the diplomatic editor for the Turkish network CNN Turk. I was in Israel recently to attend a conference at Ben-Gurion University. Following that I had the pleasure of interviewing your foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, on December 30. On finishing my duties I headed for Ben-Gurion Airport at 3:30 A.M. on December 31 to catch my 6:45 A.M. flight back to Turkey. Having been to Israel before, I was prepared for the security procedures, including the cross questioning by security officials there. Turkey, like Israel, also suffers from terrorism, so I am hardly in a position to object to this. I also travel frequently to the U.S. and Europe, so it is not as if I am a novice in this business.

But I feel bound by duty to object this time, seeing as the whole procedure at the airport took on a surreal - and I must say incomprehensible - turn as two young people, a girl and a boy, started what can only be characterized as an amateur police cross examination that become stupider and more pointless as time went on, and said more about Israel than me. Another young lad, also on the security staff, came up to where we were standing and started talking to me in Arabic, assuming I was an Arab. I told him his assumption was not only radically wrong, but hid an unpleasant prejudice, but I doubt if he understood what I meant. He tried to cover his mistake with platitudes about a wonderful holiday he spent in Turkey.

My having explained time and again why I was in Israel, including showing my name printed in the official program of the conference at Ben-Gurion University, plus telling them that only hours before that I had interviewed the foreign minister of Israel, was to no avail. Nor was the fact that I dropped the names of influential Israeli friends - including ambassadors and journalists - or that my passport is full of European visas and also has a valid American visa. These kids were determined in their pointless exercise.

Among the many stupidities I was subjected to during the more than two hours that I was kept there was being asked to recite my presentation at Ben-Gurion University. The questions they asked following this showed they had no inkling of what I was talking about, which merely spurred them on to further heights of Pavlovian suspicion. Eventually, having run out of pointless questions, I was subjected to the tour de force: "Why do I live in Ankara?" Why would a Turkish diplomatic editor for a major Turkish network live in Ankara anyway?

My better judgment told me not to create a scene. However I did think that if this is how a well-known person from a friendly country - who just happened to have interviewed the foreign minister of the land just a few hours previously - is treated, then God help the rest. It is Israel's privilege to treat its visitors as it likes, of course. By the same token, it is my privilege as a Turkish citizen to complain about a treatment, which after the first hour started to defy logic and included a rifling through my personal belongings down to my dirty underwear, and a near strip search.

I realize of course that all I can do in this case is to write this letter - on the advice of my Israeli friends - and lobby the Turkish authorities to reciprocate in kind toward selected Israeli tourists or officials coming to Turkey; of which, as your know, there is no shortage. This I will naturally do. I wonder if an Israelis grilled in the pointless way that I was would have my patience. Something tells me not ...