When I went to the Ben Gurion airport from Jerusalem in the early hours of 1 Jan 2013 to fly back to London via Istanbul, I wasn’t surprised that the officer at the first security checkpoint, after inspecting my passport, asked me to go through additional checks.
Having a Turkish name and a British passport with stamps from politically interesting places, I am now used to extra scrutiny. And I have to confess I enjoy this as I have nothing to hide and it gives me the opportunity to observe security procedures in different parts of the world.
That morning I was directed to a desk where they unpacked my whole backpack. They took out every little thing, inspecting, separating items into groups, putting things through high-tech scanners, probing with a handheld device, taking some of them away to other officers.
It was the most thorough search I have ever seen. Hands in pockets, I stood there observing it with great interest. And I smiled when, despite their extraordinary attention to detail, they still managed to miss a small zipped section of my backpack.
Next they asked me to go with them to another area. I felt completely comfortable leaving behind all my stuff, including cash. There they asked me to enter a curtained section and told me to undress. They took away my wallet for further examination.
Then, when I was standing in nothing but my underwear, one officer searched me whilst another watched. I found this quite amusing. After all where could I have hidden anything? And why was this other guy watching?
As I was waiting there, despite the fact that I was in the hands of the state, I had this strange feeling of being free and liberated: all my possessions had been taken away, it was the first hours of the new year, I was in Israel, in my underwear, waiting to board a plane to Istanbul.
The whole process took about 30-40 minutes. Returning to the desk, they told me everything was fine and asked whether I preferred to re-pack myself or wanted them to re-pack my backpack.
After I finished packing, I was thinking I would now walk away freely. But then I was surprised that a pretty lady officer in her 20s was assigned to accompany me to the check-in desk. Her shoulder-length dark hair was tied in a pony tail. She was not tall, not short. She had a pale complexion that matched her calmness.
Whilst I was checking in, she stood a few steps behind me, watching me. As I have a backpack with lots of straps, I had to drop it off in a special zone. She accompanied me there too and later walked with me all the way to passport control.
By then I couldn’t stop smiling for raising so much suspicion and asked her, ‘Will you come with me to Istanbul too?’
Smiling, ‘I wish I could,’ she replied.