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“In cases where it is deemed imperative, security officers have the legal right to conduct a search of the body and/or possessions of any student.  Student cooperation is expected.  This is a precautionary measure and should not be seen as infringement of one’s personal rights.”

This quote, drawn from the student handbook we were all given upon arrival, showcases several of the huge and immediate differences between home and Israel.  The flight itself from Newark was already lacking in civil liberties: of the entire plane, the six individuals “randomly chosen” to have their carry-on searched again were all not Jewish.  This I can deal with, but what happened next was unfortunate, to say the least.  After giving their security office our carry-on at around 11:15, we waited nearby until 1:20, still without our bags for a flight that departed at 1:30 according to the schedule.  I was the last person to actually get into the room in an effort to retrieve my belongings, but then the “security precautions that don’t infringe upon my rights” kicked in.  I was asked to remove everything from my pockets, take off my shoes, and then frisked by an El AL security officer.  Then, they scanned the contents of my carry-on with a variety of machines, and came over with a grim look about them.  Telling me “these two items cannot go on the plane,” one security officer walked over to me with my $400 brand new camera and my external hard drive.  I inquired as to why, and I was told that they had set off the explosives detection device.  They promised me that they would send it right home, and that my parents could mail it to me.  Now, I am no fool – shipping things to Israel is an expensive, long affair that has large customs tariffs on anything over US $10 – so I was not going to let them do that.  As it ended up, the Hebrew University flying with us on the group flight was able to give them a mailing address on campus where my camera and hard drive will be mailed (I sincerely hope intact), but that is probably the most ridiculous part of all of this.  They are going to “mail” me my items as cargo on…. another El Al plane.  Not really sure how that enhances the supposed safety of anyone, but that’s a question to ponder later.

On the plane, I quickly walked towards my seat, trying to avoid eye contact with anyone – I was very clearly the last passenger onto the plane, and it was very clearly 35 minutes later than the planned departure, so I was probably not the most popular individual in many people’s eyes.  People around me on the plane were all students and were really cool.  We ended up talking about a variety of topics for almost the entire flight (and in between that, I played some New Super Mario Bros., always a great pastime on a plane).

Arriving in Tel Aviv, we had to only get our passports stamped and we were into the airport.  We got onto chartered buses, and departed for the campus in Jerusalem.  The sights were all amazing for most of the ride, with almost every building constructed out of ‘Jerusalem stone’ (the off-white stone that is so iconic of the region), and a vast majority of buildings have black cylinders on top of them (those are solar water heaters, and they save the country a considerable amount of electricity costs).  On the other hand, my opening reference to “security” trumping rights was all too apparent on the bus ride as well.  We passed by very high walls of stone, but more gripping was one large area of land on the left side of the highway.  As we crested one hill, we saw first the sunlight dome of a local mosque, but then we saw nearly 15-foot tall razor-wire fences being installed.  There is something very peculiar about a green John-Deere tractor carrying spools of razor-wire along the fence’s path so workers could install it and wall in the local Palestinians (again, I wish I had my camera, as that would have been a photograph posted here).

So I have to go – not because of classes or any scheduled requirement, but because my laptop is almost out of power, and recharging it is a fun game.  When plugged in to the converter I purchased, the battery charges as it is supposed to, but every single USB, monitor, and other metal-based port on the side of it becomes significantly electrified (so not too much fun to accidentally brush and get mildly electrocuted).  Hopefully, my search for an Israeli IBM charging cable will be fruitful.

-Mike

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