Denied Entry! A Yid’s Guide to Interrogation

Settler colonialist stamp on a settler colonialist passport

context: I’m a half New Yorker-Yiddish-Jew who also cares somewhat about social justice, but really just wanted to travel –to both Israel and the West Bank, and do some volunteering at a local museum in the latter (a natural history one, not political at all) .  Just told the border guard that I was going to the first place though, which I did want to go to for legitimate reasons (I want to see the archaeology, go hiking, learn some Ivrit…), but they did not believe me.. They told me someone had told them the exact same story yesterday. Maybe I’m too brown to be a Yid.

Getting denied entry at the Israeli border seems to be becoming a common occurrence these days amongst savvy travelers, writers, and researchers; one could almost call it a rite of passage. Waiting, questioning, refusal, return, disenchantment: it’s all quite Freudian. What was most Freudian were that my interrogators decided to take on the bizarre role of my mother, my confessor, and, very Jewishly, my analyst. These were no questions pertaining to national security. These were questions about my innermost id, which suddenly made the bureaucrat my rabbi, posing questions that made me feel I was my facing my sins on my day of judgement. Oy vey! I’m SO sorry, world, for not being a more normal person and using my phone the way everyone else seems to do. 

When did you delete your whatsapp? [they went through my phone]

I never got a whatsapp.

What about your parents? How do you talk to them?

I’m just a really bad daughter.

Why do you have so few contacts on your phone?

I’m just really anti-social. 

Why do you have so many numbers on your phone without contact names?

 I’m too lazy to put the names in, and then I forget who’s number it is.

You must have another phone. When did you get this one?

I had another one from the US, then I broke it. So I bought one about 6 months ago, and lost it. I always lose or break my phones.


It just happens. I can’t own a phone for more than 4 months without something going totally wrong.

What’s your phone number?

I don’t know…

What do you mean you don’t know?

I always call someone so they can save my contact, I never memorized my number. I have absolutely no idea what my number is.

Why is your bag such a mess? What’s in it? Empty it out! Why is this garbage in here?

I’m just a very messy person.

What are these notes? What do they mean? Why isn’t it organized?

I’m not good at organizing my notes.

Why were you working for free in Amman? You already finished university. When someone finishes studying, they get a paid job. Why don’t you have a paid job?

I tried, and failed, and now have gotten tired of sending applications.I’d rather just travel and do freelance online work.

Are you a member of any political organization?

I’m not. I’m not a political person.

Don’t you care about things going on?

I don’t. I just like old things, history, and languages. I don’t care about the world.

How can you travel like this? It’s a huge mess, you don’t even know your phone number, you have no reservations, you’re all alone, you don’t know anyone, you don’t have a real job… You’r in the Middle East! It’s dangerous here! A woman travelling by herself, even in Israel, which is a normal country, gets raped! Do you have any emergency numbers? Your parents’ number?

I have no numbers off the top of my head. I just don’t have much regard for my personal safety.

The four hours into the intimate details of how infrequently I email my parents or why my phone has so few SMSs  was quite a blow to my psyche (but hey, it could be a way to save on New York psychoanalysts). A good friend, who had been denied entry a year ago, met me in Amman and generously offered a place to stay. She wanted to talk about the experience, how frightening it must have been, how disappointed I must be. I could actually shrug all that off pretty easily; I used to things not going through and being disappointed. It’s a fact of life I have accepted. What was actually worrying me was the open wound of my life those border guards nonchalantly stuck their thumbs in. It was like 6th grade all over again. The border guard was like the Jewish mother I never had.

It was like the trial of Camus’ stranger, judged and convicted not for any crime, but for being a misfit, a pariah– though, ironically in this case, by the bureaucratic structure of a nation built by pariahs. The paranoid chasing the paranoid; the outsider castigated by the ultimate outsiders. Woody Allen interrogated by his doppelgangers. The conversational equivalent of a nervous trainwreck, with paranoia for fuel, steaming off anxiety and self-deprecation. Kicked out without even having gotten to do anything remotely cool there in the first place, how lame is that! Being denied entry to Israel could never have felt more Jewish. 

a parte

In addition to these obscenely personal questions, the Israeli border guards also asked me this question that really must be on the record:
If an Israeli soldier kills a Palestinian child, would you attend a demonstration against the violence?

If feeling outrage at the death of a child bans one from entering a country, that country will be very successful at letting in sociopaths. 


  1. Glad you’re safe Maíra. You are an exceptional person who is living an extraordinary life. I hope your writings are preserved, you will have so many adventures to relay. Stay well and keep writing. Love, Debby >


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