Israeli Security

A friend invited me on a minibus tour of Israel and Jordan with her three children, an 11-year-old friend of the oldest daughter, and about 20 members of her extended family. I hadn’t been to Israel since teaching a class there in 2003.

The first difference observed was changing planes on Christmas morning in the Rome airport. To judge by the decaying terminal, Italy is well on its way to Third World status. I had expected to be interrogated by security personnel prior to getting on the Rome-Tel Aviv leg, but no special security procedures were applied. The only thing unusual was a group of portly Orthodox Jews davening, which prompted a slender American woman to ask “Is there something about Orthodox Judaism that prohibits them from working out?” For my part, watching these folks boarding the plane from stairways at both ends and trying to get settled in their seats, I observed that “Southwest Airlines would go bankrupt if most of their customers were Orthodox.” As with flights into DCA, we were told that we couldn’t get out of our seats once we entered Israeli airspace. Given that Israel is about the size of New Jersey this didn’t amount to much. Overall it was a big reduction in security from my 2000 and 2003 visits, where before getting on the Europe-Tel Aviv flight I was made to open up my laptop and give the security officials a PowerPoint presentation on programming the Oracle database.

The gleaming new terminal in Tel Aviv stands in stark contrast to what the Italians have going for them, a good reminder of high quickly an advanced country can decline and how quickly a motivated country can grow (Israel was a poor nation with a big welfare state and a lot of regulations strangling business; a combination of deregulation and the immigration of well-educated citizens from Russia has fueled a boom since about 1990). Questions by the immigration officer were perfunctory.

On a trip to Israel in 1992 I remember picking up hitchhiking soldiers carrying rifles. Today the soldiers get free bus rides back home and are seldom out and about in uniforms. One of my friend’s nieces is a beautiful long-haired stylishly-dressed 20-year-old. At lunch I asked her what she did with her life. “Three days a week I am at home with my mommy and daddy. The other four days I train soldiers how to unpack, assemble, aim, and fire a 70-kilogram M47 gun. At a Bar Mitzvah celebration in the Old City of Jerusalem, somehow a 5′ tall teenager in civilian clothes was wandering around with what we would call an “assault rifle” (magazine taped to the side, so plainly not loaded). One of our American gang clucked disapprovingly “Why is that child carrying a gun?” My friend’s brother, who lives in Tel Aviv, said “Oh, it probably belongs to one of the adults and they are just letting the kid have a little fun carrying the rifle.”

A $25 30-minute flight to Eilat involved a 30-minute wait in a security line. Despite the fact that no family with children has ever caused a terrorist attack on an airliner (a pregnant Irishwoman unwittingly carrying a bomb is the closest incident that comes to mind), my friend, her husband, and their three child (6-12; all with U.S. passports) were interrogated at some length.

After following in the footsteps of Indiana Jones at Petra, we flew back to the U.S. from Amman, Jordan so I can’t comment on what security might be in place for international flights departing Tel Aviv.

[Overall it was a very pleasant trip. This generation of Israelis seems to have lost some of the hard edge that their forebears had and consequently the hotel and restaurant experience is more welcoming. Also, thanks to the miracle of Android and iOS, no child was ever heard to say “Are we there yet?”]


  1. suzanne goode

    January 4, 2013 @ 3:46 pm


    sorry to hear the Rome airport is as desolate as ever — don’t have fond memories of frequent layovers on TWA from JFK to Cairo from 1991-1994 when we went back & forth twice/year from Cairo to US — the seats in the waiting areas were the same hard, metals ones which awaited us in the little airports in the Sinai (Sharm el Sheikh & Taba) — but when one was trying to read pictures books aloud to 2 young children (your nephews b. 1987 & 1989) this nearly catatonic mom (either from overnight flight from JFK or from awakening at 3 am in Cairo to catch westbound flight from Rome to JFK) found Rome to be the worst airport ever. And the food didn’t even resemble the food in any Piazza in Roma.

  2. Federico

    January 4, 2013 @ 4:46 pm


    Dude, Italy has been a third world country since the roman empire fell — I know I am from there. The only thing fooling the rubes that this was not the case was the fact that, after cashing in a fact US cheque called Marshall Plan (thanks!), Italy constantly devalued its currency to be able to export stuff and prevent the import of stuff produced abroad. Enters the Euro and the ugly truth is there for everyone to see…

  3. suzanne goode

    January 4, 2013 @ 6:40 pm


    make that IAD to Cairo, i.e., IAD/Rome/Cairo, and on one of the later flights circa 1994 just before TWA’s demise, the 747 was carrying at most 50 passengers. I believe from JFK when we visited my sister-in-law, we took non-stop JFK-Cairo. We probably have the TWA wings given to my children by the flight attendants.

  4. Jani

    January 4, 2013 @ 11:37 pm


    Before you cast too much praise on Ben Gurion Terminal 3 and Israeli deregulation, it’s worth remembering that the project was originally called “Terminal 2000”. Launched in 1994, it took until 1997 until they managed to even start tendering construction work because of bureaucracy and legal obstacles. The terminal eventually opened in October 2004, nearly 5 years late and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget.

    All that said, it certainly beats the pants off the old Terminal 1 it replaced, or any Italian airport for that matter.

  5. So?

    January 5, 2013 @ 12:04 am


    …Despite the fact that no family with children has ever caused a terrorist attack on an airliner…

    Does a “terrorist attack” include hijacking?

  6. DaleS

    January 5, 2013 @ 4:59 am


    So, how do the Israeli gun nuts differ from the US gun nuts? On a related note, would you say that Israel being an armed society contributes to it being a polite society? (paraphrasing Heinlein here)

    It would seem that a repressed, armed society can be an exceedingly dangerous place– referring to US, rather than Israeli society.

  7. philg

    January 5, 2013 @ 10:11 am


    Dale: First, I don’t think my Israeli friends would be offended if I said that Israel does not have a reputation for being an especially polite society. On the gun nut issue I’m not quite sure. I’ve only ever met one or two Israelis who told me about owning a private gun. The permitting process is kind of elaborate. From a practical matter I don’t think an American-style gun collection would fit into an average Israeli home. Remember that Israel is one of the world’s most densely populated countries (and if you exclude the Negev desert, where very few people live, then Israel would be almost at the top of the population density list (excluding city-states such as Hong Kong or Singapore)). If you have a family with two parents and three children sharing a two-bedroom apartment, where do you put the massive gun safe?

  8. philg

    January 5, 2013 @ 10:16 am


    Jani: Thanks for the reality check on ; the saga of terminal construction is certainly embarrassing. I guess the fact that they had three architecture firms involved is a bad sign. The free WiFi was nice at least! We used Terminal 1 for the flight to Eilat. My 6-year-old friend was very disappointed that her “Uncle Philip” was not able to buy her a Kinder egg in Terminal 1 (serious paucity of shops).

  9. gerleim

    January 10, 2013 @ 6:53 am


    “and give the security officials a PowerPoint presentation on programming the Oracle database.”
    Lol, really? How did they receive?

  10. philg

    January 10, 2013 @ 11:56 am


    Gerleim: They were politely attentive! Actually they seemed pretty sharp. Equivalent at least to the average American college grad. At the time the boom economy wasn’t fully established in Israel so the job probably attracted some pretty able young people. Software engineering is pretty easy to explain to lay people. It isn’t like particle physics!

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