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Tales from Israel: Bus journey from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

(I wrote this on the bus)

My mother and I are sitting on the very last row on the bus (the last two available seats next to each other). Next to me is a Palestinian man, who has multiple mobile phones and literally seems to have not stopped talking on them since we got on the bus, and next to him a group of the most annoying and obnoxious Israeli teenagers (2 boys at the end of our row, and a boy and girl on the seat in front of them). The annoying group of kids are loud; one of them is playing the music on his phone and people all the way in the front of the bus could hear it. I just turned to him for the second time to ask him to turn down the music.
Two rows in front of us there are two Russian-looking girls, light skin, pointy features, dark black hair and striking green eyes. The girl next to the window has her shoulder-length hair in a ponytail with sunglasses fashionably resting on her head holding her bangs back. You can’t miss the shiny silver eyebrow piercing she has. The one in the aisle seat is wearing a white bandanna over her short black wavy hair. They look young; maybe in their early 20’s.
At one point, the girl with the white bandanna leaned over towards her friend and it seemed like she was examining the the pendant dangling on her chest. The look in her eyes made me think they weren’t just friends; it was more than an approving or complimenting friend’s look. And to my surprise, half a second later, my suspicion was confirmed by a loving, yet subtle lover’s peck on the mouth. It was so natural, yet so out of place!
What was about to come was what shocked me the most! The annoying teenagers caught a glimpse of that innocent kiss and quickly started tormenting the young couple. One of the boys shouted out: Lesbians?!?! They started making kissing noises and calling them names (all in Hebrew, but I could detect the tone). And then they started calling the girl “white bandanna” hoping that their annoyance would pay off and she would turn around and say something. I was shocked, saddened, and above all happy for the young couple for being courageous about showing their love to one another!

Walking the streets of Jerusalem you cannot escape the magnificent Dome of the Rock

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Tales from the Holy Land: The Welcome

Step to the side, Miss:

I arrive at the airport at a little past 6pm on Thursday evening. In my backpack, I have a folder stuffed with letters – a support letter from Google stating my position at Google and why I was visiting. Along with that, my friend at the State Department sent me an official state department-issued letter for American of Arab origin. Although many told me to be too worried about entering the country, I definitely had the feeling that it wasn’t going to be a piece of cake, but I kept telling myself that if anything it’s going to be great story in retrospect (as my friend Tim would say). Ok, so back to Thursday evening – I get to the immigration line, I confidently walk up to the Foreigners line, and hand over my passport to the young-looking immigration officer. And this is the conversation that went on:

 

Me: Hi
Officer: Hello. Passport please.
(I hand her the passport open to the personal details page)
Officer: What’s your name?
Me: Hebatallah Gamal (dying to tell her that it is right in front of her)
Officer: Where were you born?
Me: (again thinking – it’s freakin’ right there) Cairo, Egypt.
Officer: Why are you in Israel?
Me: Business.
Officer: Where do you work?
Me: I work for Google.
Officer: in Israel?
Me: No, in California, but I’m here to visit the Tel Aviv office for some meetings.
Officer: Do you have a letter or something?
Me: Yes, sure. There you go.
Officer: Can you please wait here (and she walks off out of the booth with my passport)

I then get asked to step to the side, where I was escorted to waiting room with a TV, vending machine and handful of other foreigners, who looked like they have been waiting for a while. I immediately open my laptop and try to go online in hopes of catching anyone from the Tel Aviv office online, but who was I kidding I was sure no one would be online – it was Thursday evening (the equavilant of our Friday in the US – end of the week). Of course, internet wasn’t working and my laptop was being slow. Ten minutes later I was asked to come into an office, where another officer lady asked me to sit down at a desk across from her and her big black computer monitor. She then started asking me the exact same series of questions the first officer asked. I answered politely and was again asked to go wait in that room. Another 20 minutes later or so, a nice looking man came into the waiting room and gave a young group of 3 (2 young guys and a girl) their passports back and wished them a nice time. He then returned less than 5 minutes later and asked me to follow him. He then brought me into yet another office and started asking me the same questions, although he was a bit more detailed and definitely tried to ask me “tricky” questions, like: What do you do for Google?What’s your title? Little does he know that my freaking title at Google is a mouth-full and a little hard to forget :) What I thought was extremely funny is that at one point he said: You are not a trouble maker, are you? I don’t think you are who we’re looking for, but we have to do this to be sure!

So, I never felt more dangerous in my life, but like I said in the beginning – a story worth telling at the end.