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Copyright 2010-2012 All Rights Reserved Charleston C. K. Wang, Esq., Publisher
Photography on this page by Charleston C. K. Wang
Copyright 2010 All Rights Reserved Charleston C. K. Wang, Esq., Publisher

I have just completed a 16 day pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Saint George's College in
Jerusalem.   What a journey and how can I possibly express the insights in words.  Israel-
Palestine is a complex land from just about any approach one can imagine – theologically,
socially, politically and so on.

I am not ready to offer a theological reflection but I will now attempt a comparative
reflection on the socio-political perspective with both feet firmly on the ground.  The
heavenly thoughts hopefully will come in the fullness of time.

So from the ground up – to get to Jerusalem from Cincinnati, one must fly.   The first
difference in getting on a plane for Israel is the extra security.  After passing the normal
TSA checks, including removing one’s shoes for inspection, there is a second security
screen at the departure gate.  The departure area for Jerusalem is one that can be
enclosed by sliding walls and the airline has set up its own pre-boarding security check.  
The only reason I can imagine for this second check is that there is some distrust of the
effectiveness of TSA or to remove the possibility of collusion between airport employees
and the potential terrorist once inside the departure terminal.  No problem for me and
soon I am in my seat with safety belt on and I am silently grateful for the extra precaution
for after all I am going to Israel.  

Once on the ground at Ben Gurion Airport, getting past Israeli immigration and customs is
a breeze - the latter did not even bother to check our luggage, waving us through with
contrived non-interest - they could have examined anything and everything before the
baggage ever emerged on the carousel.  The next evening I find myself wandering inside
the old walled city, having entered by the Damascus Gate down an alley separating the
Christian and Muslim Quarters.    I notice security troops on duty at strategic points - at
the gate, inside the crowded shopping alley and intersections.  The soldiers wear green
body armor and carry M-16s along with a backpack with a police type baton sticking out -
they have the duties of both police officer and soldier prepared for a firefight.   These
things do not draw my attention so much as their age.  The first IDF soldiers I saw were
two young men and one young woman.  They are nonchalantly handsome in their jaunty
deep green berets, colorful shoulder patches, and they are young - kids who have just
graduated from high school.  Particularly beautiful was the woman soldier with blonde
hair.   Military service is compulsory for young Israelis, men and women.   I think to myself
that Israel has sent her best looking conscripts to duty in a tourist heaven as the Old City
of Jerusalem, just as the Queen of England details her smartest Household Guards
outside Buckingham Palace.

I along with few other pilgrims stumble on the entrance to the Western Wall - or simply the
Wall (Kotel in Hebrew).  We pass through a security check and to the veteran soldier on
duty, I smile and say "Shalom."  He says to me "Shalom" and waves me in.  He does not ask
to search my photographers vest which is bulging with spare lenses.    He is trying his
best to be low-keyed and cool, although his station is a gate-way into the Holiest ground in
Jerusalem for both Jews and Muslims, who know the place as the Temple Mount  (also
called the Haram Al-Sharif) upon which stands the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Once inside I glimpse Hassidim praying before the Wall and more armed troops in the
plaza and on rooftops of buildings on the perimeter.  Hassidim are exempt from military
service and the soldiers on duty are  Israel's less religious citizens.  I also see a middle
aged man in red-colored civilian clothing who is cradling a vintage M-1 carbine - quite a
disturbing sight actually.   I approach the Wailing Wall and am permitted to touch it after
having donned a kippah.  Suddenly I hear the stomping of boots and at least a company of
soldiers march into the plaza and they form a square in parade ground style around the
Star of David fluttering from a flagpole.  These soldiers, like the soldiers outside, were
young and comely, but unarmed.  Later I realize they were rehearsing for the
Independence Day of the State of Israel which was May 14, 1948 but was falling on April
19th this year because of the Jewish calendar.  Other young soldiers appear - they are off
duty because they sling their M-16s with the ammunition clip detached - another effort to
be mellow.  I depart with incongruous images of Hassidim who would never handle a gun
and soldiers with modern assault rifles, soldiers without arms, and the odd civilian with a
World War II officer's weapon.

The next incident I would like to narrate is the inspection of our tour bus which was
heading out of Jerusalem into the Negev.   At a West Bank border checkpoint the bus was
pulled out of line for an on-board check.  After waiting for about a quarter of an hour, a
young woman wearing a light blue uniform climbs aboard, unarmed.  She asks to check the
identity of the pilgrims and we obediently hold out our passports - mostly Americans, a few
from New Zealand, a couple of Britons and Canadians.  The border control officer
randomly examines a few passports and when she gets to me at the rear of the bus, she is
satisfied to just look at the dark blue cover with gold letterings of "PASSPORT - United
States of America."  She does not bother to examine the inside pages.  She turns to a
pilgrim sitting across from me and tells him to step outside the bus with her.  This raises
some concern among us and we anxiously wait for Bill to be allowed back on the bus.  A
fellow pilgrim starts talking photos of Bill and the officer from inside the bus.  She notices
this and orders that no more photos be taken.  The tension rises another notch. (I am
informed later that the photographer was also ordered off the bus and made to erase the
offending photo).

After a few minutes Bill is returned to us.   I ask him what happened between him and the
Israeli officer.  Why was our bus pulled out of traffic?  What did the officer want of Bill, an
American?   Bill reports that the reason given was the problem in front.  Bill was taken
aback - was there a bad situation just down the road ahead?  No -  she explained that the
reason for the check was that when asked how many people was on the bus, the driver
said 40 and the tour guide said 41.  But did Bill have anything to do with this small
inconsistency?   After losing half an hour from a tight travel schedule and once we got on
our way, the tour guide explained it was not unusual for the border police to inspect his
bus - the bus driver is a Palestinian Muslim from the West Bank, and he a Palestinian
Christian albeit an Israeli citizen.  In fact it was to be expected.  Given the totality of
circumstances, I could not help wonder if the inconvenience would have been avoided if
we had hired an Israeli tour company.  Thereafter, our Palestinian guide never missed an
opportunity to point out instances of the unjust treatment of his people on the ground - in
Hebron, Jericho, Bethlelem, and in Jerusalem itself.

Aside from this little incident on the way to the southern desert, I am happy to report that I
personally had no other unpleasant contact with Israeli officialdom.  Very often armed for
battle, the soldiers and police feign an air of disinterest and coolness.   Along with the
sacred sites up and down the length of Israel, I visit Yad VaShem Holocaust Memorial, and
I get the chance to do the profane:  touch another wall - the concrete barrier separating
the West Bank, and photograph the Golan (border with Syria and Lebanon) and the no
man's land between Israel and Jordan along the river bearing the name of the latter, etc.

The day soon came for us to leave the historical Jerusalem for home, the New Jerusalem
as some affectionately call the USA.  We are briefed on what to expect with Israeli airport
security which has the reputation as being one of the most uptight in the world.   At the
airport, where security was being run by more young people, our Cincinnati group is
referred to an older supervisor - he wore a blue blazer with khaki slacks, spoke more
English and was business-like and efficient.  After routine questions to our group leader,
a priest from Christ Church Cathedral, we are asked to put our luggage through the X-ray
machine.   Unlike their American TSA counterparts, the Israelis are not interested in our
shoes, so we get to keep them on our feet.  I ask if the remaining shekel and a few
American coins would pose a problem but was told to keep them in my pocket.   Ceramic
painted tiles bearing the Saint George's logo were the only cause for concern as there
was always the great fear of the shaped explosive device.  A number are removed for
further examination and were duly returned to their owners.  My luggage is not searched -
not so for a elderly Palestinian couple near me who had to endure a thorough examination
of their bags.

My reflection will end with a report of what happened once I got into Philadelphia
International Airport.   The feeling of coming home after a trip outside the country is
common to all travelers - joy and relief at returning home. Clearing U. S. Immigration and
Customs was a pleasant enough experience - Customs even started a new line to speed
us through.  When asked if I was carrying any food products, I quipped that all the foreign
foodstuff I have are being carried inside my stomach.  The Homeland Security officer even
smiled and asked whether I had a pleasant stay in Israel.  It felt good to hear and speak
English.  But not so easy with the TSA.

I had to submit to the drill for boarding the flight to Cincinnati which occurred at the divide
between the International and domestic terminals.  A TSA man in his hallmark blue uniform
barked out an order to remove shoes and outer clothing, empty all pockets of metal
objects, wallets, and other contents.  For convenience I threw in my belt for examination
and emptied out all other metal bearing objects including the shekels and American
coins.  After a 12 hour flight from Tel Aviv, I am eager to avoid an entanglement with the
TSA.  I walked through the personal metal detector and to my great joy, it did not buzz.  I
smiled at the young lady on duty and murmured "Looks like I passed the test."  The reply I
got was a fierce look and the words - "You are going to the secondary check" and she
pointed to the extra search line.  I was passed to another young man in that unmistakable
blue uniform.

He asked me to assume the position, i.e. to spread out my arms and legs for his search.  I
asked him a question - "May I know what probable cause for this additional search?"  He
gave me a blank stare and then his litany - "You are wearing baggy clothes!"  I could
clearly see that after having removed my blue blazer and shoes I was down to blue Oxford
button down, khaki pants, and black socks and I was sure he could see the same.  These
were the clothes that would have met the approval of the stuffiest Cincinnati judge in the
courtroom.  It is clear we are going to disagree on the definition of clothing style.  To me
he was giving me the good ole pretext and I wished he could have been simply honest by
saying "Sorry sir for the hassle but this is a random search and a part of my job," or
something like that.  I try not to roll my eyes, but smile at him, saying: "Look, I just got off a
plane from Israel," and showed him my Passport, hoping to reassure him that I am an
American coming home after embarking at an airport with the reputation as being one of
the most uptight security-wise in the world.   The point I was trying to make must have
been lost completely for upon hearing this, his eyes grew large and I can only speculate
on visions of terrorist which must have floated through his brain.   He ordered me to turn
around as he wanted to do his work without me seeing it.

Before turning around, I say to him "I do not appreciate what you are doing and I will file a
complaint."    Not to be outdone, this is his reply - "Assaulting a Federal Officer is a
Felony,"  - flaunting another litany that is posted in many conspicuous places throughout
the airport.   An inane, bureaucratic non-sequitur, but what the heck -  better to cooperate
before this fellow put the cuffs on me.  To no avail for the next thing I felt was his hands
on my body.  Instead of using the sensor wand, he commences a full body pat-down - I feel
him pawing the length of my arms, torso, buttocks, legs and then came the another order
to turn around to face him.  With trained deftness he completes his assault by doing a
tactile examination of my underwear to make sure I did not conceal an explosive device

I inquire: "Are you satisfied now?"  He snarls- "No - you have something in your left pants
pocket - hand it to me."  Sure enough I had something there - I fish it out and slap them
with some force into his outstretched blue rubber-gloved palm, making a loud smack.  
Now I have actually completed a physical assault on him and he will have every reason
take me into his security cell for more processing.   He thumbs through the little stack of
dog-eared attorney-at-law business cards held together with a rubber band. To my relief,
he returns them to me and forgets all about his prior warning about assaulting a federal
officer.  I put my cards and American Passport back into my left pocket and is only too
happy to be allowed back into my own country without further ado.  A small inconvenience
for security in a very insecure world, thanks to our own TSA.  
Ken,  todah! Naem, shukran!

A non-theological reflection by Charleston C. K. Wang, who practices Immigration &
Nationality Law (including the law of asylum) in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.  He is a member of
Christ Church Cathedral, Cincinnati.  4/30/2010.  
A Prayer of St. George's Cathedral, Jerusalem
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