« | Home | »

Pure Affectation

Tags: |

Two months before Richard Reid tried to blow up American Airlines 63 with his high-tops, he took a flight to Israel on El Al. The airline’s security team questioned him, as they do all passengers, and couldn’t find a reason not to let him fly; but his body was searched, his luggage was put through a decompression chamber and hand-checked, and an air marshal was put in the seat next to him. El Al likes to boast that the 9/11 hijackers would never have succeeded on one of their planes: I don’t disbelieve them.

Last week I flew from London to Tel Aviv and back on El Al. Before my flights, security officers established that I’d celebrated my Bat Mitzvah – so why was my Hebrew so poor? But then the converse can also be suspicious: years ago one of my Israeli cousins flew El Al on his American passport, having forgotten his Israeli one. ‘Why is your Hebrew so good?’ he was asked, and taken to another room. I was asked why I was named Deborah and whether I had any siblings: I said I had a younger brother. ‘Where does he live? Has he ever been to Israel? What does he do? What is his dissertation about?’ I was asked what I was planning to see in Israel: which tourist sites, exactly? And then, at the very end, did I know that my accent went back and forth between British and American? ‘Pure affectation,’ I said, and I was allowed to board.

Comments on “Pure Affectation”

  1. Chris Larkin says:

    Perhaps El Al should consider not only air marshalls, but linguistics professors and experts in phonology as permanent members of the filght crew from now on?

  2. Camus123 says:

    Maybe the answer is to stay where you are and reduce your carbon footprint.

  3. Adam Shatz says:

    Deborah Friedell’s blog about her El Al trip took me back to my last and only trip to Israel in 2005. I flew there alone, which was enough to raise suspicions in the eyes of the Israelis, not because they feared I was a terrorist, but rather because I might be a member of the International Solidarity Movement, who were busy throwing themselves between Palestinian homes and Israeli bulldozers set to demolish them. As a single male in my 30s I fit the profile. It didn’t help that I was carrying a book I’d recently edited, an anthology of writings by Jewish critics of Zionism; or that my passport showed I’d been in Lebanon, Syria and Algeria. ‘Are you Jewish?’ I nodded yes to the woman reviewing my documents. ‘You’ve been to these places and you’ve never been to Israel? How come?’ Better late than never, I suggested. For the next three-quarters of an hour I was questioned about my bar mitzvah (did you read from the Torah? did you chant?), whom I knew and whom I planned to see in Israel, which newspapers I read for information about Israel, what was my understanding of The Conflict, and, of course, whether I intended to visit ‘the territories’. I was not permitted to go to the cafe for a snack and was escorted to the plane by a a short, unsmiling man who would not have looked out of place as a bouncer or mafia body guard. Give credit where credit is due: Zionism did produce a new Jew, nicely described many years ago as ‘Rambovitz’ by Paul Breines in his book Tough Jews. I asked my escort what I had done to deserve such an honour. ‘It is entirely random,’ he said.

    Maybe — but I had the luck of the draw when I left Israel as well. Two young women opened my suitcase and began to rummage through my clothes. They found some literature I’d picked up at the Sakakini Centre, a Palestinian cultural centre in Ramallah that holds concerts and poetry readings. Mahmoud Darwish had an office at the Sakakini and I’d been there to see him. One of the women interrogating me asked if I spoke Arabic. I said I didn’t. ‘But what about these brochures?’ I pointed out that they were also in English, but this did not allay her suspicions. ‘But you do speak Arabic?’ she asked me, perhaps a dozen times. The search continued, and my clothes were in a pile. By now the other people in the queue probably knew which brand of underwear I wore. ‘Ah ha, you do speak Arabic!’ one of the women declared, very proud of her discovery. She handed me my notepad, written in illegible English that, from a certain vantage point, did look like Arabic, I suppose.

    After about an hour, I was allowed through. ‘This always happens to my husband,’ said the woman behind me in the queue. ‘He’s Persian, and he looks like an Arab.’

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • andymartinink on Reacher v. Parker: Slayground definitely next on my agenda. But to be fair to Lee Child, as per the Forbes analysis, there is clearly a massive collective reader-writer ...
    • Robert Hanks on Reacher v. Parker: And in Breakout, Parker, in prison, teams up with a black guy to escape; another white con dislikes it but accepts the necessity; Parker is absolutely...
    • Robert Hanks on Reacher v. Parker: Parker may not have the integrity and honesty of Marlowe, but I'd argue that Richard Stark writes with far more of both than Raymond Chandler does: Ch...
    • Christopher Tayler on Reacher v. Parker: Good to see someone holding up standards. The explanation is that I had thoughts - or words - left over from writing about Lee Child. (For Chandler se...
    • Geoff Roberts on Reacher v. Parker: ..."praised in the London Review of Books" Just read the article on Lee Child in a certain literary review and was surprised to find this rave notice...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

Advertisement Advertisement