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.