UPDATES 9 am Israel time, Wednesday August 7 2013:
*The battle of the Kotel (Western Wall) continues to intensify with the Women of the Wall being escorted to the Western Wall today by the Jerusalem Police so that they can blow the shofar and read from their own Torah scroll–the same police that have now unbelievably declared the Temple Mount off limits to Jews until the end of Ramadan.
*Efforts to solve solve the crisis in Egypt seem to be going nowhere. Current efforts by U.S. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham to mitigate the military crackdown on Islamists seem to border on the surreal. Why we have such American senior senators interceding on the side of the Muslim Brotherhood defies understanding.
*On the Syrian front, rebels seemed to make some gains yesterday following weeks of losses. Both the Syrian commander of the area near the Golan Heights and a top Hezbollah missile commander have been killed in the last 24 hours.
*A geographical note: the Dead Sea is evaporating at an ever increasing rate. The Sea fell by almost .15 meters in July, following an .11 meter drop in June, and a .09 meter drop in May.
Your humble servant has returned to Israel from his travels around the region. Yesterday was a particularly long day because of the tremendously heightened security at Fiumicino Airport in Rome.
Those of you with long memories may remember that there was a time when Fiumicino (along with Eleftherios in Athens) was considered one of the most vulnerable airports in Europe. This is no longer the case.
Nevertheless, it was somewhat disconcerting as we neared Terminal 5 yesterday because it is designated on all signs leading to it as the “American and Israeli Airlines Terminal”. If a potential terrorist wanted to know where to go, the Italians have made it easy.
Once inside the relatively small entrance room of the terminal, passengers are divided, with passengers on American airliners being directed into lines toward American, Delta, and U.S. Airways check-in counters, and Israelis and others traveling on El Al, Arkia, and Israir (our airline) being sent to a different line.
Both American and Israeli passengers were under the watchful eye of sharpshooters who were patrolling elevated positions on different sides of the room. My own conclusion based on information that I would rather not divulge is that the sharpshooters were all Israelis.
What was interesting yesterday was to watch the relative initial ease with which passengers on the “American side” got through step one: the ticket and identity check. When we first arrived, there were probably about 300 passengers lined up for the American flights and 150 of us on the “Israeli side”. One hour later, there were no more passengers on the American side, and approximately 125 left on the Israeli side.
Why you may ask? Simply because we were all questioned individually, at length, repetitively, by Israeli security personnel, with our suitcases and bags being opened. Israelis accept this grueling procedure as a price we pay to stay alive, but the process yesterday seemed to be particularly long–perhaps because back on July 25th, a group of Canadians traveling on fake Israeli passports were arrested at the Vancouver, Canada airport–and as we didn’t know, there was a bomb scare at the American consulate in Milan yesterday.
In any case, we finally got through. And by this time other passengers on American airlines had arrived. Once through, we then made our way to the actual ticket counters on the other side of the wall where we actually checked in and received our seats.
Then we proceeded to the next security check–this time with the American and Israeli passengers all in the same line. Again the line to check passengers and their carry-ons moved very slowly. This time the reason was that every passenger including pilots, flight attendants, and lowly customers like myself were being partially disrobed (belts, shoes, sweaters, etc) and physically patted down.
It was almost hilarious to hear the Americans behind me from Baltimore grumbling about the security (“I’ve never been through anything like this”; “what right do they have to treat us like this?”, and on and on). A number of the American flight attendants became downright abusive and were pulled out of the line for “special” questioning and then put back in line for the same patdowns as the rest of us.
After this line, it was time to go through passport control–which went fairly quickly compared to the rest of the process. Then it was on to the Gate where boarding was taking place and all of our carry-ons were opened and checked again, as were our identities.
At long last we were on our way to Israel–and the eruption of applause upon landing at Ben Gurion last evening was at least partly an expression of “Thank goodness we are back home in safe and secure Israel!”
**Special addendum: Your humble servant would like to thank all of you dear readers for your patience during the last two weeks. In the coming month, I will report on some of my travels around the Mediterranean.