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What they don’t tell you about Israel’s famously tight airport security

A few months ago, I was sitting in the terminal at Ben Gurion International Airport, in Tel Aviv, reading a fellow traveler’s account of flying out of Israel. I’d heard horror stories of strip searches and endless lines. I was curious what I was really up against.

I wasn’t surprised to learn security is top-notch.

After all, I had already been searched and questioned twice, once through the window of my taxi and again before the terminal doors. All this and I hadn’t even entered the airport yet.

But then I read about the stickers.

I learned that before any passenger ever gives up his luggage to the fine folks at Ben Gurion International, an employee places a neon yellow sticker on the back of your passport. On it is a 10-digit number. The first number, ranging from one to six, indicates your perceived threat level to whomever else you’re passed along.

I got a five.

After I got back, I relayed this story to some friends who were more experienced traveling to and from Israel. My ego deflated a little to learn I didn’t actually seem threatening, just more suspicious than average.

For one, I’m not Jewish. That automatically raises some red flags in a country fraught with religious and cultural conflicts. I was also on assignment as a reporter, traveling alone, without so much as an estranged second cousin I could say I knew. The profiling alarms had to be blaring.


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