Just Tell Them You’re Jewish

I made the mistake, upon entering Israel, of telling them I was going to be working for a Palestinian NGO. They were a little skeptical, but since they didn’t seem to know the organization, the woman checking my passport gave me a one month tourist visa. “To do volunteer work you need a special visa. I will give you one month, go to the Ministry of Interior.” I looked at the stamp: she crossed out ‘three months’ and wrote in ‘one month’.

I looked up volunteer visas. It involves lots of forms, red tape, and as far as I could tell the organization has to be sanctioned and approved by the Israeli government. Fat chance of that working. It seemed that the plan of attack should be the standard “I want to stay longer and travel, take Ulpan, explore the country, blah blah blah.” It’s what everyone else does, and it seems to work. Why tell the truth if it’s only going to hurt you in the long run?

I finally went to the Ministry of Interior yesterday, planning to tell them simply that I needed a tourist visa. “I need an appointment,” I told the lady.
“What for?”
“What kind of visa do you have?”
“Where are you from?”
“Let me see your passport.” She flips through my passport, not really looking at the pages. “You don’t have a visa. I don’t know how, you need a visa.”
“No, I have.”
“No you don’t, it’s not here.” She takes a green form. “It will be one hundred and sixty-five.”
Shocked. “Lamah?” (Why?)
“Because it costs money.” As patronizingly as possible – idiot Americans. “How long will you stay?”
“About six months probably.”
“You will need to show how you will support yourself.”
She looks at my passport again, closer this time, and sees the visa. “Oh, here it is. You have only one month. You are Jewish?”
“Okay. You have appointment on the 26th of July, because your visa expires the 1st. Is 8:20 am okay?” (Gosh, how generous. Six whole days.)
“Yes, fine.”
“Just tell them you are Jewish, they will give you visa.”


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