Do travelers have rights at border crossings?

When a professor recently asked me to write an article about my infamous experience at the Taba-Eliat border crossing, I could not bear to reiterate the same story I’ve told many times. So I’ve begun a new quest: To learn what rights, if any, travelers have at border crossings. Because borders are often governed by bilateral treaties or domestic laws, rights, regulations and procedures are different everywhere. For the time-being, for obvious reasons, I’m focused on travelers entering Israel.

Currently I’m following a winding trail of repetitive non-answers, referrals and ambiguity. What I’ve learned, more than anything so far is people all over the spectrum–from journalists, travelers, human rights activists in Israel/Palestine, lawyers (at least in the States–waiting to hear from Israelis)  and embassy employees, is there is a lack of knowledge. Though border-crossing  tips are out there, when it comes to rights, many draw blanks.

For example, while Israel has the right to deny an individual entry, do they have the right to demand information about the contacts in a person’s phone–is an individual obligated to give up a friend’s telephone number? Can they read journals, look through photos? At one point they asked me if I had a password for my computer. They never asked what the password was. Did they have other means of accessing information on it? Do security concerns equate a blank check?

Or are there limits. For example, can a traveler choose to end a search and return back to where they came (something potentially difficult considering you’re trying to get back in a country without evidence of being in another….) ? If Israelis suspect a person of being a terrorist it seems counter-intuitive they would let them simply go back the way they came. Can a person ask to speak to a representative from their embassy during a search?

These are some of the questions I’m hoping to answer. If anyone has any knowledge or ideas, I would appreciate the help! I’m currently waiting to hear-back from some Israeli lawyers and someone at the American embassy. (The exchange with the embassy has persisted for a number of days without helpful results thus-far…)

P.S. My goals is only to educate! Not knowing your rights is being helpless.

Also consider, tourism is positive for Israel/Palestine (and most other nations). Letting travelers know what to expect at the border and how procedures work and what their rights are might encourage hesitant individuals.

Deck at the Taba-Eliat border crossing

Where I waited(taking pictures!) while my computer was shot....

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10 thoughts on “Do travelers have rights at border crossings?

  1. I’m glad you’re taking this on. As many dozens of times as I’ve entered and exited Israel, the border protocols still seem like a black box to me. All that seems to work is to seem as bland and stereotypically white-touristy as possible. I laughed when I heard about all the “incriminating” things on your phone and computer — any veteran knows to cleanse all that stuff as step one!

    But how is anyone who’s never been there supposed to know that Israel likes its visitors thoughtless and ignorant, and is willing to make your day hell if they suspect you’re not? Even at the expense of losing tourists and looking completely insecure about their own narrative? It’s truly a Twilight Zone these days, very hard to explain to people who’ve never been there.

  2. Have you considered contacting the US State Department to ask them?

    After all, I believe that the US and Israel have a bilateral treaty that allows the citizens of each nation to gain entry to the other nation without having to arrange for a visa in advance. (It doesn’t mean that all citizens of each country are guaranteed entry or exempt from any kind of scrutiny at the border, just that they don’t need you to file paperwork in advance to let them know that you’re going to be coming.) The treaty may or may not define rights while at a port of entry, before being granted entry. The State Department would be the US government agency that would have that information.

    If you get no response from the State Department, contact your local member of Congress for assistance in getting an answer from the State Department…

  3. Am from lesotho,i want to go to isreal in the next two weeks,but have never been there before, am scared about there security issue on me and am 19 yrs of age..my father and my mother has been murdered two years ago…me is just me only now..Very soon i will b heading to cairo to get my move to the border .Am a novist i need someone to tell me how i will go about it ..since i have nobody in isreal to live with incase if am asked with persons number…Pls tell me what to do

  4. Hi Oni Michael,

    I wish I could help, but I’m no expert in border crossings with Israel and also do not have information about your personal situation.
    For example, which border corssing are you going through and do you intend to stay or are you just going to visit? And is there a certain border crossing you’re going to?
    I cannot give you any kind of formal advice. I would only say make sure what you’re doing is legal and be ready to answer a lot of questions at the border.
    If you want to post a more specific question, it is possible someone will read it who has more knowledge than I do….
    Do remember, my computer incident was extremely rare–while Israeli security is often a harrowing process, many people get through without mishap.
    Good luck!

  5. While I applaud the intrepid spirit that leads you to travel the world alone and immerse yourself in Egyptian culture, it seems that you have a very one-sided view of your experience, that you feel you were entitled to the protections of US law including some vague Constitutional Rights at a foreign border and that you have no appreciation whatsoever for the security concerns that Israel faces from people entering from Arab countries.

    Whether Israel overreacted is not only point and certainly not the main one. Being a single woman, having the Arabic stickers on your computer, the provocative photo from Gaza and smirking at the border patrol after telling them you were part-Jewish and then had no knowledge of Jewish holidays meant you fell right into a profiling net. Instead of asking what rights you should be “entitled” to at a foreign border crossing (I am not so sure that there are any codified rights per se), perhaps you should be asking yourself what behaviors might be more conducive to negotiating your way across the border of two countries, neither of which you have citizenship in.

    Meaning, you might have an inkling of self-reflection about how you might have bought this upon yourself by your own comportment (smirking never helps).

    Inasmuch as you have posted detailed info about your own thought processes on your blog about your hostility to those who choose to identify themselves by their religious associations (you prefer to see religion as a vestigial organ- something to enjoy culturally- xmas trees and potatoe pancakes instead of constricting religious dogma, as you see it), you show an inability to empathize and comprehend the thought processes of those who do identify along these lines. You talk about driving around Kiryas Joel (spell it properly!) as if they are a complete “other”, and you seem to have those views towards other people who identify as Jewish as well.

    Perhaps this disdain for the whole concept of any identification markers other than those you deem worthy is what registered in the smirk you willfully describe as flashing to the Israeli border guard.

    Frankly, reading your comments about Jews and religion and knowing how you feel about people who have a different view than you do about what it means to be Jewish really makes your “plight” even less sympathetic. You also talk about your family’s left wing views that include complete hostility to the concept of any Israeli acts taken in self-defense- as if being half Jewish and half Christian liberates you to think “critically” about the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

    Friendly tip as you go through life: sometimes the absolutist views on topics that we hear from our parents (including a parent who spends all their time thinking about how to construct arguments on rights’ violations, perceived and actual), we need to examine critically for ourselves and think about whether there is another way of looking at, resolving and comprehending situations. Translation: you would seem to be more of a free thinker if you didn’t adopt your family’s party line (on politics, religious identity, etcetera) hook line and sinker. Just my two cents. I hope you take this in the spirit in which it is meant- constructive criticism, and not as a personal attack.

    I do hope with time that you are able to see and appreciate the border guards’ point of view, even if you don’t agree with their view and also understand the tradeoff between providing security and giving people the benefit of the doubt in the name of international harmony or whatnot.

    • “Friendly tip as you go through life: sometimes the absolutist views on topics that we hear from our parents (including a parent who spends all their time thinking about how to construct arguments on rights’ violations, perceived and actual), we need to examine critically for ourselves and think about whether there is another way of looking at, resolving and comprehending situations. Translation: you would seem to be more of a free thinker if you didn’t adopt your family’s party line (on politics, religious identity, etcetera) hook line and sinker. Just my two cents. I hope you take this in the spirit in which it is meant- constructive criticism, and not as a personal attack.”

      Violet:

      I fail to see how Lilly has been absolutist during any of her posts. On the contrary, she has tried to be fair and critical of both sides. What is even more concerning is that your criticism is neither constructive nor valuable. In plain English: you read like a page out of the Israeli guide to propaganda.

      Try addressing your own insular approach to life before applying that same critique to others…

    • @violet, you completely fail in all your arguments.

      As a fellow traveler myself i can easily commiserate with Lily’s ordeal as I have shared a number of mishaps. Hence it’s so interesting to me how easy it is for people to make quick judgments. Especially when the larger part of them have probably never went beyond a mile of their own backyard.

      Lily spent a lengthy amount of time traveling the world and your treated her as if she’s a naive clueless little girl? The fact that’s Lily could, on her own, visited some of the locations she mentioned in her blog proved she had far more experiences hence knowledge than you.

      You also failed to realize this is a personal blog not a political driven venue. Although Lily may be quite an opinionated person, which again evidence that she’s quite an intelligent person (clueless people have no opinions), she had yet made any kind of accusatory comments. For the most part in her blog were Lily’s observations.

      in fact, the readers who commented on her blog are far more quicker to make judgmental remarks such as yours than Lily. She could have went off with a salvo of insults and condemnation towards Israel and her people, instead Lily shelved this incident as one of her many traveling experiences. Lily strikes to me as a person who is far more cultured than most who criticized her.

    • This video shows my point about taking personal responsibility for negotiating border crossings with ease by taking into consideration the guard’s POV. 100% of the border guard’s mind is focused on making sure they are securing the border. The person crossing the border thinks about it for a fraction of their day, just the part where they are crossing the border. This guy had an attitude problem and a hyper tone of voice within seconds of the conversation starting. Just as when you are pulled over by the police, it is important to be calm, answer the questions with earnestness, and being patient. Doing what he does guarantees you are going to raise the guard’s hackles. That he recorded this suggests he planned to have a confrontation and make a cause out of this.

  6. It doesn’t look like the arguments were a complete failure since people are responding to them. IMHO, there is a strong personal opinion that resonates about Israel’s “aggression” and fault and an implied sympathy that the Palestinians are the greater victims of the aggressive Israleis who seem to have such strict security procedures because they are a hostile people- completely unprovoked with no reason or context! Tania you may be a personal friend and you suggest that lily is a nonjudgmental cultural traveler. There is some judgment that comes through the writings here.
    Your comment that Lily “visited some of the locations she mentioned in her blog proved she had far more experiences hence knowledge” than I do- I’ll say that statement speaks on its own. You have absolutely no clue what experiences I have had, what countries I have worked in, what business I am in, what experiences I have had and you are not in a place to make a comparison without knowing that. You also imply that the rightness of the arguments are driven by having had a specific experience. I do not have had to have had a dustup at a border crossing without telling you what I think the law does or does not guarantee a person. And though I do not know Lily personally as you seem to, and I am sure she is a perfectly good person and nice friend, I have the right to a viewpoint on the personal context through which her opinions come based on her own freely offered writings on her family background and situation which she describes quite a bit on this blog.

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