Adding Passport Pages in Tel Aviv
Giv'atayim, Israel and the Palestinian Territories
There comes a time on the path of most long-term (or frequent) travelers when they run out of unused pages in their passport. My entry into Israel marked the second of such occasions.
One of the perks of traveling on a U.S. passport is that you likely need not retire it (e.g.: pay for a new one) should it become full of stamps and stickers; we're allowed to have booklets of pages inserted, free of charge. Typically two of these hefty 26-page inserts can be taped into a passport by an embassy or consulate before you're required to get a new one—though I've heard of some folks getting away with more.
Citizen services hours at U.S. embassies always seem to be in the morning, and for a very short duration of time (usually making for an uncomfortable experience commuting there, though a sprawling capital city). 8 a.m. until 11 a.m. is all the time you're giving to present your business.
Tel Aviv's U.S. embassy is pretty anal about appointments and the such, with some folks waiting upwards of a month to be seen. Thankfully, passport page inserts don't require such a thing.
It costs 5.5 shekels (US$1.40) to ride the public inner-city bus in Tel Aviv—more, in Jerusalem—and always takes the better part of 45 minutes to get to the coastline from the suburb we're CouchSurfing in.
I'd left early, and made it to the beach bum embassy around 9:00. I queued outside, amidst the well-armed security guards, closed circuit cameras and anxious Jews for my turn to pass through the heavy, bomb-resistant doors. The doorman with the speaker tucked into his ear wasn't enjoying his job (as most Israelis aren't exactly a quiet, patient people).
It was finally my turn to enter into the premises, and I started going through the same motions as I have at all my embassy visits prior.
…but as I placed my coins, camera and belt on the table next to the metal detector and walked though, the guard snapped at me, "No!"
"In every other embassy I've been to security will hold these items for me," I protested. This was true, I've never been to an embassy where they wouldn't place your camera, pocketknife, etc. in a little cubbyhole while you did your business within.
"We don't do that anymore," he remarked without compassion. "You have to deposit it up the street, on the left."
Yet Another Expense in Israel
It came as little surprise that in this country, the storage of personal belongings not allowed inside the embassy had been "outsourced" to a private company that charged for such things. As I was alone, there was no other recourse but to use the "service" or go home.
What normally goes without question elsewhere in the world cost me 10 shekels ($2.60) to place my camera in a cubbyhole. Others were paying 20 (over $5) or much more just because their purses were bigger than the size of a Kleenex box.
What a scam, and of course excellent additional revenue source for the embassy (which likely gets a significant cut of the profits). (sigh) …Israel.
In researching this posting, I dug up a dated page on the Tel Aviv embassy Web site (that's no long accessible from navigation within the site):
For many years, visitors to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv had to stand in long lines outside in the heat or rain before passing through security screening. At the end of 2007, the Embassy instituted new procedures designed to minimize the discomfort of our visitors. These procedures have reduced the wait time before entering the Embassy from two or three hours to only fifteen or twenty minutes. The key to this success is that we now prohibit visitors from carrying into the building most objects other than paperwork, a credit card, and cash. Not having metal objects, wallets, purses, bags, containers, luggage, backpacks, cell phones, etc. means that visitors can move directly from outside through the security screening procedure almost without pause.
In order to make this new procedure work, visitors must either leave non-permissible items at home, have a relative or friend hold on to them outside the building, or find a place to store them near the Embassy. There is now a private commercial concern just north of the Embassy that will store these objects for a modest fee.
This procedure has been very successful in reducing the time people wait to receive services from Embassy staff and has also helped to reduce our overall waiting time for visa appointments. Thank you for your cooperation.
Of course what's normally done while you wait (as I've experienced prior) was far from the case today. I was out of the building with a slip of paper that said "Pickup at 3:00"—well over five hours away.
Even though it would've cost me just as much to claim my camera and recheck it again during pickup as it would've to of taken a bus ride back home (and back towards the embassy), I decided to just wait out the hours walking around various parts of the city.
One of my explicate requests at the time I turned over my passport was to have the new booklet appended to the back of the passport. I told the man working opposite a thick pane of bulletproof glass that immigration officers the world over were always having problems finding empty pages, as they'd flip to one extreme to find it full, then to the other, just to find the same. Blank pages in the middle of the passport confused them.
I left reasonably happy with his notation, written clearly on the application in red pen: "Add pages to end of passport."
Of course, the person processing the insert completely ignored this request, instead taping the new booklet into the middle of the existing addition—making the passport this laughably obese thickness.
Likewise, I was rather disappointed with the official addendum message on the first page of the new booklet—no where as nice as the one I received in Buenos Aires (with a raised seal stamp).
Oh well, lots of blank new pages in there for immigration officials to seek out now.