You, too, can become a temporary Palestinian:
Step 1 — In preparation for a security check as you enter Israel-controlled areas, place your passport on the seat of your “Arab” bus taking you from Ramallah, Palestine In Waiting’s seat of government.
Step 2 — When the Israeli soldiers board your bus, flash your best Texas grin (actually any non-Palestinian grin will do) and proudly hold up that passport for all to see.
Step 3 — As the soldiers depart your bus, carefully repeat Step 1’s passport seating arrangement instead of returning your passport into the jacket pocket from whence it came.
Step 4 — Get off your bus at your Jerusalem hotel, shower, meet with David Horovitz, Times of Israel’s editor, eat dinner with your Jewish-Presbyterian Dialogue group, share a nice bottle of non-settlement produced red wine with new friends back at your hotel while observing four Orthodox couples nervously sharing non-settlement produced bottled water on their arranged dates, brush your teeth, sleep, wake up, eat an Israeli breakfast packed with enough calories to get you through dinner — tomorrow’s, get on an “Israeli” bus, realize your passport is m.i.a., panic, then skip your day’s first planned activity to explore a new Israeli adventure: the U.S embassy.
Step 13 (I like skipping ahead.) — Panic again. Then observe. The embassy, as I soon discovered, is the place where applicants for entry into America come to learn resilience and to act out the if at first you don’t succeed proverb by delivering pages and pages of forms and documents just so they can get repeatedly rejected. Oh, the nice people behind the thick glass were empathetic as their latest victims approached them after their numbers were loudly intoned over speakers that were obviously designed to muffle clear sounds. If only you had used blue ink, not black. You can just schedule an appointment to come back. If only you had brought your former wife’s birth certificate. You can just schedule an appointment to come back. If only you had photocopied your travel plans instead of depending on me to look them up on my computer. You can just schedule an appointment to come back.
So many ways to look for reasons to say no. At least that was my impression for the first three hours I waited there. It was ten applicants up and ten applicants down. And I was number 11.
I didn’t like my odds.
But let me back up before I go forward. Ignore the beeps. And rejoice that you’ll get to soon learn what Steps 5 to 12 are.
I didn’t like the feeling of being stateless, even if I had the right to assume this was only a temporary condition. Without a passport I had no guaranteed right of return. I didn’t even have a key to my old house over 7,000 miles and eight time zones away. My wife had assured me that I could leave without it: After all, I’d be back soon and she said she’d let me in.
My first reaction when I learned I was passport-less was to keep my Presbyterian-Jewish dialogue group waiting while I searched my hotel room. But at least I gave them an opportunity to engage in interfaith griping while they impatiently waited for me to verify that I was as stupid as I felt. Perhaps I afforded our group new interfaith learning opportunities about Jews, their attachment to things like passports, and their ability to overcome temporary setbacks.
What to do?
Step 5 — Tap the cellular data “on” button on your phone.
Step 6 — Spend 15 minutes and $226 of gigs or mils or pounds or however it is they measure overseas data, researching the ins and outs of losing passports.
Step 7 — Have AT&T suspend your service in the interest of your own security. Our nanny government now has nanny corporate company.
Step 8 — Realize that because you had clearly demonstrated you couldn’t protect yourself against passport losses, you could also never hope to understand the special lost passport-pawn shop rates charged for unplanned international data access.
Let me stipulate: People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. (This is not intended as a literal reference to Palestinians, but as a literal reference to idiots everywhere.) Of course, it’s true that temporary Palestinians don’t really have glass houses. Stones maybe, but that’s an intifada for a different day. My dilemma necessitated an actual resolution more than an outpouring of unproductive frustration. While AT&T was sticking its corporate thumb in my temporary Palestinian eye, I could literally see no way out without internet access. At least I realized that throwing real or even proverbial stones at AT&T would only cause AT&T to further delay my service. At this point, I clearly needed them more than they needed me. So I negotiated, which is a diplomatic lesson I learned about 67 years earlier than Israeli and Palestinian political leaders.
Step 9 — Assume your negotiating partner may not immediately understand the benefit to them of agreeing to your requests. In this case that meant internet access, a low-cost international data plan, a retrospective bill adjustment and a promise not to make formal complaints to any international organizations.
Step 10 — Call spouse and appoint her as your lead negotiator. Here’s someone who is loyal, aligned with my best interests and incredibly annoyed she has to help. So she moves with the speed only impatience and an upcoming meeting can produce.
Step 11 — Achieve win-wins: My wife gets me what I need, she gets to her meeting on time, and AT&T gets two loyal customers willing to ignore the many competitive offers to disrupt and replace my AT&T service.
Step 12 — Research rules to follow when losing your passport. Rule 1: Don’t. Rule 2: Get clear passport photos at the only place in Jerusalem that has no English speaking employees. (Lucky for me I found a nice American tourist who, amazingly enough, was at the shopping mall to shop, not get passport photos. He was willing to help translate my desperation into six acceptable photos.) Rule 3: Pictures in hand — you only need two, but the other four qualify you for two future escapades — proceed to nearest U.S. embassy. Rule 4: Never ever, ever, ever speculate that your passport may have been stolen. A stolen passport begets a police report which begets more forms to fill out and more time spent. Far better to just admit you have no freaking idea what you did with your passport. Or just say you thought the darn thing was disposable and threw it away. Rule 5: Do not forget Rule 4.
Step 14 — When you are at the Embassy and still lost in the passport twilight zone, don’t be a smart aleck. If you’re asked, “Where do you think you lost your passport?” don’t reply, “Well if I knew that, then you and I wouldn’t be sharing this wonderful day together.” Build trust, not a wall. It’s all about taking steps that take you closer to your home, not further away.
Steps 15 to 22 — Reserved for those who answered their passport was stolen.
Step 23 — Rejoice when reconnecting with your group, temporary passport firmly in hand. Literally. For the rest of that day. And the next.
Step 24 — Smile upon reentering your hotel later that night and realizing that the reason you’re hearing your name called by the security guard is because someone has turned your “lost passport” in. Oh joy. All that passport fun for nothing. Except your embarrassment of passport riches really isn’t an embarrassment — at least in a multiple passport sense. Passport 1 is no longer good. It is both effectively lost and stolen.
Step 25 — Smile again when your Tel Aviv airport inquisitor says she would have let me board the plane passport-less and the U.S. would have admitted me passport-less, but I would have had to answer more questions. (Make that many more questions if my passport was stolen.)
Step 26 — Smile again upon entering U.S. when, after a Custom’s agent discovers that I failed to declare an apple procured on the plane, she also smiles and tells me that I won’t be fined because someone traveling on a temporary passport is presumed to need a little extra help.
I think she was joking. But I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.
More on the Jewish-Presbyterian dialogue trip next week. If I can only remember what I did with my notebook.