The notorious Israel passport stamp problem has been lingering around for a good few years, adding stress to the traveller who wants to visit Israel – along with many of the countries around that area, who have boycotted the nation. Also, Israeli authorities will at least be shitty with you, if you have stamps in your passport from countries who they don’t have a good relationship with. Read on to find out what to expect if you want to travel in that pocket of the world, or if all this is new to you (as it was to me a year ago).
The issue – in a nutshell
This is of course a very basic explanation of quite possibly the biggest mess on the planet. But I’ll give it a go. Israel is recognised by Islamic and Arabic nations (with the exception of a few) as ‘occupied Palestine.’ If you have an Israel stamp in your current passport; you can completely forget about a visit to the following countries until your passport runs out:
- Saudi Arabia
- Malaysia (Feel free to tell me if I missed any).
From what I understand, Israel will allow you in from their side, if you’ve been stamped by one of their enemies – but they will give you a headache which will be enough to leave a bitter taste in your mouth. (I had four Malaysian stamps, and my interrogation(s) were far from an enjoyable touristic experience).
If you have stamps from any of the nations mentioned in the above list; the chances of you getting questioned several times in Israel will be commonplace. Or maybe I just look dodgy.
My problem – in a nutshell
I had developed an obsession to visit Iraq (as you do) and wanted to go direct from Israel. An Israeli stamp would have surely screwed me over for my desired visit to Erbil. Potential sad face. I figured I’d grin and bear it and just go to Iraq on a new passport later on in the year, should Israel stamp my passport with one of its own.
I entered Israel with no problems at all – and no stamp! The immigration guy took a quick look at my passport, asked me how long I was going to stay for and welcomed me to Israel. I was given a separate card with my name and face on. Make sure you keep this with you at all times as it’s your proverbial stamp. Leaving, on the other hand – was a complete nightmare…
Special note: Israel is the most security paranoid place I have ever been to. Most airports require you to be there for at least two hours before your flight leaves. Double that for Israel, or you could miss your flight. They’ll ask you the same questions five times over. They’ll scan your body. They’ll scan your face. They’ll scan your brain. They’ll scan your condoms.
Get there four hours early at least to depart.
My Malaysian stamps earned my backpack the experience of a ‘special’ search and more questions than a needy girlfriend with insecurity issues. However, when I left – I was given a separate exit stamped card again. Which means that there is no trace of a visit to Israel in your passport if you visit and want to also visit the aforementioned countries on the same passport. Ergo, there is no longer a problem.
With regards to the stress of the constant badgering and searching of my bags – when such a situation arises either beforehand, or by retrospect – we need to ask ourselves; “is it worth it?” Is the probable hassle worth the potential stress involved? I would say a resounding “yes” in this situation.
I spent as much time in Arabic villages and Palestine as I did in the famous, beautiful Israel hotspots. As someone who is fascinated by the history and the current political climate, I felt it was absolutely integral to see as much as possible from both sides when I was there. Israel is stunning and easy to get around. Palestinian West Bank is compelling, confusing and heartbreaking. And one of my favourite ever travel experiences. Next travel post is on travelling in Palestine.
You can view my photos of Israel and Palestine on my fan page photo album here. “Toda” and “Shukran” and all that jazz!