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Walking on the West Bank

My questioner cannot understand the stones.

‘Why are you bringing these to Israel?’

She holds out the two flints. One has complicated surface patterns of petrol blue and foxy red. I think: it resembles a map. I think: perhaps she imagines the stone is an illicit map of some kind that I am trying to smuggle into the country? I am not thinking straight.

‘I like stones,’ I say. ‘I collect them. I’ve brought these as gifts.’

‘So you do know people here?’

I’ve made a mistake. It isn’t my first. I have been lying persistently and badly for about an hour and a half now, to a variety of interrogators, in a variety of rooms in Tel Aviv airport. The rooms in which I have been questioned have been diminishing in size: entrance hall, side room, back room, booth.

The inquiries continue, looping back over the same ground with minor variations of route, seeking weaknesses in my story. There are plenty of weaknesses.

Where am I staying? Who do I know here? What is the purpose of my visit? What are my plans, exactly, day by day?

I persevere in my poor lies.

The American Colony Hotel, Jerusalem. Nobody. Academic tourism. I plan to visit the Dead Sea, Jaffa, of course Jerusalem. No, I have no intention of visiting the West Bank.

Where am I staying? Who do I know here? What is the purpose of my visit?

So it goes on. I have now assumed that they will not let me into Israel, and that I will be back on a plane to London once they’ve finished. I no longer mind about this. I just don’t want to be in these increasingly small rooms.

Later, another questioner arrives, my fourth. He is a gentle, rubbery-faced man. He doesn’t tell me his name, so I think of him as Benjamin. Benjamin is apologetic in his tone, warm in his queries, like a curious friend. I experience a sudden flowering of Stockholm syndrome. I want to tell Benjamin everything: that I am going from Tel Aviv to the West Bank, that I will be staying in Ramallah with a well-known Palestinian writer and human rights lawyer, and that we will be conducting a series of day-long walking trespasses within restricted-access Zone C landscapes. I almost tell Benjamin these things, then I stick to my answers, red-faced and sweating.

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