I obtained my current U. S. passport just before I hopped on the plane to Israel. That was almost 10 years ago. So, it was time to get it renewed. It was also time for me to find out if the horror stories I had heard U. S. Citizen Services in Israel were true.
U. S. Consulate, Jerusalem
Going to the U. S. Consulate on the "East Side" of Jerusalem was out of the question. I am positive it would aggravate me to no end. So, for my own mental health and spiritual state of mind, I ruled out this option.
I had written several times to Secretaries Of State Albright, Powell, and Rice about the dangers to visibly-Jewish Americans wishing to make their way to the U. S. Consulate in the eastern part of Jerusalem. I also pointed out that Americans do not live anywhere near this location. How many Arab-Americans in Israel are there? The U. S. Consulate location on Agron Street would be much more convenient for the great number of Americans living in the Rehaviah and Nahla'oth neighborhoods right down the street, with the Qatoman, Baq'a, and Ma'aloth Dafnah neighborhoods only a short bus ride away. The safety and convenience of Jews do not seem to be high on the priority list of the U. S. State Department. And, as you have already guessed, I never received a response any of the above-mentioned Secretaries of State, not Democrat, not Republican.
One horror story came to me from my friend "Derech HaMelech," who went to the consulate on the "East Side" to register his first-born child as an American born abroad. He had to go there three times, with infant in-tow, in order to accomplish his appointed task.... The first two times he was kicked out, physically removed by security. I kid you not! The first removal scenario went something like this:
Clerk: No, you don't have the correct documents. You'll have to come back.
DHM: Well, alright. Would you please tell me which documents I need to bring?
Clerk: You can look that up on-line.
DHM: Could you please give me a list of what I can bring?
At the risk of being accused of being a racist... Yes, she was an Arab.
By the way, DHM and his wife successfully registered their child as an American born abroad. The child's place of birth was listed as "Jerusalem." notice anything missing? That's right. The U. S. government, or rather the U. S. State Department, does not recognize Jerusalem as being part of Israel, at least not in our passports.
Now that's what I call true "Islamophobia:" Fear of Islamic opinion, sentiment, and...retribution.
U. S. Embassy, Tel-Aviv
American citizens visiting the U. S. Embassy in Tel-Aviv have also reported their share of horror stories. The main complaint came from my fellow Jews living on the eastern side of something called the "Green Line." I have never actually seen any green line, but Leftists insist on its existence. They obviously haven't studied Tana"kh (Bible) as much as I have. But I digress....
The complaint was that of harassment, in the form of an interrogation regarding their respective residences:
Is that in the "territories?"
Why do you live there?
I don't just live in the Shomron (Samaria); I live in the [in]famous K'far Tapu'ah. One of these days I intend to shatter the myths of this town, as it's disappointingly nothing what the media has made it out to be. But, in the meantime, I was a bit nervous writing down my correct address. Then I realized: What do I care? They'll either give me a passport or they won't. There's nothing I can do about it,...not now anyway.
Every one with whom I had spoken, who had visited the embassy before me, made the same, two recommendations:
1. Speak English,...not Hebrew... I dunno. Why wouldn't I?
2. Remember that I'm technically IN the U. S., not Israel: ACT AMERICAN, NOT ISRAELI. Again, why wouldn't I? Although I must admit, I did have to concentrate on this. There are certain words in English we [acclimated] Americans in Israel simply do not use, like "excuse me" or "hello." Instead it's "slihah" and "shalom."
Well, after my experience at the embassy, I am afraid that I will have to disappoint you. Other than the 1 hr. 45 min. wait, everything went off without a hitch. I must also tell you that the two rules above were completely useless.
All of the security guards, both inside and outside of the embassy, were Israeli. Although they all spoke English, of course, none of them even flinched when I spoke to them in my [barely ;-) ] noticeably American-accented Hebrew. These men and women are trained to detect a security threat a mile away. I suppose that was their only real concern.
I actually forgot that I was entering a U. S. government building, until I entered the main waiting area. Even then, I heard several families speaking Hebrew or "half-and-half." Not only that, but many us spoke to the [all Israeli] clerks in Hebrew as well. I began with my clerk in English, was overly polite, and asked her a question about how to answer some of the questions on the application form for a new passport, like permanent residence. Did she want a U. S. address or an Israeli address? Did she prefer that I write address on my self-addressed, stamped envelop in English of Hebrew?
I must admit that I am an airhead when it comes to these kind of things. But when the clerk responded with a hint of impatience, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I immediately switched to Hebrew, told her no problem, and speedily wrote my Jerusalem mailing address on the envelop in Hebrew.
She stuck with English, but said I could finish filling out the application on my own, and then take it to the cashier.
She didn't care where I lived.
The printable application on the embassy's website mentioned that anyone submitting photos wearing a head covering would also have to submit a declaration accompanying the photos, stating that the head covering is worn for religious reasons. Yet, none of the Americans in the waiting area, with whom I spoke, knew anything about this, nor was this mentioned to me by the clerk. Perhaps the covering of ones head is so common place in Israel, they just assume that it's for religious reasons, or more likely, this is just necessary when applying by mail. My last passport shows me with a kippah. I don't remember this ever being an issue.
We'll see for sure that neither of these issues raised an eyebrow when I actually receive my passport, reportedly within the next three weeks.
In the meantime, it's men's day at the [religious] beach, and I don't intend to waste a trip to Tel-Aviv, nor the sharav (heat wave).
Judy Lash Balint provides us with a nice overview of the current situation of the U. S. Embassy and Consulates in Israel.