The Dilemma of Crossing the Taba Border

Dahab was my last stop in Egypt, and I was about to head to Israel. There’s just one bus heading to the Taba border daily and it’s run by the East Delta Bus Company. It’s very cheap. I only paid 30 EGP for a one way ticket. They don’t sell tickets in advance, you have to buy on the day itself. There’s an East Delta ticketing office only 5 minutes away by foot from the hotel where I was staying, so purchasing a ticket was easy. Most of the hotels in Dahab are located in this area, and anyone can point you to the right direction. It’s very close to the Go Bus bus stop and the Dahab Plaza Hotel.

The bus normally stops outside this ticketing office, but for some reason the guy who sold me the ticket told me that the bus won’t be stopping by at the office that day so I should proceed to the main bus station. It was kind of a hassle but he managed to get me a ride to the bus station for only 5 EGP so it was all good. The bus was supposed to leave at 10:30 AM, but it arrived at 11:30 AM. The trip was fairly quick. There was just one stop at Nuweiba where most of the locals got off. Only a few passengers remained and I assumed we were all heading to Israel. There’s nothing in Taba except for expensive hotels and resorts, and none of us looked like travelers who’d stay at fancy places. The entire trip from Dahab to Taba took a little over 2 hours. From the bus station in Taba, it was only a ten minute walk to the border. Exiting the border from Egypt was easy. We just had to pay 5 EGP, surrender all Egyptian SIM cards, and after just one baggage check we were already by the gates to Israel.

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The Egyptian side of the Taba Border

If you’ll be coming from Cairo though, a word of caution: do not take those buses that go directly to Taba. All those buses pass through Northern Sinai, and non Egyptians are not allowed in this part of the country. They inexplicably allow you to board these buses in Cairo, but once you arrive at the first check point the soldiers would force you to get out and you have to find your way back to Cairo on your own. I’ve met travelers who have learned this the hard way. One had to hitch hike back, while the others waited for the next bus heading back to Cairo and it took hours before the next bus arrived. From Cairo board a bus to either Sharm El Sheikh or Dahab. These buses pass through the longer route that traverses the southern border of the Sinai Peninsula where non Egyptians are allowed to travel. From Sharm El Sheikh or Dahab just catch the bus heading to the Taba border.

Everyone who plans to travel to Israel may be wondering if the Israeli border control officers  still stamp passports upon arrival and before departure. There’s a good reason for this. There are several countries that do not allow entry to anyone with an Israeli stamp on their passports. These countries are:

  • Afghanistan
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Kuwait
  • Lebanon
  • Libya
  • Pakistan
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • Yemen

If you plan on going to these countries, the easiest way to avoid any problems would be to simply head to these destinations before going to Israel. If that’s not possible, try getting a second passport if your country allows it. If both options are not possible, there’s still no need to worry if you don’t need a visa to Israel. If you need a visa, there’s no way around it. The visa will be placed in your passport, so there’s no other option than to get a new passport.

If you don’t need an Israeli visa, there’s no need to worry if you’re flying to Israel as long as you plan your flights correctly. This is because Israel no longer stamps passports upon arrival and departure at any airport, they hand you a separate piece of paper containing all your information instead. If you’re taking direct flights and your passport doesn’t have a lot of stamps yet, it might look suspicious to overly obsessive immigration officers in several Muslim countries that you had a departure stamp from somewhere but there’s no arrival stamp. You can simply say that you went to a country that doesn’t stamp passports anymore (like Australia).

If you travel by land from Egypt though, there’s no way around this. The Israeli border control officers don’t stamp passports when you enter by land either, but the Egyptian officers do upon exiting their land border. I asked the officer if it’s possible for them to just put the stamp on a separate piece of paper and he said no. You see, those countries don’t just look for Israeli passport stamps. They look for any evidence of travel to Israel. The Taba exit stamp from Egypt is a dead giveaway that you went to Israel because no other country shares that border with Egypt.

But honestly, I don’t even mind having those stamps. I did my research before deciding to head to Israel. I’ve looked at the list of countries that do not allow entry for people with Israeli stamps on their passport, and I have no intentions of visiting those countries— at least not in the near future. I think the entire policy is stupid really. Why the heck would these countries involve travelers in their politics and foreign relations? Travelers just want to visit places and see what each country has to offer. Majority of travelers couldn’t possibly care less about the foreign relations of every country. Israel is also home to a lot of religious sites, thus a lot of people on pilgrimages flock to the country. By not allowing entry to people with Israeli stamps on their passports, these countries are basically punishing people for performing their religious obligations.  Several sites that Muslims consider sacred can also be found in Israel. So the governments of these countries are also forbidding their citizens to set foot on sites that they consider sacred. There are also Muslims who are Israeli citizens. These days, such Muslims are prevented from doing their pilgrimage to Mecca because of their citizenship. This doesn’t really make much sense to me. These countries are basically antagonizing people who share their beliefs. And let’s get real here. If I’m forced to choose between Israel and these other countries, looking at the numerous human rights violations going on in those countries I would readily side with Israel. The way they treat their women is also sickening. Not that Israel is completely innocent. Of course it’s not. I just think that when it comes to treating people fairly, those other countries are much worse. And the way they act as if they are in the righteous path is absurd, because in many ways they are hypocrites.

Israel has been unfairly demonized and vilified in western media. They put too much focus on the plight of the people in the Gaza Strip. Well after spending some time in Israel and actually interacting with locals who live near the Gaza Border, here’s what I have concluded: Just because you’re weaker doesn’t make you victims. And just because you’re stronger, that doesn’t make you the aggressors. When i was in Israel people from the Gaza strip were firing missiles non stop and the Israelis simply shoot down those missiles. They do not directly retaliate by firing on the Gaza Strip. What does that tell you? Oh I won’t rule out the possibility that there are covert ops that target several people in the strip— as I’ve said I don’t think Israel is completely innocent. But mostly they are on the defensive. And in any war there would be innocent casualties. I’m just saying that it’s not all black and white, this war is complicated. But of course since all we see are the bloodied civilians and crying children inside the Gaza Strip, we would naturally be inclined to support those poor, innocent, defenseless people. Never mind the fact that not all these people are innocent. Never mind the fact that Hamas makes use of women and children as shields, which is the oldest trick in the book by the way, I wonder why we all keep falling for it.  It’s so convenient for the media to focus on all the bloodied children while failing to mention the continuous attacks on Israel just to push their own narrative.

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The Israeli Side of the Taba Border

Now although I would side with Israel on this, I am not a fan of their border control policies. Man, talk about absolute paranoia. Once we got to the Israeli side, there were multiple check points. We had to stop for a couple of minutes inside three gated areas before we finally got inside the  main immigration building. As i was picking up my bags from the last baggage scanner, some dude approached me and began to ask questions. He must be someone assigned to do a pre- screening interview. I was kinda annoyed that the people I was with on the bus were able to proceed directly to the immigration counters while I was singled out, but what could I do. He asked the questions that I expected. First he checked my passport. He took his time looking at every stamp and then asked questions for each one. He asked a lot of questions about the things I did in certain countries. I was surprised that he asked so many questions about my trips to Indonesia and Malaysia, i didn’t realize Israel considered those countries as enemy states. Heck I wasn’t even aware that those countries consider Israel as an enemy state as well. I was mildly amused about his questions about my trip to Bali. Does he think someone would go there to attend some terrorism seminar to go along with some R & R? I expected him to dwell on my visits to Muslim countries like Qatar, Morocco and Egypt, and he did. He asked very detailed questions about my trip to Egypt. He asked if I made friends with Egyptians and when I said yes, he looked surprised which I found odd. Am i supposed to keep to myself whenever I travel? Am I not supposed to interact with locals? He asked more questions after that. Like how I met them, what did we talk about, did we ever talk about Israel. I said yes, which seemed to alarm him. I told him I mentioned I was heading to Israel and that was it. It would be hard to keep my travel plans to myself. Was I supposed to lie? If that’s the case they should inform every traveler who plans to go to Israel about this. He then asked if I am still in contact with them. I said occasionally, since we exchanged numbers on whatsapp and added each other on social media. He then asked if I was planning to post anything about Israel on my social media accounts. At that point I was getting really annoyed. In my head I was thinking it’s social media, of course i would post stuff. If it’s not allowed then why don’t you put out a travel advisory?! Still I kept my cool, but i wanted to piss him off a bit. I mentioned nonchalantly that I also hung out with a Syrian and and Iranian in Dahab— which was true. I almost laughed out loud when I saw the look in his eyes.

I guess that made the interrogation last so much longer, but I was getting annoyed with his line of questioning. If his years of training would point to me as a possible terrorist, then I’m sorry to say that his training was garbage. He asked why I was traveling alone. I said it’s 2018. Isn’t he aware that so many people from all over the world travel alone these days? He asked what I did back home, what kind of work. He asked for proof. I showed him my professional identification card, that wasn’t enough for him. He asked for pictures of myself while I was at work. I said I don’t have any pictures like that on my phone. I mainly takes photographs when I travel. I’m not one to take photos when I’m at home, especially not at the workplace. He said that’s suspicious. What kind of person doesn’t take pictures like that, he said. I have no pictures of myself with friends, with family, with co-workers? I told him that’s just the way I am, and he shouldn’t generalize people into what he perceives as normal. I told him if he wouldn’t allow me to enter Israel because I don’t have pictures with friends on my phone, then they should put out a travel advisory that having pictures of friends and co-workers on one’s phone is a requirement prior to entry.

I get it. They ask a lot of questions because basically they are still at war. I would understand questions relating to national security but his questions were very personal and I don’t see how the pictures I take on my phone could have anything to do with my travel plans. I asked him pointblank if he will allow me to pass or not. Because if we’re gonna take much longer I’d rather deal with his superiors instead of answering his pointless questions.

He let me through. When I was talking to the actual border control officer behind the counter it was quicker. He asked what I did in the Muslim countries, where I planned to stay in Israel, what do I plan to do in Israel, and how much money I had on me. That was it. He handed me the piece of paper (my arrival card) stating I could stay for 90 days. It didn’t even take 5 minutes. They don’t charge anything when entering the country through the Taba border. If you plan on heading the opposite direction though and cross the Taba border from Israel to Egypt, you’d have to pay a whopping 106 Shekels (about 28 USD).

Before exiting the building, there was one last baggage check. Jesus. It’s not like I could have sneaked in something illegal while being questioned. I asked the guy where the nearest ATM was. He said it was back inside. Otherwise I’d need to go to the city. Argh. I guess I missed it cause I got pissed off with all the interrogation. It’s probably before the immigration/ border control counters, I’m sure there was no ATM machine after because I was on the lookout for one after I was handed my arrival card.

I was planning to take a public bus that’s why I was a looking for an ATM. This is the cheapest way to get to the center of Eilat, and it only costs 4.20 Shekels (about 1 USD). The buses don’t accept credit cards, they only accept cash. I could have booked online but it was quite difficult because Israeli websites are not accessible in Egypt, and the web page for actually booking tickets is only in Hebrew. The rest of the website is still useful though for checking bus schedules. For some reason the rest of the website has an English translation. Take note that if you’re arriving on a Friday or a Saturday there would be less public buses running because it’s Shabbat. I’ve been told there aren’t many taxis going around too. I’d avoid crossing the border on these days if it’s possible.

I checked my navigation apps to see if I could walk to the center of Eilat. It’s gonna take more than an hour by foot, clearly it was too far especially in the blistering heat. I decided to just walk toward the city and hail a cab when one passes by and ask the driver to take me to the nearest ATM first before taking me to the hostel. My Israeli friend told me a cab costs around 50-70 Shekels from the Taba border to the city center. I was only walking for about 5 minutes when an old man who came from the beach approached me. He said he was heading back to the city and asked me if I needed a ride.

Ah, the kindness of strangers.  That old man was like an angel. What a great introduction to Israel. I started to wonder if it’s really God’s chosen country lol.

The old man took me to the nearest ATM and actually insisted that he’d wait for me so he could take me to the hostel right after. It was on the way to his house anyway. He was such a great help to me that I felt bad that I couldn’t repay him somehow. I stayed at Ahla Diving Center, just cause it was the cheapest place I could find that didn’t look like dump. It has a chill vibe, it’s fairly new, and it felt more like a house than a hostel so i had no regrets staying there. It seems that Eilat isn’t really a destination for backpackers hence the lack of budget accommodations. It’s a resort town with mainly hotels, so everything is expensive even by Israeli standards. Most people crossing the border from Egypt apparently head elsewhere like Jordan or Jerusalem without even spending one night in Eilat. I decided to spend two nights, I felt that I needed to stay put for a while to get some rest.

Eilat is a pretty cool place. It has a laid back vibe like most cities close to the sea. It’s famous for diving, but I’ve just been to Dahab. Since the diving spots are both in the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea, I’d imagine the sites would be pretty similar to each other so I didn’t sign up for any snorkeling/ diving activities. It’s way cheaper in Egypt, but if you really want to check out the diving spots in Eilat the hostel where I stayed at offers diving courses and the prices are reasonable.


 

I would just like to add— If you’ll be flying out, I would advise to get to the airport 3 hours before the flight because you’d undergo the same process again. It could actually take longer because in addition to questions regarding your previous travels, the immigration officers would ask about the things you did in Israel: where you went, what you did, and if you made friends with locals. I saw extensive baggage checks being done to several passengers, and I had to leave my bags in a different area for special inspection. I liked Israel, and I’d probably return one day. Their excessive paranoia makes entering and leaving the country unnecessarily tedious though. It would be beneficial for all travelers if they would loosen up a bit. It’s possible to secure the country without treating every visitor as a potential terrorist.

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what the world needs more of

 

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