Before my trip to Israel last week, I wondered if I should allow immigration officials to put an Israeli stamp in my passport.
It’s not that I didn’t want the stamp, which is partially written in Hebrew, as a souvenir. I love collecting passport stamps and am genuinely disappointed when immigration control merely swipes the card. And now that I’ve been to Israel once, I can’t wait to go back and explore more of the country with my husband as an independent traveler (my visit was sponsored by the Israel Ministry of Tourism).
But some Arab and Muslim countries, such as Syria and Lebanon, still restrict and deny entry to travelers who have the stamp. A friend of mine who does frequent consulting work in Saudi Arabia warned that the Kingdom has the same philosophy; many employees at her international company who work in both Israel and Arab countries have two passports to get around the problem.
To stamp or not to stamp raises some ethical issues. I do believe in the existence of Israel, and hope that a peaceful resolution can be found for the Palestinians living in the West Bank and on the Gaza Strip. It bothers me that Arab countries place restrictions on travelers like this, forcing them to choose. Plus the chances of me visiting most of the nations unfriendly to Israel, such as Sudan, Pakistan or Yemen, are unlikely (Jordan and Egypt, which have peace agreements with Israel, welcome travelers with or without the stamp, as does Morocco).
On the other hand, I don’t want to limit my world explorations if I don’t have to. And my latest passport is brand new; I’d hate to have to get a new one if a trip to a different Middle Eastern country came up. My group of five travel writers was split on the issue (two of us decided not to stamp, while the others were OK with it).
In the end, avoiding the stamp was easy. At the passport control booth at Ben Gurion airport outside Tel Aviv, I politely asked the officer not to stamp my book. She stopped and looked at me. “Why don’t you want me to stamp it” she asked.
I told her that as a travel writer, my work often took me to different countries. She told me that while she didn’t have an extra piece of paper, she would stamp an entry card for me.
On the way out, the security personnel at El Al noticed that there wasn’t a stamp and they asked me if I had another passport. But they didn’t hassle me when I told them no, and the immigration official on the way out also complied with my request. No harm, no foul.
I’m curious what other people have done. If you’ve traveled to Israel recently, did you get your passport stamped? Or have you been denied entry to another country because of the stamp?