The Man Without a Country is a celebrated short story written exactly 150 years
It’s about an American soldier who renounces his country during a
trial for treason and is consequently sentenced to spend the rest of his days at
When Edward Everett Hale penned the story in 1863 for The Atlantic ,
his vivid creation of Lt. Philip Nolan at the treason trial of Aaron Burr
resonated deeply within the US, deep in the middle of their Civil
Nolan was being tried as an accomplice, and during his testimony, he
angrily shouts: “I wish I may never hear of the United States again!” An easier
sentence had never been passed. The judge, in shock at Nolan’s announcement,
upon his conviction, sentenced him to spend the rest of his life aboard US Navy
ships, in exile, with no right to ever set foot on American soil
Fast forward to today and Edward Snowden, stripped of his US
passport, has been traipsing the transit area corridors at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo
Airport, stuck in limbo. It’s been a month since Snowden exposed top secret US
surveillance programs and hopped on a plane to Hong Kong to avoid certain
Persecuted or set to be prosecuted, after publicly
acknowledging his giddy role in leaking the documents, he boarded a plane to
Moscow aiming to catch a plan to Havana, Cuba, where he thought he could live
out his days sipping rum and smoking cigars. US authorities stripped him of his
passport, and President Vladmir Putin of Russia said “nyet” when Snowden showed
up in Russia hoping to switch planes to a sunnier climate.
debriefed by Russian intelligence personnel to gain access to these sensitive
documents, the beleaguered whistle blower was forced to spend his days and nights
in a transit area at the Moscow airport.
Once Cuba said “no, gracias,”
his hopes turned to flying to Quito and joining famed WikiLeaks whistle blower
Julian Assange, holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. But with US Vice
President Joe Biden’s request that the country reject Snowden’s asylum bid and
the subsequent backtracking by Ecuadorian officials, the countries willing to
offer shelter to Snowden are dwindling away.
MOST OF us know that the pen
is mightier than the sword, and one such ‘penned’ item is a passport.
passport is nothing more than a document, issued by a national government, which
certifies the identity and nationality of its holder for the purpose of
international travel. The basic elements of identity contained in all
standardized passports include information about the holder, including name,
date of birth, gender and place of birth.
However, a passport does not of
itself entitle the passport holder entry into another country. Yet it does
normally entitle the owner to return to the country that issued the passport –
where Snowden most likely will end up.
So when Jack contacted me with the
plea of his stranded brother in the transit area of Heathrow Airport in London,
historical references rushed into my mind. Like many expats residing in Israel,
the surest way of having family members residing abroad visit is to plan a
celebration in the Holy Land.
Be it a bar mitzva or a wedding, those life
events are hard to avoid, and Jacks’ brother was no exception.
With a bar
mitzva planned far in advance, Jack’s brother, Aaron, scoured the Internet,
conspired with travel consultants and concluded that the least expensive, least
cumbersome option was to fly British Airways from New York to Israel via
Big Brother and his family procured the tickets, postulating that
the layover in London was worth the hundreds of dollars it would save
In JFK airport, at the BA ticket counter, their electronic tickets
and passports were presented, bags were checked in all the way to Ben-Gurion
Airport, boarding passes were printed – and up, up and away they flew. Upon
arrival at Heathrow, they were herded into a transit area where their travel
documents were inspected. Slowly turning the passports from side to side, the
immigration official looked up and gravely announced that one of the passengers
could not continue to Israel. Seems that Aaron’s passport was not valid for more
than six months and thus he would not be allowed into the Jewish
Yes, Israel, that Light Among Nations, that democratic bastion,
allowing all eligible to move to Israel under the Law of Return, had a clear and
concise codicil in their law.
ALL TOURISTS entering the State of Israel
must possess a travel document valid for more than six months from their date of
entry. Failure to comply will result in immediate deportation.
blow to the stomach, Aaron seemed shellshocked.
When he purchased his
tickets online, no mention was made of this regulation. His credit card was
gleefully charged and his e-ticket transmitted.
Sadly, this is not the
first time my intercession has been requested. Too many customers naively give
out their passport information, rarely asking if a visa is needed unless
prodded, and even more rarely asking how long one’s passport will be valid for.
Customers are stopped at airports throughout North America by keen airline
representatives when the passport’s validity does not meet the State of Israel’s
requirements. Their vigilance is based on the simple of tenet of aviation law:
If an airline brings in someone who will be denied entry, the airline is
financially liable to fly said client out of the country, with the cost to borne
only by the airline.
It was a Friday morning in London; time was ticking
away and moreover, the later British Airways flight that morning was chock full.
The evening flight to Tel Aviv would arrive after Shabbat, something that Aaron,
an observant Jew, would not consider.
I quickly pointed out two salient
facts: Firstly, BA was legally obligated to either get him to Israel or back to
New York, as they never should have permitted him to embark when legally he
could not get into the country.
Secondly, I instructed Jack to somehow,
some way contact the Israeli Embassy in London. What was needed was some type of
permission allowing Aaron into Israel, with the caveat that he obtain a valid US
passport prior to his departure. Embassy officials would need to quickly get his
information to police representatives at Ben-Gurion Airport. Friday morning is
not the best day to locate officials, but once more the Israeli Foreign Ministry
came through and gave their one-time permission to allow him to enter the
British Airways, once made cognizant of their complicity, was
kind enough to put him on an El Al flight that arrived in Tel Aviv a good two
hours before the advent of Shabbat.
The simcha was stupendous, a new
emergency passport was provided and his return flight was
Clearly it is far better to have one’s country backing you,
rather than declaring you persona non grata.
Mark Feldman is the CEO of
Ziontours Jerusalem. For questions & comments, email him at