The 18th of October was a big day in Israel. A young man, imprisoned against his will was released and flew home to be reunited with friends and family. I'm not talking about Gilad Shalit, I am in fact referring to myself. Chris York, 27 years old, no affiliation with the Israeli Defence Force and, as far as I am aware, has never met a member of Hamas. Obviously, my own tale was overshadowed somewhat by other events that day, but personally, I didn't give a toss what was happening to Mr Shalit, I had bigger things to worry about.
A mere 24 hours earlier, I had caught an Easyjet flight to Tel Aviv having said farewell to my nearest and dearest with a promise to see them again in the spring. An entire summer of slaving away as a waiter in central London meant that I could finally afford to undertake a long-planned six month trip working as a volunteer in Bethlehem, with the aim of furthering my career, expanding my horizons and generally having a bloody good time somewhere completely mental.
Alas, my plans were scuppered by an Israeli immigration official suspicious that I had no hotel reservations, no return ticket and was a solo traveller who didn't know anyone in Israel. Personally, I would have interpreted such an individual as a carefree adventurer, journeying to a foreign land with no more of a plan than to see where the winds of the Middle East blew them. Unfortunately, the highly-trained immigration official interpreted me as 'a threat' and I was taken aside for questioning.
Reliably advised that admitting that I was working for a Palestinian organisation would only cause me trouble, I stuck to my story that I was a traveller seeking all the joys that Israel could offer.
Interview three took a turn for the worse when I was asked to sign into my email and Facebook accounts. I eagerly played along, confident that I had deliberately not published any status updates or posts relating to my trip. Thing is though, I'd had loads of 'chat' conversations with people about it, all of which decorated the screen as soon as the obviously Facebook-savvy official typed 'Palestine' into the search box.
No words passed my lips. A raised eyebrow appeared on the face of my interrogator, swiftly accompanied by the slightest hint of a smug grin.
I came clean. Nothing else for it. A full confession of my true intentions was followed by a grovelling apology.
The raised eyebrow and smug grin didn't budge. In contrast, my face positively quivered.
After a long wait my worst fears were confirmed. The Ministry of the Interior had decided not to allow me in.
I barely had time for the news to register before I was taken with my luggage to a side room for a search.
"Go with this man and he will search you," ordered yet another official.
I followed his directions and came face to face with my 'searcher'. I would love to describe his face and I'm sure it was perfectly pleasant as faces go, however my immediate attention was drawn to the rubber glove on his hand.
A strange sensation swept my lower body as my bowels loosened whilst simultaneously my sphincter tightened in an attempt to defend itself against a hostile rearguard action which fortunately resulted in nothing more than a little trump which belied the turmoil within.
To my immense relief his gloved hands wandered no further than the waistband of my trousers and no drugs/explosives/exotic animals were found.
Rather than the converted monastery overlooking the Temple Mount in Jerusalem that I had spied on the internet, my first night in the Middle East was spent in a small detention compound. I swapped my luggage for a toothbrush and a mini bar of soap and was shown to my accommodation. Multiple bunk beds, check. Bars on the window, check. Three terrified Filipinos and an Indian man for company, check.
I went to sleep and dreamt of being chased through my old school by a massive bar of soap.
The next day brought midge bites, stifling heat and the welcome news that I would be on a flight home by the end of the day.
I finally got my passport back and boarded the plane. The world's shortest and least successful Middle Eastern volunteer experience was capped off as I was introduced to the captain as a deportee, my newly-acquired criminal tendencies broadcast to an Easyjet full of almost certainly law abiding families and Orthodox Jews.
I sank into my seat and hoped that in the world of karma my good intentions cancelled out my consequence-laden mistruth.