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Paradise Lost

How the Mossad assassinated my tropical vacation

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(Courtesy Liel Leibovitz)

As you step off the plane, cross the tarmac, and amble into the terminal at V.C. Bird International Airport in Antigua, the first thing you see is a 7-foot-long blue marlin, made of plastic, mounted on the wall, a small plaque beneath it claiming that the original, weighing 771 pounds, was the largest of its kind ever caught in the West Indies.

It’s a fantastic monument, not only because the fish—its expression resembling that of a teenager rudely awoken from an afternoon nap—looks thoroughly fake, but also because it suggests to the uninitiated traveler that beyond the terminal’s gates lies a world of wonders, strange creatures and all.

In a sense, this is precisely the feeling the Antiguan government is interested in promoting. More than 300,000 tourists, on average, descend on the island’s shores each year, a horde of salmon-hued Brits and beer-battered Germans that both sustains and overwhelms the local population, estimated at 72,000. There’s little the Antiguans can do: Tourism accounts for more than 60 percent of the island’s economy, leaving the locals with no choice but to vigorously market their tiny nation as a magical Caribbean getaway, a sort of real-life Fantasy Island. Along these lines, the fish is a monument to the impossible: St. Bart’s may have the reputation, and Mustique the celebrity appeal, but only in Antigua, the marlin suggests, may the very laws of nature be bent for your amusement.

Last week, my wife Lisa and I flew to Antigua for a weekend to attend the wedding of Mr. B., a hotelier, at his lovely Antiguan resort. Much time was spent pondering what to wear—the groom threatened to beat up and toss out any guest who dared wear a tie—and very little contemplating such minor issues as entry visas. If Israeli citizens needed a visa to visit Antigua, I told myself, Mr. B.’s son-in-law, himself Israeli and my close friend, would surely have let me known.

But no sooner had we landed and admired the oversized fish than an immigration official broke the doleful news: no visa, no entry. Meekly, I removed my baseball cap and shades and said that I had no idea I needed a visa, an idiotic statement that seemed to elicit more pity than disgust. “Well,” said the immigration official, “you do.”

There was no other choice. I invoked Mr. B.’s name. This had the desired effect: Lisa and I were removed from the line, taken to a secluded spot by the nurse’s office, and instructed to wait. Soon, another official, smiling warmly, moseyed over and told us that she’d do whatever she could to help us resolve our little problem as quickly as possible.

Veteran travelers, we refused to succumb to panic. Instead, we pulled out our phones and texted Mr. B.’s daughter, informing her of the snafu. Two minutes later, there she was, beaming, standing by our sides. There was no point in asking how she’d gotten through security, immigration, and all the other barriers that are supposed to stop you from walking right into an airport’s secure detention spot. A few words were exchanged, and it was agreed that I would be released on my own recognizance, passport unstamped, and sent to the Ministry of National Security to settle my affairs.

The Ministry of National Security is located in downtown St. John’s, across the street from a Subway sandwich shop, in a building that looks more suited to botched drug deals than to any official matter of state. The posters on the wall make clear the ministry’s main concern; most of them warn against abduction and modern-day slavery and feature a host of pink figures engaged in subservient activities, from forced intercourse to mopping floors. The ministry’s employees, however, were unperturbed: R&B ballads roared from the tinny speakers of a far-off computer, and most officials, dressed in blue-and-white uniforms, seemed as unburdened as only those entrusted with defending a thoroughly unthreatened Caribbean nation can be.

Accompanied by our friends and Larry, Mr. B.’s lawyer, we located the right official and pleaded our case. The official, a woman in her fifties, was baffled. You were already allowed into the country, she said as she looked at my unstamped passport, you may as well just stay.

Larry, a former LAPD police officer and a man with many connections on the island, asked for a moment alone with the official. A few minutes later, he came out and said quietly that he thought he figured out the entire mess. Antigua, he said, had a diplomatic relationship with Libya. After Israel assassinated a Hamas official in Dubai last month, the Libyans demanded that Israelis no longer be allowed to enter Antigua, or, at the very least, that they be required to pay a hefty fee for a special tourist visa. The Ministry of National Security, he added, was cool with letting me stay, but it was the prime minister’s call, and we needed to report to the prime minister’s office to sort everything out. Unfazed, we said our goodbyes to the lovely folks at National Security, who saw us off by making us promise to convey heartfelt congratulations to Mr. B. on his upcoming nuptials.

On our way to see the prime minister, however, my mind began racing. Here I was, I thought, in paradise, detained for a crime I didn’t commit. All I wanted was a quick vacation, and instead I was forced to account for my country’s follies. I had left Israel behind, emigrated to America, got my Green Card, opted to abandon the perpetual association with the sort of militaristic shenanigans that lose friends and alienate people. Clichés started swirling in my head: Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. You can run, but you can’t hide. You may be through with the past, but the past isn’t through with you.

The car stopped. We were parked in front of a one-story office in the midst of a patch of grass, guarded by a single soldier in a green t-shirt and no gun. In front were two enormous stone lions, the sort popular both in China and in chintzy souvenir shops on Manhattan’s 59th Street. It looked, I whispered to Lisa, like a dentist’s office in a Long Island strip mall.

It smelled like one, too, with the unmistakable odor of acrylic monomer, ammonia, and quiet desperation. Magazines were strewn everywhere, mainly an oversized glossy called China Today. It was a thick hint: Chinese government contractors are in charge of most major construction projects in Antigua, as they are in so many developing countries across the globe. Hence the stone lions. A poster on a nearby wall read: “What will come to us will come to us, so quit your worrying!” I took the advice to heart.

A hospitable secretary greeted us, indicating that the Ministry of National Security had already filled her in on the details. We were asked to pay $40 and received a printed receipt. We were officially welcomed to Antigua and allowed to drive on to the resort.

There, in the shadow of palm trees and in the company of some of the island’s most influential men, scotch and talk both flowed. The Mossad, one tough old developer said with a smile, nearly assassinated our vacation plans. Another advised me to try and avoid killing anyone while on the beach. I grinned politely but stared at the umbrella floating in my cocktail; if everyone already saw me as a murderer, I brooded, I might as well enjoy it.

Gradually, however, my ire subsided, drowned in drink and merriment. The weekend was glorious. When I saw the prime minister himself at the wedding, I smiled politely and shook hands. Antigua, after all, let me in. There was no need for a diplomatic incident.

Tanned and thrilled, we flew back home to New York, where two feet of snow were still piled on the ground. The next morning, we talked about our time as personae non grata in paradise. At a distance, the entire story seemed fantastic. Would Antigua really care about the Mossad? Would a mere visa requirement constitute punishment of Israel and its policies? And would any nation, even one as relaxed about its official undertakings as Antigua, really change its rules overnight and fail to notify the rest of the world?

Anxious, I called the consulate general of Antigua in New York and asked to speak with the tourism representative. I told her everything, about my arrival and the prime minister’s office and how everybody on the island, officials and guests alike, suggested that I was the target of an international mishap involving the Libyans. The woman was silent for a few long moments. She knew nothing of the Mossad, she finally said, but was quite certain that Israelis had always required a visa to visit Antigua. But there was no way, she added, that anyone in Antigua would ever allow me in without stamping my passport, Israeli or otherwise.

I thanked her, hung up, and thought of the marlin.

Postscript: Further investigations show that the Consulate representative was right: Israelis have always needed a visa to visit Antigua. So, it turns out, have Libyans.

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michael says:

If my vacation were delayed or even canceled as a result of the death of a terrorist who had/could have caused the deaths of tens, hundreds, or conceivably thousands of my countrymen or fellow Jews, I would have considered it a fair trade. Would you have been happier not to have been inconvenienced and read about new acts of terrorism by this piece of garbage from Hamas? Getting a little selfish, are we?

E.THOMAS says:

You are obviously a fat arrogant New York jew that knows nothing about fishing or marlin.Do a little research before you put pen to paper.
There is a marlin at the airport in St Thomas and one in Barbados bigger than the one at the airport in Antigua.
I should have been the officer at the airport the day you arrived,the law is no VISA no ENTRY…you would have been back on the plane so fast your feet would not touch the ground.
Cheers from the sunny caribbean.

This level of inadequate marlin research cannot stand.

Alexander Diamond says:

e.thomas is nothing more than an anti-Semitic limp dick with power fantasies similar to his Nazi family members. Just some more garbage that needs to be cleaned up.

Time to ‘fess up, Leil. Your jig is up. Your weekly d’vars are just a thinly veiled cover for your mosad activities. They almost nabbed you in Antigua. Better not press your luck with a cut-rate, three-day Carnival Cruise outta Miami to the Bahamas. Those Bahamians will sniff you out like chometz before Pesach.

Rachel says:

Why couldn’t you do what all Israelis do in a pinch? Get some tennis racquettes as props, fiddle around with a borrowed Irish passport, and smile at the security cameras?

Commentator says:

I am surprised by the lack of a sense of humor in some correspondents, who obviously were blinded by their hatred to the clearly jocular nature of the source article. I am, however, reassured by some other correspondents, who “got it”.

As to the Marlin, better a “who’s got the biggest fish?” rivalry (or a Hummus war, come to that) than actual belligerence.

Liel Leibovitz, You undoubtedly are a very arrogant ill informed individual, you seem to believe that because you are from Iserial and now living in the USA with a “Green Card” that that gives you the right to say and write whatsoever you like. You should be ashamed of yourself.
The laws in Antigua require Iseriali citizens among others to obtain a Visa before entering the country. This is a requirement that exist for the past 20 years. If you had taken the time to research and inquire what documents were required for entry before you boarded an aircraft you would have been informed.
I am not sure how much you have traveled, but certainly when you are entering the United States you ensure that you have the necessary documents – Visa/Green Card etc. – Why do you then believe that you are above the law in Antigua.
In fact you were very well treated – The immigration officer bent the rules to accommodate you – you should never been allowed to enter – as Mr. Thomas put it “you would have been back on the plane so fast your feet would not touch the ground.”
You were not only allowed to enter the country, you were facilitated by allowing you to obtain the Visa you neglected to get in the first place – without even a fine or penalty. (You only paid $40.00 EC. Approximately $15.00 US. ).
Instead, you precede to marline the country to the extent of criticizing a simple plaque of a “Blue Marlin” on the wall at the Air Port followed by your nasty comments – You obviously have never been deep sea fishing around Antigua. – Your comments are idiotic.
Your foolish attempt to involve Antigua in your Libya, Israeli and middle east problems only bear witness to the idiot you really are.
I do not believe that it is because you are a Jew why you are arrogant and obnoxious, I know many Jew that are decent and good people – you are just not one of them.
Antigua would be far better off it never sees the likes of you again.

Victoria says:

I am a very recent (like a week ago) convert to Judaism, and as such I am still learning about the culture, customs, people, society, etc. So, it is in the spirit of learning that I ask this question:

why are the people who responded to this story so angry with it and the author? I read the comments and I understand the commentors think the author is obnoxious and arrogant..but it seems there is another underlying reason for the hostility. Why?

Chico says:

The writer’s comments on the fish are the basis and theme of his article describing his visit to Antigua. Leil’s ignorance and arrogance blind him to the verifiable fact that the fish mounted at the Antigua airport is an exact replica (size and weight) of the record-breaking marlin (771.25 lbs) caught off the south coast of Antigua in a Fishing Tournament. The caption at the base of the replia notes that fact, and does NOT mention anything about a record fish in the West Indies. For environmental, health, conservation and other reasons, it is a common and accepted international practice that a replica be used instead of the actual fish.
After being granted a huge favor by the Antiguan authorities to be allowed in their country, Leil proceeds to embarrass the host country by divulging his pulling of strings to get in succesfully. Perhaps he has successfully burned that bridge for others who may wish to use Mr. “B”‘s influence. He may yet see a different smile on the Marlin should he ever attempt another visit.

Beweboy says:

Gosh, I just checked and it is clear to me that form my research that Israeli nationals need a visa for entry to Antigua and Barbuda.
Ipso facto your attitude is arrogant and ignorant.
Indeed your friends influence indeed was your saving grace, so be gracious and calm down, humble your self and realise that indeed you were in error and the officials of Antigua and Barbuda were indeed hospitable to you.
And by the way make peace with Palistine, do your part for a two nation state! But I guess that may be to much to ask, I hope you prove me wrong!

Beweboy says:

In ase any one else needs this info check….http://www.foreignaffairs.gov.ag/diplomacy/visa_requirements.php

Andy says:

Why is everyone so obsessed with the fish? Seriously, people, it’s a fake fish–the writer makes it perfectly clear in the first paragraph of his story that it’s a replica of a real fish. Dudes…lighten up!

beekman says:

Victoria — Don’t look too hard for answers. These posts are made anonymously, so some will be measured and legitimate, and others will be nothing more than ventilation. Newspaper websites have the same problem, as you may have noticed. In fact, their problem is much worse because their readership is so much larger (no offense, Tablet; just stating the obvious). Just shake your head at the nonsense and hatred, wish things were otherwise, and write as you wish others would. As someone once said, the only person who would waste time arguing with a fool is another.

Oh, and one more thing: Welcome to the family.

victoria says:

Mr. Beekman, that’s the best advice i’ve gotten today on any topic.

Gene says:

Trivial, silly, and self-aggrandizing.

Rachel says:

Hey Liel, your story was an interesting one but I have to say that if you call yourself a seasoned traveler who may still be considered Israeli, you should have double checked about entry requirements. As a traveler myself with a passport filled with Israeli stamps, I always check to see what the entry requirements are to wherever I’m going. Unfortunate but as you know firsthand, that’s the current way of the world.

The Caribbean may not always strike someone as something more than a beach but people do live there and have lives just like yours and they have economic ties just like any other place. It’s unfortunate that you had to deal with all of this, and yes, it’s ridiculous, but as a traveler with the potential of being Israeli, you should considered this.

Either way, I feel for you. Thanks for sharing your story.

Victoria, I don’t think any of these comments have anything to do with the Jewishness of the article’s author or the Jewishness of those commenting on it. I wonder why you think it does.

questioner says:

As a seasoned traveler myself, I found this story rather amusing. And for all we know it may be entirely fabricated.

victoria says:

@susan:

because more than one commentator made reference to Jewishness and/or Jews. Indeed, a couple intimated that the author was anti semitic or at least not a “good Jew”. I thought it was a tongue in cheek commentary about basically the “butterfly effect”; but then I read the comments and was literally trying to understand the anger, the hositility, and yes…the tie into Jewishness; or why the commentators made it about Jewishness.

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Paradise Lost

How the Mossad assassinated my tropical vacation

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