Not since Adam and Eve has the appearance of an Apple in the Holy Land caused such uproar. Israel is a wonderland of high-tech innovation, but it is certainly no Garden of Eden for iPad users, who can expect to have their new Apple tablets confiscated on arrival by Israeli customs. El Al flight attendant Alona Gur tells TIME she was one of the first people to lose an iPad, and she is furious about it. "I was in New York and I checked with the Israeli customs to see if it was O.K. to bring one, and they said, 'Sure, just go through the red channel [declaring it at customs] and pay the taxes,' " says Gur. "Two days later, I arrived at Ben-Gurion [Airport] and did exactly as they said, but that morning the Ministry of Communications ordered them to confiscate all iPads." She continues, "It's crazy. I feel as though I live in a fourth-world country. And the customs are charging me 45 shekels [$12] a day for storage until I can take it back to America."
The ban by the Ministry of Communications has left users fuming and techies baffled. Dozens of confiscated Apple tablets are now being stored at Ben-Gurion until their owners can collect them on their way out of the country. The ministry says the iPad's wi-fi system is configured for the U.S. and does not conform to European standards, which are used in Israel, so it operates at higher power levels and is liable to cause interference on the wireless frequency. "A consumer who imports a British car designed to drive on the left knows that in Israel we drive on the right and the car is not suitable for use in Israel," says ministry spokesman Yechiel Shavi.
But others don't buy the reasoning. Aviv Eilon, a Tel Aviv attorney specializing in technology law, dismisses the automobile comparison as "demagogic." He says the iPad conforms to the European standards approved in Israel and uses the same wi-fi that other Apple computers already use in the country. "This was really annoying. It was a nonsense explanation. I went to the [U.S. Federal Communications Commission] website and saw that the iPad already correlates with the European standards," he says. "Poor old Israel," says Harel Shattenstein, an analyst who blogs on rcrwireless.com and talkingmobile.com. "Even if the wi-fi standard is different, it won't cause any danger because most of the wireless networks in Israel are private."
Israeli experts say they cannot find any technical reason for the ministry's decision. "I can't understand why they are banning the iPad. I really don't know. It doesn't make sense, and it disturbs me as a technology freak," says Dor Zakai, operating systems and hardware team leader at John Bryce Training in Israel. "Now it's the iPad. What's next?"
One commentator, Aharon Etengoff, openly speculated on his blog that the ministry is acting to protect the monopoly of iDigital, Apple's sole official Israeli importer, which is owned by Chemi Peres, son of the Israeli President. There was no official comment from iDigital, but company executives there say they are also baffled by the ministry's decision. The ministry tells TIME it is in discussions with iDigital to determine "how and when the iPad can be allowed for harmless use in Israel at the earliest. The ministry expects Apple's answers in a few days and believes that this issue will be resolved in a satisfactory way very soon."
Alona Gur says she was told privately by a ministry official that the iPad was banned because it interferes with Israeli military frequencies. There was a similar problem when Bluetooth first came to Israel, forcing the military to release those frequencies for civilian use. But ministry spokesman Shavi says he has no information about that. "I don't know about the military frequencies," he says.
Meanwhile, leaders of Israel's business community are concerned about the damage to the country's image as a leader in technology, which has fueled the country's economic revival. Robert Ilatov, a lawmaker who chairs a parliamentary subcommittee for the advancement of high-tech industries, wants the ban rescinded. "This has not earned us a lot of respect in the high-tech world. I have asked the minister to reconsider his decision because it doesn't seem to make any sense. I don't think they checked it sufficiently," Ilatov tells TIME.
There has been a firestorm of protest in Israel's blogosphere, where an anonymous contributor offered the following advice: "The solution is simple. Go through the green channel, don't declare your iPad at customs, and you're sorted. The iPad works perfectly in Israel. I speak from experience. Mine arrived this morning."