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Guilty of Flying While Arab

Israel would have you believe it upholds the strictest standards of airline security to keep its passengers safe.  But Israeli Palestinians and a dark-skinned South African investigative reporter will tell you otherwise.  Amira Hass reports that Israeli security agents detained Sahera Dirbas on her return from Spain to Israel, where she had won a Bronze medal for her film, Stranger in My Home:

“Stranger in My Home” tells the story of five Jerusalemites, refugees from the 1948 war, who lost their homes in West Jerusalem, and a refugee from 1967 who was evacuated from his home in the Old City’s Mughrabi neighborhood.

Here’s a description of the conditions of her detention.  Read them and then decide whether she was yet another victim of the “flying while Arab” syndrome:

On November 5, Dirbas made her way home from Spain via Barcelona. After answering questions from Israeli security employees regarding her work and the film festivals in which she had taken part, she was asked to enter a separate room for continued questioning, where a female security guard demanded she remove all her clothing. All of her belongings were taken out of her suitcase, and she was told that four items would be taken for additional examination and sent separately: two chargers for hard disks she had with her, a hair straightener and the bronze figurine. The examination took more than two hours.

What did the security guard think she would find by forcing Dirbas to strip naked?  A disk full of secret terrorist documents perhaps hidden in her private parts??

Sahera Dirbas and George Clooney

Sahera Dirbas and George Clooney (cinematografo.it)

Further, read the response of the airline to her inquiries and then decide whether the Israeli security apparatus operates out of racist spite or out of genuine security motives:

When she arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport, she could not find the box with the separate items and filed the standard form for lost luggage. Four weeks later, on December 3, after her telephone inquiries went unanswered, Dirbas’ lawyer Reem Alhatib, submitted an official complaint to El Al (to which the security company was said to be connected) and a demand for compensation. In the letter of complaint, Alhatib linked the loss of the prize to a “discriminatory attitude and misuse of the security check to abuse, humiliate and hurt an Arab passenger.

…The figurine was found and returned on Tuesday, six days after Haaretz requested a response from Sun D’Or regarding its whereabouts.

In this case, a wrong was rights through the intervention of Haaretz.  But imagine how many other such slights ordinary Israeli Palestinian citizens must suffer who do not have such a knight in shining armor to take up their cause?  In this blog I have documented numerous similar incidents, most reported first in Haaretz.  But I bet this is the tip of the iceberg and that Israeli security gets away with murder when no one is looking over their shoulders as in this instance.

The airlines response is the crowning glory of this fetid incident, full of platitudes, lies and non sequiturs:

“The security check was carried out by security personnel in Barcelona as it is carried out for all Israeli airlines, according to regular procedure as directed by the relevant state bodies. During the security check, items were indeed taken from Ms. Dirbas: two chargers, a hair straightener and a bronze figurine she won at a film festival. We apologize for the delay in returning the items to the passenger. The company made great efforts to locate them and indeed, after a careful search, the items were found in Israel and sent to the passenger by messenger. We regret the harsh feelings engendered as a result of the delay in locating the items, but at the same time, Sun D’Or is committed to the highest standard of security. We are in contact with the passenger and we will see to it that she is compensated.”

What this passage confirms is that it is “regular procedure” to harass and demean Arab passengers especially those who have just won major European film awards.  As for being committed to the highest standard of security, surely he’s referring to his company’s Jewish passengers.  The Arabs can kiss his ass (unless they find a Haaretz reporter willing to shame the airline into doing the right thing).

Another instructive incident occurred in South African recently, when an investigative reporter with a hidden video camera approached El Al security and was illegally searched:

South Africa has deported an Israeli airline official following allegations that Israel’s secret police, Shin Bet, have been operating in Johannesburg’s international airport.

The official was employed by the Israeli embassy in South Africa and had a diplomatic passport, Israel’s Ynet news reported on its website.

The deportation stemmed from an investigation by local television news show, Carte Blanche, into Jonathan Garb, a former El Al Israeli airline guard…Garb, a South African Jew, said he was recruited by Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police.

“To members of the public they [El Al employees] will represent themselves as airport security … But in fact we were working for the Israeli security agency, which is the internal security service of the government of Israel,” Garb said.

“What we are trained [for] is to look for the immediate threat – the Muslim guy.

“You can think he is a suicide bomber, he is collecting information.

“The crazy thing is that we are profiling people racially, ethnically and even on religious grounds … This is what we do.”

…Following up Garb’s claims, the programme sent an investigator of Arab origin with a hidden camera to El Al’s security area at the airport.

The report showed the man being stopped and questioned by a security guard.

When the reporter protested that he was not flying but waiting for a friend, a security manager from El Al arrived to further question him.

Here are some additional offensive characteristics of Israeli airline security operating overseas (multiply this five or ten-fold to understand how intrusive and offensive it must be for Arabs at Ben Gurion airport):

People guards deemed as suspicious could be held in a room out of public view, where they were interrogated and subjected to strip searches while their luggage was taken apart, the report showed.

Clandestine searches of their belongings and laptops are also carried out to identify useful documents and information, Garb said.

These actions violate South African law, which only authorises the police, armed forces or personnel hired by the transport ministry to carry out searches.

South Africa has threatened to deport all of El Al’s security staff, while the Israeli foreign ministry has purportedly sent a team to South Africa to try to answer the South African government’s concerns.

…Garb said: “This here is a secret service operating above the law in South Africa.

“We pull the wool over everyone’s eyes. We do exactly what we want. The local authorities do not know what we are doing.”

The only reason this story came to light is that El Al had one furious local employee who it attempted to screw out of a bonus payment.  The employee was only too willing to tell his tale to South African TV over the incident.  Imagine what else goes on elsewhere where other better satisfied intelligence operatives are not willing to squeal on their employer’s racist security policies.

The problem is that due to Israel’s legitimate security concerns other countries are cutting Israeli security agents far too much slack.  And the latter are only too willing to take advantage of this and bend and break the rules to maximize their advantage against the dark-skinned bad guy terrorists (or so they’d have you believe) out there.

But what I’d like to know is how did they know that Suhera Dirbas was a terrorist?  Or did they have a report that her film conveyed secret messages to Al Qaeda?

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Ahmed Rashid December 18, 2009, 12:06 AM

    I think Israelis should spend equal time and effort searching Muslim Arabs and 90 year old Jewish grandmas from America. This will surely get Israel into politicly correct heaven and it will receive loud praise from the likes of you which is what Israel strives for the most to be admired by people who don’t care much about it’s security or survival.

    • Richard Silverstein December 18, 2009, 4:33 PM

      Thanks for the static, “Ahmed” or whatever your hasbarist name is. Calling yrself “Ahmed” may seem like a witty joke to you but it’s dissembling & I frown on it here.

      Just think you could actually spend some time & use some brain power to write an intelligent comment & instead you waste our time & yours with such garbage.

      • Mary December 18, 2009, 6:03 PM

        I’m so tired of that hooey about Israel’s “survival.” Its survival is not and has not ever been at risk.

  • Shirin December 18, 2009, 12:31 AM

    Friends of mine who are Palestinian natural-born citizens of The Only Democracy in the Middle East have all reported to me that when they fly they are routinely subjected to treatment that clearly has absolutely no security purpose. This is particularly true for young males. I remember one young friend whose mother had sent with him some home-made sweets to take to his uncle’s family in the U.S., which the security folks at Ben Gurion found necessary to crush thoroughly and even smear on the other contents of the bag he was carrying them in. When I said that would have enraged me he replied that he was used to that kind of thing, and didn’t get all that upset about it.

    • Mary December 18, 2009, 2:10 PM

      My friend in the West Bank says the same thing. He travels frequently, and of course he must exit Palestine via the Allenby Bridge and fly from Jordan. Being a male in his 30’s, he is used to lengthy delays and questioning whenever he re-enters Palestine. As for the rummaging through his luggage, damaging of his property and endless questioning, he simply says, “they like to bother people.” He also said this during the attack on Gaza last winter, when the IDF broke the windows of all the houses in the neighborhood because some of the residents had taken part in a demonstration. I give him a lot of credit for that.

  • DICKERSON3870 December 19, 2009, 6:49 PM

    SEE ALSO: “Police shoot U.S. student’s laptop upon entry to Israel” – Haaretz, 12/15/09 – Israel News
    (By Bar Ben Ari and Or Hirshauga) Israel Border Police officers shot at an American student’s laptop as she entered Israel via Taba, Egypt, two weeks ago. Lily Sussman, 21, wrote on her blog that border police subjected her to two hours of questioning and searches prior to shooting her Apple Macbook…
    ENTIRE HAARETZ ARTICLE – http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1135243.html
    SUSSMAN’S ORIGINAL BLOG POST (1,135 comments) – http://lilysussman.wordpress.com/2009/11/30/im-sorry-but-we-blew-up-your-laptop-welcome-to-israel/
    MONDOWEISS UPDATE (WITH VIDEO 2:51) – http://mondoweiss.net/2009/12/lily-sussman-says-her-famous-computer-is-kind-of-symbolic-of-israeli-aggression.html

  • 1 world currency January 11, 2010, 12:49 PM

    From the article:
    “What did the security guard think she would find by forcing Dirbas to strip naked? A disk full of secret terrorist documents perhaps hidden in her private parts??”


    • Richard Silverstein January 11, 2010, 1:10 PM

      How pathetic. The daughter of an Israeli Supreme Court justice who interns for the Israeli foreign ministry? Really.

      • mary January 11, 2010, 1:33 PM

        The paranoia has become a disease. Israel is so consumed by fear that it has lost all reason.

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