‘Flying While Arab’: Israeli Airport Security Harrassment
In March, 2007, after several embarrassing episodes in which Israeli security screeners harassed prominent Israeli Arabs (and an especially egregious example here) at Ben Gurion airport, the Shin Bet head announced with fanfare that the procedures would “soon change.” It’s only taken five months and lo and behold there is a new plan. Only problem is it doesn’t end discrimination or harassment at all; it merely disguises it:
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz announced Tuesday that Jewish and Arab citizens traveling abroad will receive the same color stickers for their luggage during security checks at the airport. Prior to the decision, security personnel at Ben Gurion Airport used different color stickers for each population sector, each color indicating a different security level. From now on, all citizens traveling abroad will receive a white sticker, indicating that they have already gone through the security check.
According to Transportation Ministry spokesman Avner Ovadia, the use of different color stickers left non-Jewish passengers feeling humiliated and discriminated against. The decision to use a single color for all citizens was made in an effort to bridge the gap between different sectors in Israel.
Ynet spoke to airport security personnel about the changes and learned that now instead of the colored stickers, luggage will be differentiated according to numbers displayed on the identical white stickers. Now everyone will have a white sticker – but Israeli Jews will receive a sticker labeled 1, Arab families and Israeli Arabs will receive a sticker labeled 2 and Arabs traveling alone a sticker labeled 5.
An airport screener said that the change was made for the benefit of the Arab public. “But it’s stupid; anyone who understands the process can see the different numbers for Jews and Arabs.”
To paraphase The Who: “Meet the new plan, same as the old plan.” If I were an Israeli Arab I’d be thinking along the lines of the character from Hester Street who says memorably: “They can’t piss on my back and make me think it’s rain.”
So we have Israeli Arabs enduring the degradation and humiliation of airport petty harassment. But now they are insulted even more provocatively by the supposed reform of a process which hasn’t been reformed at all. This is what happens in a national security state which takes the position that 20% of its citizenry are automatic security risks regardless of who they are or what they believe. I call it “flying while Arab.”
Here in the States we have a similar problem of racial profiling or “driving while Black.” Thankfully, many states have outlawed this procedure and demanded that law enforcement withdraw it from their repertoire. Unfortunately, in Israel ethnic discrimination against Arabs is embedded far deeper and interwoven with an even more noxious strand of national security threat. I should add there have been a number of incidents in which American Arab passengers have been ejected from flights in this country because of unfounded fears that they are security threats.
Apparently, the airport’s security director looks at Arab travelers and sees nothing but “happy, shiny people:”
Ben Gurion security director, Shmuel Zachai, said in response: “All the stickers in the airport are white and meant to improve the sense of equality. Ever since we implemented the change we’ve barely received any discrimination complaints.”
“Barely?” What does “barely” mean? And does the fact that Israeli Arab MKs are breathing down Diskin’s neck on this issue not constitute a “complaint?” Or would he like every Arab traveler pissed off at their treatment to take up a picket sign and stand outside his office. Would he then believe there was a problem? The only problem is those Arabs would know the Shin Bet would likely never let them fly again from Ben Gurion in retaliation.
Hat tip to Sol Salbe for another great story lead.
7 thoughts on “‘Flying While Arab’: Israeli Airport Security Harrassment – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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Exactly how do you propose to guarantee security on flights to and
from Israel without ethnic profiling? Of course, one could needlessy
subject all passengers to the same scrutiny, all in the name of
political correctness,, but then it would require
having all passengers arrive at the airport 8 hours ahead of the flight
instead of 2 hours. Unless you are claiming there is no security
How does our own Dept. of Homeland Security provide security on flights within the U.S. while NOT relying on ethnic profiling? It does this by painstaking detective work attempting to target those specific individuals it knows are a danger to the public. It does NOT rely on singling out an entire ethnic group for special harrassment making the assumption that everyone within this group is a danger to the entire flying public.
That is racism in the guise of protecting national security.
I think the Israelis should be given a little credit for keeping their airlines safe since 1968. They probably know a thing or two about airline security. Your own department of Homeland security probably learned a thing or two from them. Profiling is not only ethnic as the article you link to makes clear. An entire security profile is made including, for example, if the passenger is traveling alone or with a family (homophobes you will probably say). Unfortunately, Israeli Arabs are a higher risk group then Israeli Jews, but EVERYONE is screened to some degree. The last time this issue came up you claimed that no Israeli arab has ever attempted a terrorist attack at Ben Gurion or El Al. Unfortunately this too is incorrect. On November 17, 2002, Tawfiq Fukra, a twenty-three-year-old Israeli Arab, attempted to hijack an El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Turkey. No doubt Israel’s security policy has prevented or discouraged other attacks. I say, if the system works, don’t wreck it. Remember, everybody, including Arabs, want to be safe in the sky.
All this proves is that in the last 40 yrs. precisely ONE Israeli Arab has attempted to hijack an plane at Ben Gurion. One. As for the other alleged attacks I can’t say whether or not there have been any nor can you unless the Shin Bet reveals that there have been. Barring that we can only assume this was the only one. You should never create an entire national policy based on a single incident especially when doing so involves a wholesale violation of an entire ethnic groups rights.
And this is precisely where you fail to understand the meaning of liberty & democracy. Your safety must never be guaranteed on the backs of 20% of yr fellow citizens. A democracy attempts to do the best job it can safeguarding as many citizens as it can WITHIN the framework of liberty & human rights as outlined under a nation’s laws. I am grateful that unlike Israel, we have a constitutional framework under which your comment would be alien to our own. Safety yes, but liberty too–and for all, not just for you and your fellow Jews.
It is incorrect to state that Israeli Arabs have not been involved in terrorist attacks, either planning or carrying them out, over the years. There was at least one Israeil Arab suicide bomber as I recall, and numerous Israeli Arabs have involved in planning attacks, transporting the terrorists or supplying them with explosives. Thus, the fact that there was only one “attempt” on an airliner doesn’t prove there is no threat. The fact is that many suicide bombings attacked targets that had Arabs present and numerous Arabs were killed in these attacks. I would think that the Israeli Arabs who travel by air are thankful for the extra security precautions which allows them to fly safely along with everyone else.
Indeed it would be if I was saying that–which I wasn’t. YOu came in on the tail end of a debate Amir & I had in another thread about whether it is justified to treat every Israeli Arab traveller at Ben Gurion as a terror suspect. My claim was that an Israeli Arab had never attempted an act of terror AT BEN GURION.
Would you now?? The level of sheer unadulterated chutzpah in this statement boggles the mind. You go read the two posts linked above which I wrote about harassment of eminent Israeli Arab professionals at Ben Gurion & you tell me you’d be thankful for such treatment, which is meted out UNIFORMLY to ALL such travelers. Why in God’s name do you think an Arab Hebrew Univ. law professor and daughter of a Supreme Court justice would be thankful for being treated like terrorists in their own country??? I know as an Israeli Jew you live a life almost hermetically sealed fr. serious contact with Arabs…but don’t you have any sense of what it must be like for them or any empathy for their predicament?? Clearly not & it saddens me.
Perhaps Amir could enlighten us as to what is in his view the appropriate punishment for attempting to hijack an aircraft? Examples from the US legal system may be useful.