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.