After scores of international flights passed without incident, suddenly in recent months an Israeli transgender traveler began to suffer systematic harassment at the hands of Shin Bet security agents. This included intrusive body and luggage searches at the airport and invasive questions having nothing to do with security matters. Interrogators asked Mor Vital about her sexual orientation including questions such as: “What you have down there?” The security officers addressed her with male pronouns in order to disrespect her gender identity. She once had her passport confiscated, then watched as the security supervisor brought it to his colleagues who proceeded to have a good laugh looking at her passport photo–all in a public setting designed to maximize the discomfort of the victim. She and other transgender victims have undergone such severe abuse that they’ve missed flights.
When she complained to El Al, they were offered a free breakfast coupon for her delayed or disarrayed luggage. Airline staff never addressed the harassment. Now transgender victims have lodged a formal complaint and the best the airline can come up with is that the matter will be dealt with by ‘judicial authorities.’ No apology. Not even an acknowledgement of the nature of the complaint.
If I were charitable, which it never pays to be regarding the Israeli security state, I’d say that such behavior is infantile and shows more ignorance and fear of the unknown than outright malevolence. But I know better than to offer charity to the Shin Bet. This is an agency drunk with power and privilege. Its agents believe they are entitled to do whatever they wish to whomever they wish. They know not to harass the average ‘white’ Israeli. But “Arabs” or other disempowered minorities are fair game for mistreatment.
The Shin Bet is a perfect exemplar of the Israeli nation: suspicious of The Other. Ready to brand anyone who isn’t “like us” as an exotic animal. Akin to medieval bear-baiting rituals. Does a nation which sanctions its secret police to behave in such a repulsive fashion deserve to be considered in the same category as the rest of the world?
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.