Attacks on civilian airliners began about half a century ago, on the route from Cuba to Florida. Palestinian terrorist organizations adopted this tactic about a decade later, hijacking planes for the sake of striking deals and also blowing them up. Israel, which had not prepared for this threat, responded by destroying passenger aircraft at the Beirut airport and by beefing up aviation security, with the goal of thwarting attacks on the planes themselves, on Israeli airports and on all points of departure to Israel.
The difference between a land-based target for aviation terror, of which Ben-Gurion Airport is the prime example, and any other crowded locale like a shopping center is not one of principle but of practice. In all of these places, the number of victims of a terror attack could be very high, and for all, the weakest point is the crowds of people waiting in line for a security check. What makes Ben-Gurion unique is the combination of the price of a security failure - which would allow terrorists to get a bomb aboard the aircraft and blow it up, or alternatively other weapons that would enable it to be hijacked and crashed into a city - and the need to abide by a tight timetable of scheduled takeoffs.
The contradictory goals of thoroughness and speed resulted in a security policy of risk management: a quick initial check to weed out those who don't arouse suspicion, followed by very strict checks of those identified as potentially dangerous.
Because any security doctrine is a mixture of technology and ideology, the problem lies in the criteria used to select the minority from the majority. The principal criterion is belonging to one of the groups from which most of those responsible for aviation terror have thus far come.
In the Israeli context, this risk group includes the country's Arab citizens, in a sweeping and therefore outrageous fashion. Security guards display a blatantly suspicious attitude toward them, cause them lengthy delays that can even make them miss their flights and humiliate them in front of their families and other passengers.
This week, the High Court of Justice heard a petition on this issue and ordered the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Airports Authority to adapt their security procedures to their constitutional obligation to avoid harming human dignity. This is the correct approach, as it balances the security of the passengers (including those offended by the checks ) with the preservation of their dignity. Government agencies must sever the link between taking off and dressing down.
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