Yara Mashour wanted to return to her home in Israel. A natural-born citizen and the editor of a popular Israeli weekly, she arrived at an El Al counter in a Milan airport this week, her passport and an airline ticket in hand. What happened next is what happens to almost every Arab Israeli traveler: She was singled out, put through rigorous security checks, asked ridiculous, humiliatingly intimate questions and had her baggage thoroughly searched. But when it reached the stage of a body search, Mashour, a proud citizen, refused, choosing instead to give up her flight.
Her story, reported in Thursday's Haaretz by Jack Khoury, is familiar to most Arab Israelis who have flown from or to Ben-Gurion International Airport via El Al. Yossi Sarid wrote in Thursday's Haaretz about an eerily similar incident that happened to Yara and her father, the late journalist Lutfi Mashour, 27 years ago. Nothing has changed since then.
Nobody questions the need for airport security checks. But what happens at Israel's airports, and at El Al counters overseas, goes way beyond what is necessary to ensure passenger safety: It entails unnecessary humiliation and being singled out on account of one's ethnic origin.
Every Arab Israeli passenger is greeted with this unwelcome and outrageous reminder: He is a second-class citizen in his own country. All the justifications and excuses offered by El Al and the security services cannot whitewash this intolerable situation. An Arab Israeli is not a suspicious object, and must be treated exactly the same as other Israeli citizens.
Shin Bet security service chief Yoram Cohen recently said Arab Israelis "aren't Shin Bet targets; they aren't a fifth column, and we don't treat them as if they were." He also noted that Arab Israeli involvement in terrorism has declined. But the behavior of the Israeli bouncers at airports stands in glaring contradiction to his words: They treat Arab Israelis exactly like a "target" and a fifth column.
Promises to introduce high-tech equipment that will obviate the need for such security checks no longer suffice. The same goes for the buck-passing between El Al and the security services. An immediate change is necessary - less one of conduct than of consciousness: Every passenger must be treated respectfully and equally.