Airport security in Israel - David Bachar
Security staff questioning Israeli Arab passengers at Ben-Gurion Airport. Photo by David Bachar
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The state must explain why it does not apply equitable criteria to all Israeli citizens undergoing security checks in Israeli airports, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday. The ruling came in response to a petition filed against the automatic profiling of Arab passengers as a "security threat."

The injunction, handed down by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch and Justices Eliezer Rivlin and Miriam Naor, came after the third hearing of the petition, filed by the Association for Civil Rights Israel against the Israel Airports Authority, the Shin Bet security service and the Transportation Ministry. Arab passengers, the ACRI claims, are singled out much more meticulously checks than Jewish passengers.

During the third hearing, which took place last week, Beinisch said that one cannot profile an entire community and that the humiliation of Arab citizens during such security checks is undoubtedly wrong.

Osnat Mandel, head of the High Court petitions department in the state prosecutor's office, told the court, "We are not ignoring the feelings of the people undergoing the [security] check, we are saying that there is no infringement on equality because there is a relevant distinction here, as the profile of individuals subject to extra-rigorous checks is based on experience in the field...

"There's no hard-heartedness here, there's no desire to ignore the problem being alleged. We do want to bring the possibility of offending [passengers] to the necessary minimum," she continued. "The state invests funds, considerable funds, for the appropriate purpose of avoiding offending anyone's feelings as much as possible, to minimize the public nature of these security checks, and to not allow any more [incidents] that would offend the subjects of these checks in any way."

Attorney Auni Banna, who represented ACRI in the case, along with the organization's legal advisor Dan Yakir, said yesterday that he was pleased with the injunction.

"The third hearing finally addressed the core issue: Can the authorities sweepingly declare an entire minority group of Israeli citizens to be a security threat, in a humiliating and discriminatory manner?" Banna said. "Nobody argues against the importance of security checks, but the sweeping manner in which Arab citizens are checked, quizzed about their destinations, asked about the people they intend to meet, requested to reveal personal information stored on their computers - all come together to create a reality intolerable in a democratic state, a permanent reminder to these citizens that the state does not see them as possessing equal rights."

Yakir noted last week during the case that former senior officials at the Shin Bet security service have said that the security of the state was not harmed when the Supreme Court banned the Shin Bet from using torture.

"Security services today have a great variety of means at their disposal to conduct security checks," Yakir said. "A democratic state cannot comply with the humiliation of 20 percent of its citizens."