Arab MKs will educate Israel Airports Authority officials, including those leading security training courses, about the humiliation suffered by Arabs forced to undergo invasive security checks at Ben-Gurion International Airport, the Knesset Public Petitions Committee decided on Monday.
Committee chairwoman MK Adi Kol (Yesh Atid) also recommended that airport authority officials meet people who have gone through such an ordeal. The decision came after a public outcry over the treatment of an Israeli Arab teacher, Ezies Elias Shehadeh, who was strip-searched at Eilat Airport before flying with her Jewish students returning from a school trip to the resort city last month – an incident that MK Masud Ganaim (United Arab List-Ta’al) said was “shocking,” but hardly a first.
“The possibility of meeting a person who has undergone the process is likely to engender basic sensitivity that would prevent such incidents in the future,” Kol told the airport authority’s legal adviser, Aryeh Shaham.
Shaham adopted the recommendation but denied that airport security officials engage in racial or ethnic profiling.
“The procedures aren’t different for this or that person, and the check isn’t based on population group,” Shaham said. “The Supreme Court justices have not made life easy for the airports authority, which is under strict supervision.”
Shaham said Israeli Arabs are not singled out for more invasive security checks than others, adding that most of the complaints the authority receives come from Jewish travelers.
“From a statistical point of view, barely 5 percent of minorities are checked,” said Shaham. “More complaints are received from Jews than from Muslims or Christians.”
Last year 50 complaints were filed about the Eilat airport, 22 of them by Jews and just nine by Arabs, Shaham said.
MK: Humiliation the rule, not the exception
But MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) said the humiliation of Arabs at the airport was the norm.
“Instances of humiliation are the rule and instances in which there is no humiliation are the exception,” he said.
MK Afou Agbaria (Hadash) told the Knesset committee he has been subject to a humiliating security check before boarding a flight.
“The Elias Shehadeh incident is nothing new,” he said. “I experienced it myself before I was a Knesset member. It’s terribly humiliating when they take you away like that. Unfortunately, the absurd thing is that an entire population is treated this way in a state that is meant to be the only democracy in the Middle East. Sometimes you see someone bedraggled who looks like a drug addict going through with dignity, and they humiliate the Arab population.”
One MK suggested that Elias Shehadeh may have been singled out for being not just an Arab, but an Arab teacher of Jews.
“Apparently the inspectors weren’t okay with an Arab teacher of Jewish students, and they didn’t take it well,” said MK Issawi Freij (Meretz). “The problem isn’t a security one, but the goal is to remind everyone who’s not a Jew that ‘you’re not one of ours,’ not to let Arabs get into a routine and feel like any other citizen.”
Ganaim said Arabs are humiliated not just at the airport but all over the country, “whether at Ben-Gurion Airport or in the territories.”
“At checkpoints they ask me if I’m really an MK,” he said, adding that trampling human dignity “exposes the racist face of the state.”
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