Colored Tags for Arabs' Luggage at Ben Gurion Airport Discontinued

Instead, luggage belonging to non-Jews marked with number, subject to more comprehensive security check.

Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz announced on Tuesday that Ben Gurion International Airport security would no longer mark the luggage belonging to non-Jews with colored tags, in order to spare these passengers embarrassment.

Instead, Mofaz explained, the luggage of non-Jewish passengers will be stamped with the same color sticker as the Jewish passengers, only with a different number. In the past, the color of the sticker on the passenger's luggage would indicate to airport security personnel the level of security check they must administer.

This practice mainly affected Arab passengers.

The security checks at Ben Gurion have been denounced by many in the Arab sector as degrading. "We're talking about frequent degradation of Arab passengers, which causes great anger and frustration," MK Nadia Hilou (Labor) said in January, adding, "I won't leave this subject alone until it has been resolved."

Though the colored stickers have been discontinued since the beginning of August, the luggage belonging to Arab passengers still undergoes a more thorough security check than that of Jews. The Arabs' luggage is sent to an X-ray scanner with higher resolution.

According to Transportation Ministry spokesman Avner Ovadia, "the institution of uniformly colored stickers for all passengers aims to prevent a sense of discrimination among various sectors."

Ovadia added that the numbers on the stickers indicating a more comprehensive security check will change periodically in order to prevent the identification of Arab passengers, and thus prevent a feeling of discrimination.

However, an Arab resident of Nazareth who frequently flies out of Ben Gurion airport said he had no trouble at all identifying the marked luggage. "This is the exact same system, with a slight change in stickers. In the past, an Arab passenger would receive a red sticker, and now the Arab passenger receives a sticker with the number 5 on it," the man explained.

Mofaz presented to local authority heads from the Arab sector a plan to minimize the gap between the treatment of Jews and non-Jews and to promote equality. The plan was presented at a conference held at Haifa University.

The proposal was formulated by a public committee charged with examining the policies of the Transportation Ministry regarding the non-Jewish public. The proposal recommends cutting back the security check process applied to non-Jewish passengers, in accordance with general security instructions. The plan also suggests that over NIS 200 million be invested during each of the next five years in municipal projects involving the non-Jewish sector.

Mofaz also adopted a string of projects in the infrastructure realm, aimed at relieving hardships currently facing the non-Jewish population. These projects include the construction of a light train connecting Haifa and Nazareth, two cities with relatively high Arab populations.

The transportation minister intends to bring the committee's proposal before the cabinet for approval.

Hilou, who vowed to remain in contact with the Transportation Ministry until the issue is resolved, welcomed on Tuesday the initiative aimed at improving the service provided to Arabs. "The trend toward dialogue is welcome, and it must continue. However, I am still receiving complaints. Not all the problems have been solved," she said.

According to a report by the Nazareth-based Arab Association for Human Rights, security officials at airports often discriminate against Arab passengers.