Even a Guest of the President

About 20 years ago I published an article entitled: 'Don't touch their hair.' I described a violent search that was conducted on the Mashours' baggage when they returned from a trip abroad. Not only was their baggage searched; Mashour's groin was examined, as was the hair of his daughters, who were 12 and 10 years old.

There is no doubt that everything in this country is run perfectly, only according to procedure, without any deviation, and Israel should therefore be called "the country of procedures." Every day brings it own scandal, and your heart goes into shock from anger and disgust; but very soon, everything calms down, and your heart returns to normal - because the government informs us in a callous tone that everything took place "according to procedure."

Lutfi Mashour, the owner of the Arab-Israeli newspaper, Al Sinara, which is published in Nazareth, is a friend of mine. I have known him, his wife, Vida, and his two daughters, Yara and Varia, for 30 years. For the sake of proper disclosure, I will admit that every year, after the olive harvest, his mother sends me two big bottles of oil made from the wonderful olives that grow in his village.

Israel's president, Moshe Katsav, invited Mashour to join him as a journalist on his visit to France. The president's entourage included 35 people, but only Mashour was detained by the airport security people for the purpose of that humiliating security check.

These security checks were not invented this week, when the president left for Paris. I have already handled hundreds of cases that arouse anger and shame, without success - because everything is done according to procedure. Nevertheless, who would have believed that even a guest of the president of the State of Israel would not escape from the accursed procedures.

Katsav did his best: He tried to help; he begged Mashour to take another flight. Our president was also angry and embarrassed; but, with all due respect to the president, and I do respect him, even he and his guests are not above the procedures - because the procedures are above everything.

And don't let them tell us about security needs and about the threats to flights; we are very familiar with them. But even these needs and these threats do not justify embarrassing an Israeli citizen in public. It's quite possible that in this case, the president was even more embarrassed than Mashour, since even he was unable to rescue his guest from the jaws of procedure.

And we would also like to say a word to his "colleagues," the journalists. It wouldn't hurt you to show some solidarity occasionally. You should have stood up, all of you, and told those in charge, and the security checkers: Either search all of us, or get out of here; Mashour is a colleague of ours, and we simply will not put up with it - it's as simple as that. I have no doubt that it would have helped; but even journalists are sometimes ideologically tainted.

About 20 years ago, in April 1985, I published an article in Haaretz entitled: "Don't touch their hair." I described a violent search that was conducted on the Mashours' baggage when they returned from a trip abroad. Not only was their baggage searched; Mashour's groin was examined, as was the hair of his daughters, who were 12 and 10 years old at the time.

I ended the article with the following paragraph: "So they'll continue to shove their hands at the balls of our Arab citizens. In spite of that, I would like to make a small request: At least, don't shove your hands into people's hair. One doesn't find anything in girls' hair, except for Jewish memories. And besides, experience teaches that when one searches a child's head, terrible thoughts grow there. They can even grow many years later."

Mashour, even after the traumatic experience he went through, is alive and well, thank God. Mohammed al Sheikh, on the other hand, 41 years old and the father of four, didn't come back alive after his experience at the Erez checkpoint. Al Sheikh was a laborer from Gaza who only wanted to work in Israel and make a living. But as we know, the crowding at the Erez checkpoint is inhuman. Al Sheikh suffocated to death. We have begged for help a thousand times for those who suffer at the Erez checkpoint, as well as at other checkpoints, but the defense minister doesn't listen - because when you are equipped with procedures, you turn a deaf ear. Therefore, in this case too we can say that Al Sheikh died according to procedure, may he rest in peace. The main thing is that we are at peace with ourselves.

And to recall bygones, although these bygones took place only a few weeks ago - Gil Naamati, who protested against the security fence near the village of Meskha and was shot in his legs. The army conducted an investigation, but its findings are absurd. To summarize them in one sentence: Everything happened according to procedure.

Let us declare to the government, the Israel Defense Forces' General Staff, the Shin Bet security service and the other security organizations: Those procedures are the last refuge of scoundrels. The procedures don't have a life of their own; they are created by people. The procedures are not responsible for people and their fate; it is people who are responsible for the procedures and their wicked manipulations. The procedures are innocent; those responsible for the procedures are the criminals. The procedures are not a matter of force majeure; they are a petty subterfuge, designed first and foremost to cover people's asses.