Guards at Tel Aviv's Central Bus Station Ordered Racially Profile Arabs

A rights group cites unwarranted ethnic profiling, but the police say security guards may detain someone who intends to commit violence

Travelers wait in line to enter Tel Aviv's Central Bus Station on August 22, 2017.
Moti Milrod

Security guards working for the company providing security at Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station say they have been instructed to demand ID from anyone who looks Arab and detain anyone who doesn’t have ID until the police come.

“We’ve become illegal-resident hunters,” a security guard said. Haaretz was also shown a written statement by a senior official of the company that provides security at the station, Avidar.

The statement orders employees to detain any “member of a minority without ID” until the police arrive. The security guard said that when he asked his boss to check into the legality of the issue, he was told: “Those are the instructions. No need for a legal adviser.”

“We check IDs only of people who look like members of minorities,” another security guard said, using the Hebrew euphemism for Arab. The guard said he and his colleagues checked people in an abusive way.

“It’s a sport, the sport of hunting illegal residents .... Security guards compete with each other over how many illegal residents they catch, as if they’re animals,” he said.

But Avidar’s head of security for the bus station, Ofir Bokovza, said: “The security network at the station is directed by the police to interrogate any person who is suspected of illegally carrying a weapon or about to make illegal use of a weapon, without reference to religion, gender or race.”

The police, for their part, said that in 2014 the law was expanded regarding security guards’ authority in the case of a licensed business. They cited “the authority to detain a person if that person commits an act of violence or intends to commit violence.”

Still, the second security guard said that shortly after he protested the directives to his bosses, he received a dismissal notice on the grounds that he was unsuitable for the job for health reasons.

“It was very embarrassing to me,” added a female security guard who quit her job because of the directives. “It was to stop them, demand ID, and if they didn’t have one, call the police,” she said. “Sometimes they would stand there for 40 minutes until the police came.”

Another security guard explained how a check of Jews was different than of Arabs. “An illegal resident I have to ask for ID, find out where they’re from,” he said. “Jews I can detain only if they have a knife, brass knuckles or things like that. You don’t check IDs or anything.”

By law, security guards may detain someone until the police arrive only if there is a reasonable suspicion he is carrying a weapon illegally or about to illegally use a weapon. The law also allows a security guard to detain a person who has committed an act of violence or when there is a tangible threat of violence.

Following a complaint by one security guard, an attorney for the Adalah legal center, Fady Khoury wrote to the attorney general, the Central Bus Station and the security company seeking to prohibit ethnic profiling and the unauthorized detaining of Palestinians without permits.

He said a report is made on every person who is detained, and the report is sent to the police.