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What Happened to My pro-Israel Friends Proves There's Something Rotten in Israeli Airport Security

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A security inspector searches a traveler's bag at Ben Gurion Airport. Credit: AP

We were subjected to an unpleasant interrogation by your security people in Heathrow, my guest said. I was strolling in Tel Aviv with a tourist couple, Russian Jews who live in London and had come to Israel for a visit. They were thrilled by Tel Aviv and loved Israel. They liked everything Israeli except for one thing: the questions of the female Israeli security officer before they got on the plane. The husband isn’t just pro-Israel, he’s quite right-wing. We’ve argued. He’s had some extreme ideas about what kind of authority the Israeli security establishment should be given. But from his personal encounter with this system, he did not emerge unscathed.

My guests didn’t tell me right away just what had happened. You understand that the airport security personnel have to deal with very serious dangers. Yes, they knew that. I told them that the security procedures for flights in and out of Israel had been greatly increased since that incident in the 1980s, when a Syrian intelligence agent tried to put his pregnant British girlfriend on a flight to Israel with a bomb in her suitcase – without her knowledge – aiming to blow up hundreds of passengers. The disaster was averted at the last moment by an Israeli airport security officer whose suspicions were aroused for some reason and who insisted on another search of the woman’s luggage. How terrible, they concurred. Yes, of course, you have to be very careful about security. I told the officer, said the man, that we should really be glad – all the security procedures are meant to protect us. But still, the questions she asked us were really too much.

I know that they ask intrusive questions, I said. It’s not that they really want to know all that personal information, you see, but they have this method – they look at the reactions. They think that unexpected questions can help them figure out who has something to hide. And, of course, there are lots and lots of security personnel, and obviously not everyone is of the same caliber, it’s hard to oversee each and every one. Yes, my guests understood all this. Then they finally told me what the Israeli security officer in London, who had already spoken to them “unpleasantly, as if she was our boss,” asked them.

She asked when, at what age and how they met in Moscow, who introduced them, how long they were dating before they got married, and what year they got married. And then she asked them: If you’ve been married for so long, why do you only have one child?

My guests thoroughly enjoyed the day in Tel Aviv. Myself, not as much. I was ashamed by what I’d heard. Is it really okay for the security officers to ask such questions? Is everything permitted? Is there no limit? Is there no way to accomplish the security questioning without getting to this point? Is this really necessary in order to protect human lives, or was this just some combination of rudeness, stupidity and boredom? Do the people who developed this inspection method make any effort to oversee the personnel carrying it out and ensure that they know there are certain limits? Or do they not find that very important?

Israeli Arabs are convinced that what they are put through at the airport in Israel comes from racism, and is meant to humiliate them. In this case, these are people whom there was no reason, racist or otherwise, to want to hurt. And yet they were offended in a disgraceful way. Evidently, a desire to hurt someone is not needed. It’s enough to lack sufficient desire to avoid hurting them.

But it’s also obvious that in any situation that contains the potential to cause hurt, Arabs will be hurt more. What sort of sensitivity can be expected when conducting a physical search of Arab tourists when there are displays of such insensitivity when questioning Jewish tourists from England?

There’s something rotten in the security inspection kingdom. Criticism for this can probably be directed to numerous addresses. But one of these is for certain: the heads of the Shin Bet security services.

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