Opinion

Security Checks in Israel Are a Jungle in Which Human Dignity Means Nothing

An Israeli Bedouin arrived at the memorial ceremony for Amos Oz in Tel Aviv and stood in line to view his coffin. Then he underwent a security check that was appalling and unacceptable

Security check at Ben Gurion International Airport
Nir Keidar

An Israeli citizen, a Bedouin from Hura, who has adopted the name Ben Adam Universali (Universal Person) as an expression of a worldview, arrived at the memorial ceremony for Amos Oz at the Tzavta Theater in Tel Aviv and stood in line to view his coffin. There he underwent a security check. He describes what happened next.

“Security personnel – swoop down on me, pull me out of the line, and ask me to show an ID card, ask for my knapsack and start to burrow in it,” he recalls. Afterwards he was taken to a corner in order to wait until the security guard who took his ID card returned from examining it.

In the end, he was led to a side room, where, he says, “I remained standing while one of the security guards groped me with a metal detector all over my body, back and forth, including between my legs, between my scrotum and my anus. Afterwards I was asked to strip, and again the device was passed between my legs, over my entire body, and also on the pile of my clothes ... In the end I was asked to dress, to close the knapsack and to stand."

“One of the security guards pulled a special red band out of his pocket with a clasp that can’t be opened except by cutting it with scissors, put the bracelet on my hand and explained: ‘This band proves that you have been absolved completely and have undergone a meticulous examination, and if you encounter a security guard you can show him your arm band and he’ll understand that you aren’t dangerous.’” (This recount was published in the Haaretz Hebrew edition).

Nobody outside the security establishment wants to intervene when it comes to security checks. Who wants to take responsibility for the results if once the security people are deterred from examining someone who should have been checked? Even the judicial system, which has proved willing to intervene on many issues, doesn’t want to rule in principle against ethnic profiling during security checks, in a place where terror itself has in a great majority of cases an ethnic profile, its threat is grave and persistent, and there are no limits to the willingness of terrorists to kill people.

Besides, after all it’s “only” a security check. Isn’t it better left to the professionals? For that reason the Shin Bet feels no significant pressure from outside on this issue and conducts matters as it pleases. And the result is that this area has become a black hole, a jungle in which human dignity means nothing and the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty is a joke.

Everyone occasionally hears unpalatable stories from this black hole. Those who tend to make light of security considerations receive confirmation for their attitude. But what should be done by someone who doesn’t make light of these constraints? Accept what’s happening? 

I feel that what happened to Ben Adam Universali at Tzavta is appalling and unacceptable, and I know that there are innumerable such cases. I’m not volunteering to formulate instructions for the security personnel, which will guarantee that a Jewish and Arab citizen in Israel will have the same chance of undergoing a security check. But as in many other cases, this story has a smoking gun that proves that beyond all the security constraints, there is here an additional element of insensitivity and unscrupulousness, which regularly accompany arbitrary power.

What security consideration dictates the need to put this red band on the arm of the person who has been inspected, “with a clasp that cannot be opened except by cutting it with scissors”? The purpose is to prevent a superfluous inspection. And can’t this goal be achieved in another way? Can't this be done without branding a person in a manner that more befits the branding an animal? Did the competent authorities consider this issue and become convinced that there’s no better solution? Really?

After all, it’s clear that this red band is not the initiative of the security guards at Tzavta. Someone of high rank decided on this procedure in such cases. That same someone did not see fit to devote five minutes to think about how the problem could be solved effectively, but as inoffensively as possible. And we have to assume that this entire inspection procedure has been conceived and is implemented in the same spirit, with the same degree of sensitivity.

Why bother to minimize the damage when you don’t have to bother in the first place? The red band attests not only to itself, and the testimony is damning.