You’re an Arab? Strip

The unnecessary, humiliating treatment that multitudes of Arab Israelis suffer routinely in Israel's airports must be done away with for good.

Ezies Elias Shehadeh is an Israeli teacher who has been teaching for 19 years at a Jewish high school in Tirat Carmel. She recently accompanied her students on a school trip to Eilat. But the fact that she is a Christian Arab immediately aroused the suspicions of the airport security screeners, turning her trip into a gantlet of humiliations.

Orly Vilnai reported in Haaretz that when Elias Shehadeh and her students arrived at the airport, she was separated from them, then forced to strip and stand in her underwear to undergo a “security check.” The checkers even ran their hands through her hair and over her body. “When I complained, they asked me: ‘Do you want to do this the easy way, or stay here?’ I went through close to an hour of humiliation that way,” she related.

It’s impossible to make light of what Elias Shehadeh went through – an experience common to many Arab citizens of Israel and residents of East Jerusalem, and even to foreign tourists entering Israel. Many of them suffer body searches, personal questions and invasions of privacy, often for no real reason, but simply because of an arbitrary decision by the screeners.

The Israel Airports Authority and the security agencies have a plethora of excuses and justifications. They claim that all such procedures are carried out in accordance with the law, in order “to make sure that the passenger would not board the airplane with objects in her purse or on her person that could endanger the security of the plane and the passengers.” But passenger security can be ensured without unnecessary humiliations. Today, there are plenty of technological devices that can be used in place of humiliating procedures.

Nor is it believable that Elias Shehadeh was strip-searched not because of her ethnic origins, but based on “other parameters,” which is what the authorities claim. In her case, it’s hard to find those “other parameters”: This teacher was stripped and humiliated solely because she is Arab. And those who treated her in this fashion hurt not only her and her students, but also the principles of equality and individual liberty in Israel.

This incident once again proves that the religion of security drives the authorities out of their senses. Nobody questions the importance of security, especially in strategic locations like airports. But even there, not everything should be sacrificed to the Moloch of security. The airports authority must change its procedure for security checks fundamentally and institute checks devoid of racism and humiliation.

Passengers line up for a security check at Ben-Gurion International Airport (archive).
Nir Keidar