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Thursday, March 20, 2008

State Department warns 'Palestinian' Americans of 'racial profiling' at Ben Gurion Airport

Every time I travel abroad I am amazed at how the airport security is chasing yesterday's terrorists. From removing shoes to make sure they aren't wired to prohibiting liquids until you're past security because someone had an idea about using them to make bombs, foreign airport security seems to be chasing yesterday's terrorists.

In the summer of 2006, I traveled to Boston (via Vienna and Toronto on the way there and via Toronto on the way back) just after the plot to make bombs from liquids was uncovered. Here's part of a post I wrote on my arrival in Boston:
I'm very nervous about being in the US. Maybe not for the reasons you think. You see, the state of security here in the US is such that you are always chasing yesterday's terrorists. The 9/11 hijackers used box cutters, so you cannot carry sharp objects onto planes. Richard Reid tried to put explosives in his shoes on a trans-Atlantic flight to the US a few years back, so now you all dutifully remove your shoes when you get to the security check. Suicide bombers walk around with heavy coats in warm weather, so you all take your coats off at the security check. Some belt buckles set off the metal detectors, so you take off your belts at the security check. Do you really think the terrorists are that stupid? Do you think they aren't thinking of new ways to carry out terror attacks?

In Israel, I was warned to check the toothpaste rather than have it in my carry-on bag, "because they will give you a hard time about it in the US." My 'security check' consisted of a trained guard asking me (before they let me get near the counter to check my bags) where I came from in Jerusalem, what neighborhood, who packed my bags, did anyone give me something to take on the plane (and did I know why he was asking me) and what where the names of my children. I didn't have to take off my shoes nor my belt nor my jacket nor my hat. But the Arabs were invited to a side table where they had to open their suitcases and take every single item out. Then the suitcases were taken away and checked for false bottoms and compartments. And you can bet that they were searched before they left that table. That's why there has never been a successful hijacking from Ben Gurion Airport. Bli ayin hara!

What's worse: if a certain type of terror attack hasn't happened outside of Israel, for the most part, no one is prepared for it. So yes, my Red Sox tickets for next week say "No bags or items larger than 16 x 16 x 8, coolers, cans, bottles, flagpoles, firearms or fireworks will be permitted into the ballpark." (So much for the days of the picnic lunch in the bleachers). And the ticket says that you are subject to search: but they'll search my father and me, and they won't search a 21-year old Muslim because that would be 'profiling'. And I will still walk into shopping malls or large stores tomorrow, and no one will search my bags - or anyone else's - because no American shopping mall has ever been attacked by a suicide bomber. No one will search me on my way into a movie theater until the first time someone with a political agenda shoots up a movie theater. And no one will search me going into Sbarros (which I cannot do here because they are not Kosher) or any other restaurant until a suicide bomber blows up a restaurant. In Israel, you cannot walk into an enclosed public space without being searched.
For the record, we now do remove coats and hats while going through security at Ben Gurion. But note that part I bolded in the quote about how the Arabs are searched separately. What makes security work in Israel is exactly what the US won't allow its security people to do: profiling.

Here in Israel, we do security better and more efficiently. When you get off the highway exit and arrive at the checkpoint at the airport's entrance (which looks remarkably like the ones in Judea and Samaria about which the 'Palestinians' complain so much), a police woman insists on saying good morning to each passenger in the taxi and asking where you came from. The reason is obvious to all of us: She is looking for Arabic accents.

I assume that if she finds one, she radios ahead to someone at the terminal and that arriving passenger is watched closely. It used to be that there were two lines: One for Israeli Jews and one for everyone else. When I was there two weeks ago it was a lot less blatant. But there were still two lines and there were still security people at the entrance who told you which one to take. And while everyone puts their suitcase on the belt for screening (it used to be that you didn't even necessarily have to do that), very few now go through anything further.

Last August, the security at Ben Gurion was dumbed down.
Today, Israel's Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz announced that he has caved in to Machsom Watch and is dumbing down the security.
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz announced Tuesday that Jewish and Arab citizens traveling abroad will receive the same color stickers for their luggage during security checks at the airport.

Prior to the decision, security personnel at Ben Gurion Airport used different color stickers for each population sector, each color indicating a different security level. From now on, all citizens traveling abroad will receive a white sticker, indicating that they have already gone through the security check.

According to Transportation Ministry spokesman Avner Ovadia, the use of different color stickers left non-Jewish passengers feeling humiliated and discriminated against. The decision to use a single color for all citizens was made in an effort to bridge the gap between different sectors in Israel.
I have to tell you that the stickers were applied discretely enough that I never noticed that anyone else had a color other than pink (after you go through security you rejoin the line together for check-in). I wonder who called it to the Arabs' attention.
And in fact, this time, my security sticker was white.

But that's not enough for those who would like nothing more than to bring down an El Al jet somewhere over the Mediterranean. Yesterday, they appeared at the 'High Court of Justice,' the same self-appointed arbiter that is trying to dictate our insecure borders, to demand that Israel stop 'racial profiling' at Ben Gurion - the thing that makes our security effective.
Israel's renowned airline security faced a legal challenge Wednesday from a civil rights group charging that its practice of ethnic profiling is racist because it singles out Arabs for tougher treatment.

At a Supreme Court hearing, civil rights lawyers demanded an end to the policy, which they say violates Israeli law. Such profiling is illegal in the U.S., where passengers must be singled out for security checks on a random basis.

But some terrorism experts say Israel's measures are effective precisely because they take ethnicity into account—and warn that equality at the airport could cost lives.

Israel is considered a prime target for hijackers and other attackers because of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Despite that, there hasn't been a successful attack on an Israeli airliner in decades, and experts point to Israel's security procedures as a key factor.

Many of the measures are kept secret, but known precautions on Israeli airliners include armored luggage compartments, armed sky marshals and reinforced cockpits. But a key to preventing attacks, experts say, is the screening process on the ground.

Israeli Jews and Arabs get dramatically different treatment when boarding Israeli planes.

Hanna Swaid, an Israeli Arab, remembers being strip-searched by gruff security guards and having his luggage taken apart piece by piece 20 years ago before he flew from Israel to London, where he was a post- doctoral student.

Today, Swaid is an Israeli Arab lawmaker, and he regularly receives complaints from Arab citizens about similar treatment.
So far, at least, the government has managed to keep the exact details of airport security a secret:
The court appeal by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel—and any public debate of the policy—are hobbled by the government's refusal to discuss any of the policy's details.

In court, the government's attorneys would not reveal the screening criteria or acknowledge that ethnicity was one of them. They agreed to divulge the information only in a closed session that excluded everyone but the judges and themselves.

Representatives of Israel's Transport Ministry, Ben-Gurion International Airport and the Israel Airports Authority said Wednesday they would not comment before the end of legal proceedings. The next hearing is scheduled for May, and any decision in the case is at least months away.
Swaid, the 'Israeli Arab' MK, wants everyone to undergo the same inspection. But that would be prohibitively expensive and time consuming. As it is, we need to arrive at the airport 2-3 hours before our flights. But here's the bottom line:
Ariel Merari, an Israeli terrorism expert who has written about aviation security, said ethnic profiling is both effective and unavoidable.

"It's foolishness not to use profiles when you know that most terrorists come from certain ethnic groups and certain age groups," he said. "A bomber on a plane is likely to be Muslim and young, not an elderly Holocaust survivor. We're talking about preventing a lot of casualties, and that justifies inconveniencing a certain ethnic group."
Likely? It's more like not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims!

This morning, HaAretz reported that the US State Department has warned 'Palestinian' Americans against 'racial profiling' on arrival at Ben Gurion Airport.
"American citizens whom Israeli authorities judge may be of Palestinian origin are likely to face additional, and often time consuming, questioning by immigration and border authorities," the State Department said in a travel warning to U.S. citizens.

It added that Israel may require persons judged to have residency status in the West Bank or Gaza to use a Palestinian Authority travel document to transit Israel when entering the West Bank or Gaza [just as citizens of a country have to use its passport to enter and exit that country or they forfeit the citizenship. CiJ], and they may have to depart via the Allenby Bridge to Jordan.

James Zogby, president of Washington's Arab American Institute, said the State Department had accurately diagnosed the problem for Palestinian Americans traveling to Israel but had not done enough correct it.
I don't have to tell any of you what would happen to Israeli tourism if God forbid there was a 'successful' terror attack on any flight leaving Ben Gurion or on an El Al jet. And Israel has a security record - bli ayin hara - that other countries can only envy.
The only time an El Al airplane was hijacked was in 1968, and the last time hijackers succeeded in boarding one of its planes was in 1970.

Then the hijackers, a Palestinian woman and a Nicaraguan, were foiled by sky marshals, an innovation at the time.
When I returned to Israel on Monday morning, I changed planes in London-Heathrow on Sunday night. I have spoken to El Al's security in the past and they don't trust the security at Heathrow at all. Because of that, they are especially aggressive in London. On Sunday night, I went to charge my laptop and log in between flights and didn't arrive at the gate until thirty-five minutes before flight time. I got on the plane but when I got to Ben Gurion, I discovered I had paid the price.

I pack liquids in plastic sandwich bags which I seal with masking tape to make sure they don't leak. The last time I changed to El Al in Heathrow, they opened one of my bags and took things out and brought them to the plane to 'show' me. This time they were in a rush. They slashed my duffel bag open - destroying it - and slashed open some of the plastic bags to see what was there. This time, I did not seal the caps of the tubes and bottles with masking tape, so at some point they realized that I was harmless (I actually debated sticking a note to them in Hebrew in my luggage but I never got around to it). But the bag is gone. Everything that was inside it was still there. El Al will pay for it. I suppose it's a small price to pay.


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