Fighting against terrorism, an evil which rejects all the basic moral and legal norms of civilized society, is inherently difficult for liberal democracies such as the United States. It forces us to find the right balance between the protection of civil liberties on one hand and the prevention of violence on the other. It is clear that the latest TSA policy which gives passengers the Hobson’s choice of losing your dignity or staying home is not “balanced.”
Many of the issues in front of our policymakers have previously been faced by Israel, a country that has been under the threat of terrorist attack since its inception in 1948. We keep hearing why can’t we run our airport security the same way they do in Israel. Most people, however do not have a clear idea of what is that “Israeli way.”
The real difference between the Israeli and American approach is the target. Israel tries to identify and stop the terrorist while the U.S. targets the bomb or other weapon. This approach does not change whether there is a left or right wing Prime Minister in power because the government realizes for Israel, the fight against terrorism is a fight for its very survival. Thus her government and citizenry have a view of preventing terrorism that is unencumbered by the political correctness which restrains efforts in the United States.
The ISA (Israeli Security Agency) calls it “human factor.” Some part of that human factor would cause Al Sharpton to show up to picket the Airport if it was practiced in the US. Ethnic profiling of passengers plays a central role in Israel’s multi-level approach. Not just ethnicity is profile, race religion, general appearance and behavior are also part of the information used to profile. And wherever that profile is being made, no matter what country it is being made in, it is an Israeli doing the profile.
All passengers travelling to and from Israel are questioned by security staff. For Jewish Israelis, the process takes a couple of minutes at most, with passengers being asked whether they packed their luggage alone, and whether anyone had access to the luggage once it was packed. Jewish tourists also usually pass through security within a few minutes.
When my family entered the El Al terminal at Newark Airport, we were met by someone who asked where we came from and where were going. When we got into the terminal and on the line to check in, an El Al employee asked my 12 year old son (out of my ear’s range) why we were going to Israel. He asked if we were Jewish and when my son answered yes, so followed up by asking the name of our Synagogue and our Rabbi’s name. But while he was asking questions I could feel his eyes gauging my reaction to our kid’s interrogation. The “interrogation” took no longer than thirty seconds. When he was done with my son, he came to me and asked the same questions (plus the typical who packed your luggage-type queries) once again gauging my reaction very closely.
Like the Mossad, tank drivers, and air force pilots, Israeli airport security have that super hero, no-nonsense, get to the point directness and efficiency. “Who packed your bags?” “What was your bar mitzah portion?” “Why are you even here visiting?” This quick-fire interrogation was not bothersome but reassuring. We got the feeling that we were dealing with people who knew what they were doing.
Non-Jewish tourists tend to be questioned a bit more thoroughly, and may be grilled over the purpose of their visit and about their accommodation…
… the procedure for Arabs and Muslims can often be lengthy and irritating, ending with a full body and baggage search. Visitors who have passport stamps from countries hostile to Israel are also questioned intensively in what can be a traumatic experience for the uninitiated.
….Anyone admitting to leaving their luggage at an airport or bus station left-luggage area before check-in will have their suitcases stripped, with each item individually checked and re-packed.
In 2008, Israel’s supreme court rejected a petition presented by a group of disgruntled Israeli Arab citizens, backed by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, demanding an end to ethnic profiling as discriminatory and illegal.
If I had been more attentive when I was travelling to Israel, I would have noticed that throughout the terminal there were “armed eyes” looking at my family as well as everyone else about to get on a plane. These observers were making the same behavioral profiles as the guy who questioned people on line.
“It is mindboggling for us Israelis to look at what happens in North America, because we went through this 50 years ago,” said Rafi Sela, the president of AR Challenges, a global transportation security consultancy.,.
Officers are looking for nervousness or other signs of “distress” — behavioral profiling. Sela rejects the argument that profiling is discriminatory.
“The word ‘profiling’ is a political invention by people who don’t want to do security,” he said. “To us, it doesn’t matter if he’s black, white, young or old. It’s just his behavior. So what kind of privacy am I really stepping on when I’m doing this?”
There are other differences, most importantly is that you don’t just come off the street and get a job with the ISA (Israel Security Agency). These security agents are all ex-military (as most of the country is) and they are selected based on their intelligence and their ability to behavior profile.
Shlomo Harnoy, vice president of the Sdema group, an Israeli security consultancy firm which specialises in aviation security, believes Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who tried to blow up the Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines aircraft on Christmas Day, would have been detained “within seconds ” at Ben Gurion airport. According to Harnoy, a young Muslim traveling alone, on a one-way ticket, with no luggage, was an obvious suspect.
Harnoy, who once headed the Israel Security Agency’s aviation security department, believes investing millions in new technology is not the answer. “Whoever is concentrating on stopping old ladies bringing a bottle of mineral water on to the plane will not find the terrorist, or the bomb. The old lady is not a suicide bomber and the bottle of water is not a bomb component.”
Not only do most Israeli security selectors have degree-level education, they are trained to the highest standards. The most important element in the “human factor” is that the security guards understand the threat.
And of course, on every El Al flight there are armed air marshals. You won’t know who they are, but I do not recommended you making a fuss mid-air just to find out.
As for my families first brush with Israeli Airport Security, we arrived in Ben Gurion Airport twelve hours later, tired but not even realizing that we went through a more extensive security process than we ever had before.
As the United States defends against the ever expanding threat of Muslim terror, right here on our home turf, success depends on throwing off the shackles of political correctness and adopting the methods of our ally Israel.
However the US is stuck in what seems to be an irreversible and deadly policy of treating everyone the same., even though we are all individuals and very different. The ultimate result is an airport security process that gives you a choice of being abused by a machine or the groping hands of an untrained TSA agent. The present TSA policies put passengers and the X-Ray appliances that reveal their bare bodies in the same category as they are both treated like machines.
During her 62 year fight against terror, Israel has achieved a balance between protection of civil liberties and the prevention of violence. Her decision was that the sanctity of saving human lives and preserving personal dignity, outweighs the targeting and possible inconvenience of the extra questioning of a few.
Or in the words of that great philosopher from the band KISS, Gene Simmons ;
I think we should be racially profiling anybody from the Middle East … and as an Israeli; I want you to look at me first. I want you to search my anal cavity and look at my tax records. I want you to look at me first, and then at every guy named Muhammad.