Ethnic profiling is an unfortunate but crucial element in the security checks of passengers at Ben-Gurion and other Israeli airports, a former airport security examiner told The Jerusalem Post.
"Ultimately, it's a question of [ascertaining a passenger's] loyalty to Israel," explained the former examiner, who worked at Atarot, Ben-Gurion and Eilat airports as well as Israeli airline terminals abroad for a few years during the last decade.
"A Jew would only be coming here because he loves Israel, and he wouldn't commit a terrorist act. You can't make that same assumption about... Arabs or non-Jews," he told the Post.
While Israeli Arab passengers who served in the IDF are considered no riskier than Jews, he noted that otherwise, Israeli Arabs are treated with much greater suspicion than non-Arab gentiles. "Like night and day," he said.
The former examiner maintained that while the profiling system caused "misery" to countless innocent Arab and other non-Jewish passengers, it was critical to airline security because it accurately reflected the demographics of anti-Israeli terror.
However, he condemned the behavior of a "minority" of Israeli airport security inspectors whom he witnessed treating non-Jewish passengers, especially Arabs, "with rudeness, a rough manner of speech, manhandling their possessions, being overly suspicious and sometimes even vindictive [over fresh terror attacks by Arabs]."
Airports Authority spokesman Shmuel Hefetz deferred all questions about security to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), which refused to be interviewed. The spokesman pointed out that an IAA unit staffed by three Israeli Arabs had been set up to provide Arab passengers with a more familiar "address" for their concerns. Also, IAA general manager Gabi Ophir has been meeting in a regular forum with representatives of the Israeli Arab community.
Recently, several Israeli Arabs have complained publicly of mistreatment by airport security inspectors. Arab MK Nadia Hilou (Labor) said Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin recently told her that in a few months, a new screening technology that preempts ethnic profiling will be tested at Ben-Gurion, and should be installed permanently in 18 to 24 months.
However, an airport official was skeptical. "If you think some young guy on his own from [the West Bank town of] Jaljulya is going to be able to waltz onto a plane without being searched - that's not going to happen," the official said.
The full story will appear in Friday's UpFront.