Ben Gurion Airport.
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Arab lawmakers may teach airport security trainees how to avoid racial discrimination, following complaints of unfair treatment.
This was the suggestion of Knesset Public Petitions Committee chairwoman Adi Kol (Yesh Atid), in a meeting of the committee on Monday concerning the treatment of Arabs in airport security checks. Airports Authority legal adviser Arye Shaham agreed to invite Arab MKs to lecture on racial sensitivity in airport security training courses.
Isis Shahada, a teacher in a Jewish school in Haifa, told the committee that “when I was in the Eilat airport, my suitcase was emptied and my ID was taken away. Then I was taken to a side room with several guards. No metal detector beeped when I walked through, but a female guard still put on gloves and checked me and asked me to take off my bra and my pants. When I said this is unacceptable, she called for backup.”
Shahada, who said she teaches her students “to love their country and be tolerant to others,” called the experience “humiliating.”
MK Afo Agbaria (Hadash) said he had similar experiences before he became a lawmaker.
“It is absurd that in a country that is supposed to be the only democracy in the Middle East, an entire population is treated this way,” he said.
MK Masud Gnaim (United Arab List-Ta’al) said Arabs are humiliated at all of the country’s borders, whether at the airport or at checkpoints in the West Bank.
According to Gnaim, soldiers at checkpoints ask him if he’s really an MK.
“The education minister still hasn’t called Isis,” MK Esawi Frej (Meretz) lamented. “He started by canceling Arabic lessons and is continuing like this. Apparently, the security guards couldn’t understand that an Arab teacher can have Jewish students.”
Frej said there is no security issue, but that guards “want to remind us that if we’re not Jewish we’re not one of them, and to not let Arabs become part of the norm, like any other citizen.”
Speaking on behalf of the Airports Authority, Shaham said that most people who undergo extensive security checks are embarrassed, and that it has nothing to do with race.
Shaham added that under 5 percent of Arabs passing through airports undergo special security checks. He noted that in 2013 there were 50 complaints in the Eilat airport: 22 from Jews, 19 from foreign tourists and nine from Arabs.
“Unfortunately the Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency] did not send a representative, because they are in charge of procedure, but they do not treat one person or another differently, and do not check them according to their population group,” Shaham explained. “The High Court does not make our life easy, and we are constantly being watched.”
Kol said it pains her as an Israeli citizen to see citizens afraid to go to the airport.
“I understand wanting to protect us. No one wants to be blown up in a plane, but no one wants to feel harassed by airport security,” Kol said. “We don’t want the Shin Bet to change its criteria, but we want it to be less harmful in enacting them.
“The balance between human rights and security needs is not enough in this case,” she said.