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As any plane passenger can readily attest, air travel has deteriorated into an inconvenient hassle, if not an outright exasperating aggravation. Some Arab Israelis claim to perceive such travel, to and from Israel, as an ordeal born of discrimination and culminating in humiliation.
That, at least, is the gist of a petition filed in the High Court of Justice by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel asserting that the Shin Bet, Transportation Ministry and Israel Airport Authority violate the rights of Arab citizens by subjecting them to inordinately stringent security checks.
ACRI is demanding that the court order the immediate cessation of "inequitable security checks based on such criteria as Arab ethnicity or Muslim religion."
It further demands a court injunction specifying that the extent and intensity of security checks be identical for all citizens - Jews and Arabs - alike.
The petition charges "racist" bias in singling out Arabs for rigorous and invasive probes, on occasion featuring "verbal abuse and degradation... The Arab passenger is viewed a priori as an enemy rather than an equal... Racist prejudice portrays Arabs as inherently greater security risks merely by virtue of being Arabs."
ACRI is striving to eliminate profiling - one of the most useful tools for the preemption of terror. Profiling is clearly based on distinguishing between sectors of the population by predetermining who is more liable to be inimical to other passengers and who is nonthreatening. This, in a nutshell, is the dilemma besetting democracies in their Sisyphean struggle against terrorist predations on air traffic the world over, with Israel and Israelis having been the first and still the favorite targets.
By nature, democracies are nonbelligerent and would like nothing better than open skies and free movement for all. At the same time, Western liberality and tolerance serve terrorists to attack innocent civilians, forcing otherwise broadminded societies to protect themselves.
Whether formally admitted or not, profiling is practiced. Israeli security precautions may be tough but they are undeniably effective. Indeed, they are globally respected and emulated.
This defensive mode per force infringes on the freedom of individuals caught in the middle. In their subjective perception, they are unjustly victimized.
Excessive political correctness can plainly countermand precautionary common sense, as is amply evident in frequently farcical scenes at American airports where tots must removes their shoes and elderly nuns are physically examined, while more likely terror suspects are allowed to pass with minimal scrutiny.
We can only hope that our High Court does not fall prey to the same logical lapse that prohibits profiling in the US. Reality and statistics cannot permit the justices to pretend that young Muslims and Arabs aren't groups of particular interest so far as potential terror is involved. No, of course not all Arabs/Muslims are terrorists. But yes, the overwhelming majority of acts of terror are perpetrated by Arabs/Muslims.
Care must be taken to insure that all security checks are conducted with due politeness and efficiency, and that nobody's dignity is pointlessly injured. It must always be borne in mind that the vast majority of Arabs examined diligently by Israeli airport security personnel are not terrorists.
But terrorists wear no identity badges. They do not declare explosives at customs. Those Arabs who feel wronged by the intrusive scrutiny should not blame Israel's self-defense strategy. They ought not to be seeking to weaken the security envelope on which they too depend. Their grievance, rather, should be with those who force Israel to adopt defensive measures - measures which protect Jew and Arab alike, without any distinction.