PALESTINIAN SCHOOL girls walk past Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint at a entrance to the village of Beit Einun near Hebron.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel’s need for constant vigilance regarding security is a fact of life, although the pervasive atmosphere of imminent danger has dissipated in recent years. No longer are signs posted warning of suspicious objects, and the guards with their metal-checking wands have disappeared from most restaurants and supermarkets, and even from the strategic target of Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station.
But there are worrisome signs that the necessary preoccupation with security checks has become excessive in some cases, resulting in the humiliation of citizens to the detriment of Israel’s public image.
An egregious incident occurred this past week at the Prime Minister’s Office involving an Israeli Arab student who was invited there for a meeting with an official of the Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab, Druse and Circassian Sectors.
Diran Shalabneh, who heads the Department for the Advancement of Arab Students at the National Union of Israeli Students, wrote that, as an Arab woman, she is used to Israeli security procedures. She anticipated showing her Israeli ID card, answering some perfunctory questions, and being frisked before her meeting.
After her belongings were put through an X-ray machine and a female guard conducted a body search by hand and with a metal detector, she was surprised to find the procedure continue.
“Naively, I thought the nightmare was over,” Shalabneh wrote on Facebook. “But it seems the best part was coming up. I was then asked to remove my bra.”
Her bra was placed in a box and transferred outside the curtained area for “examination,” apparently by bomb experts. But when the guards then ordered her to remove her pants, she decided she had had enough and started to leave.
On the way out, she ran into the Prime Minister’s Office official she was invited to meet, who had come looking for her since she hadn’t turned up. He persuaded the security guards to admit her – but only following another half-hour wait involving more interrogation. Despite all the searches, a female guard stopped her on the way into the delayed meeting and asked her if she had a knife.
Shalabneh compared her incident to last week’s viral video and eyewitness account of Tel Aviv supermarket employee Maysam Abu Alqian being beaten by plainclothes border policemen. Alqian was confronted when taking out the store’s garbage and asked for his ID by officers, who refused to identify themselves while questioning him on suspicion of being an illegal worker. When he declined, the store security video shows him being beaten until he was hospitalized.
Also last week, the Foreign Press Association filed a formal protest about the treatment of a photographer by the prime minister’s security during a press conference with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Atef Safadi, a photographer with the European Pressphoto Agency with credentials from the Government Press Office, complained that the security detail demanded he remove his pants when he arrived to cover the meeting. Safadi refused and left the meeting uncovered, but with his pants on – and the FPA boycotted the event.
Some Israeli Arabs are more fortunate in undergoing security checks. Singer and actress Mira Awad, a celebrity who has represented Israel in the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest, received a “Jewish” security sticker at Ben-Gurion Airport before a 2013 flight – but only after an alert guard removed the “Arab” sticker another guard had stuck on her passport.
Dozens of non-celebrity Israeli Arabs have not been so lucky. It took the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court eight-anda- half years to order the Israel Airports Authority to pay compensation to a professor from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem after she underwent a humiliating security check at Ben-Gurion.
Prof. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, a criminologist and a leading activist in the field of human rights and women’s rights, was on her way to give a lecture at a conference in Tunis, when a three-hour interrogation by IAA inspectors made her miss her flight.
Security system improvements seem to have eased the invasive and humiliating checks of Israeli Arab travelers at Ben-Gurion, following an Association for Civil Rights in Israel petition to the High Court of Justice. The justices ordered the airport to end the discriminatory practice of treating all Arabs as security threats. The time is overdue to establish this norm throughout the country.