A better way to fly safely

Security personnel in airports abroad should be less nitpicky but thorough about the important things.

ben gurion security chec (photo credit:)
ben gurion security chec
(photo credit: )
Climbing over me, the 30-something non-Jewish looking guy settled into the seat next to me, one of the last to board the flight out of Tel Aviv. "Phew, those Israeli security guys sure gave me a hard time. I guess they really know what they're doing. Shame most of the ones in other countries don't." Not wanting to appear unfriendly, I asked him what prompted them to give him such a rough time. It appeared that he was the Middle East representative for his company and consequently had recently been to many Arab countries. Seeing all those stamps in his passport had set off warning bells. They asked him the reason for all those visits and when he replied that he was on business, the guard looked him up and down, taking in his T-shirt, jeans and well-worn hiking shoes and said: "You don't look like a businessman. You're not dressed like one. Why should I believe you traveled to all the places on business?" The man delved into his bag and produced various documents attesting to his work. This still wasn't enough. "So why are you dressed like this then?" "Because I enjoy hiking and mountain climbing while I'm away and my casual gear is more comfortable for traveling." "Oh you like mountain climbing do you? Which mountain did you last climb? What equipment did you use? How do you prepare for each climb?" The detailed questions came at him thick and fast, and he had to answer each one to the security guard's satisfaction before eventually being allowed on the plane. But he didn't feel picked-on just because he wasn't Jewish. He also described how one kippa-wearing passenger had also aroused suspicion and had been asked questions, as my traveling companion put it, regarding Jewish religious practice - questions that only a practicing Jew would be able to answer, just to check that the kippa was really being worn because he was Jewish and religious and wasn't a disguise. As we all know, terrorists in the past have dressed as religious Jews. I JUST wish that security personnel in other airports were as thorough about what's really important and less nitpicky about irrelevant things. Deodorants and perfumes are now routinely removed from hand luggage; so is toothpaste, and I watched in amazement at London's Heathrow airport when a baby's bottles was taken out of the infant's mouth and had to be tasted by the father (to prove that it wasn't poisonous explosives I presume) before the parents were allowed to return it to their yelling child. But in all these airports, no security guard seemed to really think about the actual person standing in front of them. It wasn't suspicious people they were looking out for but compliance with security rules and regulations. One guard I spoke to said he wasn't allowed to single out and search or question a passenger because he was a Muslim, even if he did feel that he looked suspicious, because this wasn't politically correct and was offensive to all Muslims. Everyone was subjected to equal scrutiny. The opposite is true in Tel Aviv. Here when we lined up to be checked by security, each one of us was looked at carefully, eye to eye. Here, unlike in almost all other countries, it wasn't the Coca-Cola, deodorant, toothpaste, etc. we might be carrying with us that were considered important. It was us as individuals. There was no political correctness in the scrutiny we all received. These guys knew what they were looking for and what bothered them. We all had to answer questions about where we had stayed, what we had done. Even those carrying Israeli passports aren't totally absolved. Passports can always be forged. X-ray machines did the main luggage searching; the security personnel had more important considerations. Even though I'm pretty sure I look like a harmless little lady, I didn't escape the third degree when I left recently. The security guard looked at my Israeli passport and said, "Do you have children?" "Yes," I replied. "What are their names?" I reeled them off, but of course in retrospect I realized that I could have said anything I wanted to, as they don't appear on my passport. He just wanted to check that I didn't hesitate or appear in any other way to be lying. WHEN MY sister from Teaneck came to visit, looking just like your average American Jewish mother, the El Al security officer asked her, "Are you religious?" "Yes" "What shul do you belong to?" She told him. "What was last week's parasha?" My sister turned red and felt very embarrassed. "Um, I don't know. I got to shul late," she almost whispered. But her answer was enough to satisfy him - he let her go without any more questions. As we taxied along the runway, I knew that despite the disgruntled remarks by some of the passengers at the barrage of questions they were subjected to, the more difficult it was for us all to get on the plane, the safer we all were once we were airborne. The writer is a freelance journalist in Jerusalem.