An article in The Economist laments the problems in airport check-in halls, entrances to the building, drop off points outside, and the greater problems in providing security in railroad and metro stations. The article uses Israel as a standard of security, but sees it as only theoretically possible for Europe nor the United States.
The cost of inconvenience is cited as one of the elements keeping European and American facilities vulnerable. Presumably, the crowds and politicians would not put up with the delays caused by significant checks at entrances to major facilities, or on the roads leading to them. Moreover, neither the laws nor the politics of those places would accept the level of ethnic profiling that Israel uses to lessen the inconvenience of most residents.
Driving to Ben Gurion Airport requires a stop and inspection soon after leaving the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, and about a mile before reaching the terminal. Entering the terminal is another security check, and those intending to fly encounter an interview and documents examination before being able to drop off luggage and pass into the departure hall where there is first another check of documents and then a need to pass through a conventional hand luggage screening and walking through an arch that checks for nasty stuff. Several of these points provide easier access for Israeli citizens who do not trip the guard's sense of suspicion, but can be taxing for non-Israelis or those who fit profiles of suspicion.
There are also security personnel who circulate throughout the airport, looking here and there in case something suspicious has evaded the other security checks. Few of the security personnel are in a uniform with exposed weapons recognized as such by someone used to traveling in Europe or the US.
A former TSA administrator has saidt that Israel spends 10 times more per passenger than the US on airport security.
Israeli Jews are seldom, if ever,stopped on the street for a document check, but it is not unusual to see Arabs waiting while police check their documents and call in to see if there is an outstanding warrant. We hear that Arabs' ID cards have a short life span due to the frequency of being unfolded and examined.
There is unhindered access to the platforms of Jerusalem's light rail, but there are security personnel on the platforms, and often in the trains.
There are armed security guards at the entrances to schools and kindergartens.
A number of these security personnel, especially at the airport, are young and bright men and women, graduates of the IDF, and working part time while studying. There are also older men, former officers in the Red Army, working to stretch their pensions or keep busy. Not all are bright, sensitive, and reliable. The media has reported cases of security guards as well as police who have used their weapons to kill their spouse.
Israel also benefits from its small size, history,, and relative homogeneity. There is wide agreement on the need for security, and the inconvenience that comes with it. Also helpful is the large proportion of the population with military training, the spread of weapons in private hands, along with the controls over who in the population may have a weapon.
Assertions that American and European morals do not permit ethnic profiling appear hollow against Black encounters with American police, and parallel stories from ethnic communities in Europe. The law may indicate one level of performance, but the reality on the street is something else. Israel does not admit to ethnic profiling, and there is loud opposition to in in the Arab communities and among some Jews. But reality being what it is . . .
Each society puts up with overt physical threat and the lack of correspondence between formal rules and the actual practice of officials. The US, Israel, and Western European countries include individuals who seem to imagine more perfection than exists or is possible, and object to descriptions that clash with their images of what exists, or what should be.
Several correspondents objected strongly to my report of sadism or pathologies among American military personnel at Abu Ghraib. My guess is that such people either do not read the news, do not, or cannot, recognize the violence that characterizes the US, and is unlikely to escape the US military.
Israelis have been demonstrating in support of the soldier who is charged with killing a severely wounded and inert Palestinian with no security justification.
European countries have no shortage of super-patriotic politicians who ride into parliament on the strength of reactions against migrants who threaten what many people see as what should be proper in France, Britain, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, or other European countries, each struggling with their history and contemporary pressures.
All these western democracies have their versions of the American slogan, "My country, right or wrong."
Israel also benefits from numerous native speakers of European and Middle Eastern languages, as well as younger people who have learned them in universities and gone on to careers in intelligence or the media. We have frequent access to what friends, enemies, and those in-between are saying.
There is value in recognizing the complexities in each population, and to appreciate the mix and dynamics of interesting populations. With Haneen Zoabi and Ahmed Tibi in the Knesset and speaking their minds, Israelis obtain an ongoing reminder of political realities. Likewise for the Israeli Jews and others who describe the rest of us as fascists, and do what they can to turn the world against us. Nutty and even dangerous they may be. One should oppose them, verbally or otherwise. Yet recognizing their perspective helps to assure the preservation of our own humanity.
Currently in the news is a letter written by Senator Patrick Leahy, and signed by ten Members of the House of Representatives, accusing Israel of summary executions of Palestinians, and Egypt of similar violations of human rights associated with its actions against Islamic violence, and urging the US Government to stop providing financial and other assistance to both countries. That all the signers are Democrats and close to half of them African Americans says something about the political and social minefields that Israelis encounter in the country said to be their best friend.
Recognizing and accommodating to the complexities in one's own society and others with which there are close relationships is not always easy, but it is essential to maneuvering in context. It may also be dangerous, but that, too, is part of life.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)Department of Political ScienceHebrew University of Jerusalem