Court demands explanation of security screening for Arabs

The petition said that this was the result of racial profiling practiced by the security authorities that designates Arabs as more dangerous.

airport security_311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
airport security_311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In response to a petition condemning the racial profiling of Arab citizens in airport security inspections, the High Court of Justice on Monday ordered the state to explain why there are no uniform inspection criteria for all Israeli citizens.
The petition, which was submitted in May 2007 by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) against the Israel Airports Authority, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the Transportation Ministry, says that Arab Israelis receive more thorough security inspections than Jewish ones before they board a flight at Israeli airports and when flying to Israel on Israeli airlines.
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The petition said that this was the result of racial profiling practiced by the security authorities that designates Arabs as more dangerous, even if there is no indication that the individual Arab passenger poses a risk.
ACRI stated that the longer and more thorough security checks that the Arab passengers undergo create and encourage stigmas and negative attitudes towards Arabs and humiliate the Arabs whenever they fly.
The petitioners claimed that the practice was a violation of the Basic Law:Human Dignity and Freedom and laws ensuring free movement, protection from discrimination and protection of privacy.
The petition outlined numerous examples of cases where Arabs were forced to undergo rigorous questioning and luggage inspections, as well as instances where Arabs were barred from boarding their flights. It also told of instances when Arabs where singled out of the group they were traveling with and forced to undergo additional inspections.
The petition stressed that racial profiling took place on a daily basis and that Arabs were constantly under suspicion for no other reason than that they were Arabs.
“Racial profiling is based on the stereotypical assumption that treats Arab citizens as dangerous by virtue of being Arabs. It expresses the inferior status of Arab Israelis, who are treated like enemies and not as citizens with equal rights,” the petition read.
“Racial profiling is an additional aspect of discrimination and exclusion Israeli Arabs have suffered over the years, and has itself become a source of racist and discriminatory practices and beliefs,” the petition said.
In its response to the petition, which the state submitted in 2008, it wrote that based on security requirements, which are determined by the Shin Bet, every passenger, without exception, undergoes some form of security inspection before boarding an aircraft.
“However, the level of inspection passengers undergo is derived from a variety of details and characteristics, according to their potential risk evaluation,” the state said.
This evaluation, according to the state, “is based upon experience and risk assessment, which considers various details and characteristics that experience indicates have probable correlation to involvement in terrorist activities.”
The state’s attorneys stressed that the precise nature of the regulations and the reasoning that supports them is highly classified and volunteered to inform the court of them behind closed doors.
The lawyers added that the Israel Airports Authority had taken steps to reduce the friction between the passengers and the security inspectors, including the installation of new technological methods of inspection that are less intrusive, and have written a code of ethics and trained their employees to be more sensitive and polite in their treatment of passengers.
They also promised that additional changes that would improve the situation would be introduced in the future, citing an investment of more than NIS 300 million.
“The actions that have been taken and the actions that are planned in this respect, will assure reasonable application of the security inspection process, in a way that balances the obvious security needs of this sensitive field with the need to reduce as much as possible the harm to different populations as a result of the inspection,” read the response.
In a more recent response, the state said that there was no common inspection approach for all Arab Israelis and that most Arab passengers did not have to go through invasive inspections of their luggage and person.
In the most recent hearing, which took place last week, High Court President Dorit Beinisch questioned the legitimacy of including a person’s Arab ethnicity as a factor in his or her risk assessment.
Following the question the state’s attorney asked to explain the matter behind closed doors.
Whatever was said there apparently failed to convince Beinisch, since the result was the order that the court issued on Monday.