The saga of Israeli airport security checks, chapter 137
Security checks at Israeli airports and border crossings are infamous among Palestinian-Israelis and internationals working in Israel (see this satire via Dion Nissenbaum at the Checkpoint Jerusalem blog; h/t Lara Friedman.)
Below is a Maariv article on the legal battle on this issue waged by one Palestinian-Israeli, Dannan Maarouf, and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) against the Israeli GSS (General Security Service.)
Not a pleasant flight
Shmuel Mittelman, Maariv, November 18 2009 [page B8]
Dannan Maarouf can be quite pleased. Recently the courts instructed the Airports Authority to compensate him with NIS 1,000 plus NIS 250 in court fees. This was because of the inappropriate behavior of the inspectors in Ben-Gurion Airport before he flew out of the country. Maarouf alleged in his lawsuit that the inspection resulted in damage to both his property and his dignity, because it took place before everyone and took longer than necessary. The Magistrates Court ruled that the inspectors’ behavior was indeed discourteous, although Maarouf’s behavior was also out of place.
Furthermore, the court ruled that the security procedures were followed correctly in this instance, and that there was no evidence that Maarouf was discriminated against in the course of the inspection, but added that the Airports Authority officials ought to have conducted the inspection patiently.
If the promises delivered by the GSS are to become reality, than the flight and landing experience of Maarouf and other Israeli Arabs in the country’s main airport may become a great deal more pleasant. This follows many complaints by Arab Israelis over delays in flights, suitcases inspected before everyone, affronts to their dignity and public humiliation upon entering and exiting the country.
The GSS, with the aid of the Airports Authority, revealed this week that it has formulated a plan to significantly alter its security inspections. These changes will, within two to three years, reduce the “the differential component of inspection” — both in extent and in essence, thus minimizing and blurring the discriminatory inspection of passengers based on their groupings. This way the organization hopes to terminate or significantly lessen the damage caused to the Arab population, while maintaining a proper level of security. These important steps will require the purchase of equipment, new technologies and logistical preparations in Ben-Gurion Airport, which are expected to amount to some NIS 300 million.
However, even after the changes and steps aimed at easing [the passengers’ situation], GSS sources clarify that in light of the danger of terror to civil aviation in Israel in general, and in light of the great fear of an aerial mega-terror attack in particular, they will not be able to refrain from carefully checking certain populations that will be segmented by various data, while building a “risk profile” of a potential terrorist.
It would appear that this profile will also include the term “Arab,” but in reference to a smaller risk group than until today. This step does not satisfy the human rights organizations. The GSS is relying, on this matter, on the United States, where the court has permitted the use of risk profiles on the basis of ethnicity or race, in order to protect national security.
The GSS revealed the expected changes in a detailed response that it submitted to the High Court of Justice following a petition of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). The petition said that the security checks were wrongful because they “discriminated against Israel’s Arab citizens on grounds of national and ethnic affiliation.” The GSS and the Airports Authority have asked the High Court of Justice to reject the petition and enable implementation of the changes in a gradual manner.
Human rights organizations, however, have cast doubt on this, and say that the new measures are insufficient and that they are only “cosmetic.” ACRI says in its petition, submitted by Attorneys Auni Bana and Dan Yakir, that the security checks at airports in Israel “puts an entire population group into the circle of suspicion, and exposes all its members to special checks due to their national affiliation.” These checks, ACRI says, are “painstaking, invasive, troublesome and long,” and unlawfully infringe upon their constitutional rights. Therefore, ACRI demands that security checks be carried out for all citizens, “on the basis of equal, substantive and uniform criteria.”
In a comprehensive response submitted by the GSS (by means of representatives of the State Attorney’s Office, Attorneys Osnat Mandel, Einav Golomb and Gilad Shirman), it insists that the system of security checks at Ben-Gurion Airport—“with all the changes that have been incorporated in it and will be incorporated in the near future”—is very different from the descriptions of the petitioner, and is conducted with a balance between security needs and the need to minimize the resulting harm to the population.
The GSS emphasizes that in order to thwart such terror attacks, it cannot base itself only on objective information and data about the passenger. This is due to the limitations of intelligence information and the possibility of manipulations and exploitation of the passenger by terror organizations, even without his knowledge.
Conversely, an identical system of checks cannot be instituted for all passengers, since if such checks are “average,” this will lower the standard of checking that is currently employed. However, if the level of checks is stringent, it will greatly burden all the passengers and critically damage the functioning of the airport and service to the passengers. [The GSS] says that contrary to the assertion of the petitioner, there is no uniform stringent level of checks for all of Israel’s Arab citizens. “In practice, most of this population undergoes quick checking procedures that do not cause an undue burden or delay,” it states.
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