Humiliation and Discrimination Against Arab Citizens Leaving and Returning to Israel
May 10, 2010
Mr. Yuval Diskin, Head of the General Security Service
Mr. Koby Mor, General Director of the Airport Authority
Mr. Eliezer Shkedy, General Director of El-Al Israeli Airlines
Re: Humiliation and Discrimination Against Arab Citizens Leaving and Returning to Israel
On Saturday evening, May 1, 2010, on her return to Israel from New York on an El-Al flight, Attorney Rawia Abu-Rabia, member of the Board of Directors of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, was subject to humiliating treatment, including threats and shouting, to the point of actual cruelty, by Mr. Jonathan Zur, El Al’s Security officer in Newark. Other El Al staff members were present.
Ms. Abu Rabia’s distressful experience is only one in a chain of thousands of similar incidents experienced every year by Arab citizens who leave or return to Israel. These citizens are required to undergo strict security examinations that are much more extensive and intensive than those imposed on Jewish travelers, and even in comparison to security checks conducted on foreign-citizen travelers. These examinations, which include repeated questioning sessions and public searches in luggage, constitute a wrenching, humiliating experience. In some cases, individuals are personally escorted to the aircraft. In many cases, travelers are caused a sense of uncertainty concerning their flight arrangements and indeed, in some cases travelers are prevented from boarding their flights as scheduled.
Such treatment is not the result of any concrete suspicion concerning a specific traveler; It is applied whenever security staff or El Al staff identify Arab travelers. As a result, all Arab citizens wishing to leave the country or return to Israel are treated as suspects and a threat to national security until their proven innocent.
Even were such examinations and checks performed in a sensitive, dignified manner, the concept of Ethnic/ Racial Profiling on which they are based is controversial, and in many cases its efficiency in terms of security results is debatable. This is especially true in view of the enormous personal and collective toll which it imposes on hundreds of thousands of citizens. The humiliation and blatant discrimination exacerbate the alienation of Arab citizens from the state, fostering their hatred of the “national carrier,” the Airport Authority, and the establishment in whose name the inspection process takes place.
The topic of our letter is not new, and yet, discrimination against Arab citizens at Ben Gurion Airport has, in recent years, come to be considered emblematic of the country’s attitude toward its Arab citizens. The fact that academic scholars, publically elected officials, and civil society activists are not spared the humiliation, has a crushing impact on the identification of those individuals with the state, as well as on Israel’s global image. Arab citizens who board their flights after such an experience are humiliated, angry, frustrated individuals who feel alienation and rejection. Any sense of belonging such individuals feel to Israel is erased, and, far from being willing to be good-will ambassadors of the state, they would never choose or be able to serve as ambassadors of hope for co-existence between Jews and Arabs in Israel.
As co-executive directors of The Abraham Fund who travel overseas together as part of our work, we can personally testify to the blatant difference and discrimination in the security inspections conducted by security officers in Israel, compared to the dignified and equal treatment at the hands of security officers in other locations. Though we are fully aware of the unique security threats which Israel faces, we are confident that the standards of security are not compromised in those locations where inspections are conducted so differently.
Based on our awareness of the concrete damage to Israel’s clear national interests, caused by the exclusion, discrimination, and blatant humiliation of Arab citizens at Ben Gurion Airport and El Al stations overseas, we appeal to you take steps without delay to implement a significant change in the security inspection policy toward Israel’s Arab citizens. We strongly believe that fairness, respect, and equality enhance rather than undermine our security interests.
The Abraham Fund Initiatives
Prof. Avishay Braverman, Minister of Minority Affairs
Lieutenant General (Ret.) Yaakov Ganot, General Director of the Ministry of Transportation
Mr. Orni Petruschka, Chairman of the Executive Committee, The Abraham Fund Initiatives
Attorney Abu-Rabia, Member of the Board, The Abraham Fund Initiatives