It’s not often I post good news about Israel, but this is one of those rare occasions. According to a report by Amira Hass, Israel has ended its blanket policy of racial profiling at Ben Gurion airport.
This means most Palestinian citizens, and other non-Jews like me, will no longer be routinely subjected to degrading and humiliating searches and questions every time we travel. (Palestinians in the occupied territories, meanwhile, will continue to suffer severe movement restrictions.)
All of this has happened because of a long-standing petition by the Israeli human rights group ACRI. Faced with the petition, the supreme court has been under great pressure to rule the airport policy illegal. It has dragged its feet for several years but has made its displeasure clear repeatedly to the Israeli secret police, the Shin Bet, who oversee the airport policy. The Shin Bet, it seems, has decided to introduce a different system rather than face the humiliation of a damning ruling by the judges.
Such a system, I suspect, has been available for some time – it’s probably little different from what takes place at most other airports. Israel’s security services have very reluctantly been forced to join the modern world.
The story is not over, however. Israel will doubtless continue to target anyone seen as a dissident, and the Haaretz report warns that Israel’s ugly “screening” practices will continue at foreign airports, which quite amazingly agreed long ago to hand over to the Shin Bet the security at their airports for many flights to Israel.
I’ve been asked by some readers whether I believe Israel is really about to change its ways. Certainly, it’s not often that Israel relents on one of its “security” obsessions. The proof will be in the pudding etc.
Nonetheless, there are reasons why Israel may think it wiser finally to abandon the blanket profiling policy. For a start, airport profiling has very rarely been about real security, so it’s less of a loss to the Shin Bet than it may appear.
The policy has traditionally had a twofold benefit for Israel:
- it intimidates Palestinian citizens, deterring them from travelling and connecting with the outside world, thereby making them an inward-looking, “backward” minority;
- and it has some use in terms of gathering information.
Both of those goals have diminished in recent years, now that most Palestinian citizens have access to cable TV, the internet and social media.
The gains of keeping the system were probably outweighed by the growing bad publicity Israel was receiving and the pressure from the supreme court, which has been extremely indulgent of the Shin Bet, giving them seven years to come up with a different system.
All that said, Israel will still make life very hard for anyone it thinks is involved in political or solidarity work. We are only talking here about an easing of the situation for Palestinian citizens going on their vacations, who – let’s remember – have been the bulk of the victims of the profiling policy.