Thanks to “The Cross of Bethlehem”
Are you an American named Rafik? You’re a Terrorist!
“Either explicitly or implicitly, there was some kind of profiling going on, and the same innocent individual was being screened over and over again.”—William Press, Computer Scientist
American Couple traveling with USAID Funding
January 13, 2013, became the day in which Israeli authorities finally admitted that they conduct airport checks based on racial profiling. The issue was known, but this time it was published by Israeli newspaper Haaretz after El Al—Israel’s main airline—admitted having harassed two American citizens on their way to Israel. Unluckily for the company, both travelers had Jewish roots, the man even manages a peace-process related institution. Rebecca and Rafik’s photograph at the right is real; however, their names were changed.
|Rebecca and Rafik, next to Israel’s Discrimination Wall
Racism: A Short History
Rebecca was born in the USA to a Jewish mother and an Afro-American father. She was adopted through a Jewish adoption agency and grew up in a Jewish family. Even by the strictest interpretations, she is Jewish. By now, she probably is sorry about that fact. Rafik has a more complex background. He is the grandson of a Jewish-German woman who ran away from Nazi-Germany. She arrived at Palestine in the late 1930s and married a Muslim-Lebanese who was a senior member of the Lebanese Communist Party. Their daughter was born in Lebanon; when she was studying in Germany, she married Rafik’s father, a German. He was born there, was baptized with an Arabic name and later on, immigrated with his parents to the USA. Back to the present, Rebecca and Rafik were traveling to Israel as invitees of a local peace organization; their trip was paid by USAID, an official agency of the US Government.
Last December, the couple reached the El Al counter at New York’s Kennedy Airport and was chosen for what was called “a random security check.” It was not so, El Al’s spokesman Ran Rahav told Haaretz “civilian security airport checks in Israel and abroad are conducted as per the instructions of the national security services [Shin Beth]; the company just follows the instructions.” They were sent for further checking due to their odd combination of names and looks; in other words, it was racial profiling. Rebecca committed an error during the early interrogation. She was asked which church she attends. She said that she is Jewish and that she attends a synagogue. The interrogators went ballistic. They began asking her for details regarding Jewish holidays. She could answer everything. Frustrated, the Jewish interrogator kept hitting; no answer was good enough unless the victim was entrapped. “What is ‘afikoman?,'” the torturer finally asked. Rebecca failed to answer. “Afikoman” is a Greek word which entered the Hebrew language and designates a bit of “matzah” bread stolen during the Passover meal; children are supposed to find the theft and get a prize (and afterwards they complain about stereotypes!). This is a trickster’s trap; I grew up in an Israeli kibbutz, yet, “afikoman” was as natural there as sand in the Arctic. After Rebecca failed, the torturer was allowed to torture her physically in what was defined as “a second round of interrogations.”
Her description of her treatment by the Israeli security is troubling. I won’t repeat her extreme descriptions. Among other things, she said that after being requested to undress, “the checkers pushed hands in a very intimate fashion without saying anything. One of them continued touching in a very unpleasant way. I started to cry and said that I didn’t want to travel.” Yet, they didn’t stop. This is called “violation,” and in certain places could lead to charges of raping. However, Israeli officials are above such trifles; the law is not part of their code of conduct. Eventually, Rebecca, an art teacher, was released, not before all the clothes on her body were confiscated. She was asked to use a different set from her suitcase. Even after her return to the USA, her clothes were not released.
|Rafik passed through a similar odyssey. Eventually, they were allowed to fly, but not before they were requested to place their computer and tablet in their hand-over luggage. They pointed out to the guards that other passengers were using similar devices in the waiting hall after the check. “This is the company’s policy,” was the mysterious answer.
At the Ben Gurion International Airport, another surprise awaited them. The computer and tablet had disappeared from their luggage. Then, Rebecca was called for another 90 minutes interrogation in which the questions asked in New York were repeated.
She said to Haaretz, “as a woman, as an Afro-American, I am very conscious about issues of discrimination and boycott. However, I thought that at least here, as a Jewess, I was safe.” Rebecca learned a harsh lesson, for Jews, nothing is never good enough. Her answers mattered little, she would have been violated anyway. Oddly enough, the USA Goverment did nothing to protect its violated citizens.
There is a lot of material proving that racial profiling is not only a wrong, racist and criminal policy of Western governments, but it also inverts the rule of law; it assumes that a person is guilty unless proven otherwise. Moreover, it is also ineffective. One of the most intriguing claims on the issue was made by William Press, professor of computer science and integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin. Hey TSA, Racial Profiling Doesn’t Work comments on the results of his mathematical analysis of the issue. The main claim is that racial profiling is less effective than purely random sampling. “Either explicitly or implicitly, there was some kind of profiling going on, and the same innocent individual was being screened over and over again. That draws resources away from the screening that would find the bad guy. I realized those were basically the same problems.” Racial profiling doesn’t work because it devotes heightened resources to innocent people — and then devotes those resources to them repeatedly even after they’ve been cleared as innocent the first time. The actual terrorists, meanwhile, may sneak through while Transportation Security Administration agents are focusing their limited attention on the wrong passengers.
“Very, very interesting,” the Lord of Administrators and Bureaucrats said before shredding the paper. He didn’t care about what was right, but about what he could do that would look as if he was working efficiently. Yet, the article was disturbing, there were new concepts in it: “innocents,” “right thing to do,” “people’s rights.” He didn’t have time for that; it was time to pick a new victim for interrogation, preferably one with no weapons; he didn’t want his agents to be hurt. That was a commoner’s prerogative.