Analysis: In the easing-security business?

By LEAH KRAUSS, UPI International Security Industry Correspondent  |  Oct. 25, 2007 at 10:44 AM
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HAIFA, Israel, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- Israeli Arabs may now have the option to skip a level of security at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport -- for a price, Israeli news outlets reported this week.

"(There is) a new business initiative designed to bypass the security check for private cars (belonging to) Israeli Arabs traveling abroad," according to the Web site Walla!News.

For about $15, plus $6.25 per day of parking, travelers can park their cars in the private, off-site lots operated by Valet Club, a central Israel company. Valet Club provides transportation to the airport terminal, much like off-site car rental companies in the United States.

All travelers who park on the airport premises are subject to a security check when they arrive. For Jewish Israelis, this usually involves the question "Where did you come here from?" and perhaps a perfunctory peek in the trunk.

Israeli Arab travelers sometimes experience a more thorough first-level check. "They go by appearance," Ibrahim Fakhoury, a 33-year-old Christian Arab, told United Press International. "Then I tell them I'm from Nazareth Illit, so they ask to see my ID," he continued. But the last time Fakhoury took a trip to Paris, that was the extent of his vehicle check, he said. "Maybe religious Muslims get more questions."

Nevertheless, the idea of such a service geared toward "the Arab Sector" -- about 20 percent of the total -- doesn't sit right with Fakhoury. "Maybe next they'll open a special airline for Arabs," he said.

The Valet Club Web site does not advertise its services as being specifically geared toward Arabs. "Personal parking is worth a thousand words," the company promises on the site, along with the assurance that "your car is in good hands."

A call to the Valet Club on Thursday was not immediately returned.

Earlier this year Nadia Hilou, an Arab Knesset member from the center-left Labor Party, called for an end to the selective profiling Arab travelers were known to undergo when flying from Ben Gurion airport. She said in February that Yuval Diskin, the head of the Shin Bet security services, had promised new devices to screen all passengers would be installed at the airport by late August of this year and that they would be so effective in identifying potential threats that individualized checks based on ethnic profiling would no longer be necessary.

However, a UPI reporter flying to the United States from Ben Gurion in late September did not see these electronic detectors installed or in use.

A security employee at the airport responsible for interviewing passengers before check-in, whose official title is "selector," told UPI over the summer she and her co-workers are taught to evaluate passengers according to a matrix of risk potential and to mark the traveler's passport with a corresponding sticker.

"You are less risky than a Christian Arab, and Muslim Arabs are even higher up on the scale," she said.

Dion Nissenbaum, a Jerusalem reporter for McClatchy Newspapers who blogs about the experience, had this to say in a recent blog entry: "While Israeli security won't admit it, it is a widely accepted secret that Palestinians and Arabs get the worst of it. Arab travelers are routinely subjected to intense, hours-long questioning that can include strip searches.

"Earlier this year, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert apologized to Rania Joubran, a young Arab-Israeli diplomat-in-training who said she was humiliated and treated as if she was the enemy when she left and returned to Israel for a holiday."

Nissenbaum noted that non-Arab aid workers and journalists are also sometimes given the third degree at the airport.

In general, Ben Gurion is considered a world leader in security, and delegations from abroad, including the United States, often visit for training sessions.

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