As I was doing my internet-reading rounds today, I came upon Shoshana Shebshi’s blogpost recounting her dreadful experience after getting on a flight to Detroit on 9/11.
This post reminded me, to some extent, of my own experience at the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, exactly one year ago.
What particularly surprised me today while reading about her experience, were my own thoughts, “At least she was racially profiled, so there’s some sort of excuse for what happened to her.”
Because, I was just straight-out discriminated for daring to have a postcard from Palestine in my carry-on bag.
After passing the initial 30-minute long security check and mini-interrogation just to get to the airline counter and check in, I thought I was in the clear. But, for some reason, they asked to see the bag I intended to check in, yet again.
I was naive enough to think that an American passport meant something there. After all, my taxes are financing a good part of their country – as well as their war efforts. I’m paying for their new freeways, nice uniforms and oversized guns.
But it came down to one thing I believe. They asked one magic question: “Are you Jewish?”. My answer, “No”, was perhaps the catalyst to the following ordeal, or the excuse they needed to proceed in the name of (their own) justice.
More questions followed, and I began to provide snarky answers. I was a couple of feet away from the check in counter but I was not allowed to go to there, yet. The girl-woman officer began to get tense as a result of my discontent, so she asked a boy-man officer to join her. He tried to be nicer, but I had enough: “Look, you searched through my bag for the last 30 minutes, you put it through X-rays, I don’t know what you’re looking for, but if you can’t find it, would you just let check in to get on freaking flight?!?!”
The girl-woman officer told the boy-man officer something in Hebrew, probably along the lines of “Bitch be hardcore PMSing, better let her through”. So I got my bag and was sent off to check in.
After dropping of my big bag at the airline counter, and getting my ticket, I felt better. I was closer to my goal of going home. On my way to the next security check-point, carry-on bag in tow, I even stopped for some quick last-minute duty-free shopping.
Next security check-point. The same questions are asked. The same responses (minus the snarky attitude) are given. The carry-on bag is searched. Ten postcards from Israel are found, plus one from Palestine.
I see this other boy-man officer stare at it, carefully considering what to do. And watch him grab his walkie-talkie and make a call. My heart sinks.
I am taken aside, and told to take off all my clothes. A female (20 years-old at most) officer handed me a sheet to “cover” myself while she patted me down. When faced with the dilemma of fondling my private parts, she chose to just use a cold metal detector instead, and squeeze it between my legs.
Mind you, if this wasn’t stressful -or denigrating- enough, the idea that I might miss my flight back to Europe because I was being harassed for my choice in postcards and simply profiled as whatever you can profile a typical 25-year old American woman as, surmounted by the possibility of having to stay longer in a country that sees fit to put a metal rod between my legs because I have a postcard from Palestine in my bag, made me even more anxious.
At this point, I was yet to find out, but the bag I had checked-in was taken from the plane, and searched thoroughly. I didn’t see it again until two weeks later when they shipped it to my home address (at that time in Poland), arriving in a state of disarray.
I did find out eventually that the Israeli Airport Security holds joint trainings with different American Airport Security branches. So, no surprise on the common themes these two airport administrations share: profiling, paranoia, and denigration of targeted individuals.
What I realized just now -by reading the aforementioned blogger’s post- is that there are equally paranoid and over-reactive behaviors in the name of justice and security -that belittle people while violating basic human rights- happening all the time. And very few probably make them public.
So I’m doing it now. Because it’s the only thing I can do. Nobody else veils for our rights as passengers. As far as they are concerned in both the American and the Israeli airports, if we don’t fit their idea of the perfect citizen (based on physical appearance and religion), we are potential terrorists.