A while ago, I travelled overseas. As a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, part of my travelling preparation always involves considering the Israeli airport security and being given a high security number simply because I am not Jewish, and more specifically, because I am a Palestinian.
This time was no different. As I reached the airport, I wondered-what security level am I going to be given this time? I have received different levels yet all were on the higher end of the security level spectrum.
The security authorities have been somewhat consistent. Taking into consideration my age, gender and, most crucially, my ethnicity, I am given a higher level of security. I start mentally preparing myself for what is going to happen by saying to myself, “In a few hours, I will get to my destination and enjoy my time there. I have done nothing wrong.”
Another approach I try is to humanize the security officers “These officers are only doing their job. At the end of the day, I get to sit on a plane and these officers continue searching through people’s personal luggage day in and day out.”
So, as expected I am labeled a number that identifies me as a “Palestinian citizen from the North.” I pass the luggage security and as I wait for the check-in gates to open. I notice an Israeli family of five being escorted by a well dressed Israeli security officer who seems to cross through the queues carrying the family's luggage to the check-in luggage carrier. I think to myself, “They must be VIP to be treated like that.”
At the second carry-on security check screening station, I show my passport to the officers and they whisper a code word for “Palestinian citizen from the North” to each other. They change the officer who is to screen my belongings, and as I pass the metal detector, another officer awaits me and says, “take your belongings and follow me,” and asks the lucky passenger who happens to be behind me in line to do the same. That person is always an Israeli Jew, and most of them always have the same response, “What is this about?” In my head I always answer, “You are a witness in case this becomes a court case.”
We are taken to another station where our carry-on luggage is opened and every little item is swabbed with a stick, testing for chemicals or whatever else, as part of the security check. As I stand there waiting for the checking to finish, I see the same VIP family again. This time they are crossing through with their carry-ons and backpacks behind the same office. Our eyes meet, and the children look at me in wonder.
Once I am released, I gather my belongings and head to the duty free area. As I am walking to my gate, the VIP family passes me again while the officer opens the door to the airport lounge for them and says goodbye. They smile at each other in appreciation and go in.
When the plane lands, I rush to catch my second flight. Once I arrive at the right gate, I wait patiently. As the attendants announce that it is boarding time and call upon passengers carrying children and people with disabilities to enter first, other passengers start creating queues. Just before entering the queue, I notice a big argument at the gate desk. Apparently, it was a full flight so the attendants were making sure that each passenger was carrying only the allowed amount of luggage, i.e. one carry-on piece. These passengers seem to be carrying more than the allowed amount each, and the attendant was stating that each passenger is allowed one carry on and not two.
“This is bullshit! I always travel with two bags and no one has a problem with it. You are just doing this because you don’t like us, you Jew haters,” shouts the mother of the same VIP family I saw in the Tel Aviv airport.
I grinned. They are not behaving or being treated like VIP in this airport. Each one was lugging their carry-ons with them wondering how they are to manage only one carry-on piece. This time I looked at them in wonder.
I found the contradictions of these two airports very symbolic. In Israel, rule enforcement levels vary depending on the citizen’s ethnicity, and when it comes to security the rules are clear. Anyone who isn’t Jewish should be questioned, and Palestinians are an enemy so they are guilty until proven innocent. And if you are Jewish, then you get VIP treatment, even if you are breaking the rules. Perhaps Jews get used to VIP treatment in Israel.
However, once you leave Israel, it does not matter who you are, the rules treat everyone the same.
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