Airport security turns citizens into lumps

The following op ed in Haaretz [Hebrew only] revisits the theme of how unpleasant it can be for an Arab citizen, native-born in Israel, to use his or her national airport to travel freely. Many people have heard this theme before; my colleague Aziz Abu Sarah has written about it thoughtfully, and I reported on a potentially positive Supreme Court ruling a year ago.  At the time, I quoted my friend Adeeb Awad and a few others about their experiences. In his op ed this week, Adeeb expands his thoughts about an experience not often discussed: That of an Arab citizen who lives his life as the model integrated Israeli, a picture of excellent relations based on multiple identities that cut across the traditional, tired divisions of Israeli life.


…I live in the heart of Tel Aviv, on the lovely Mazeh Street. The municipality collects the garbage in my building just like it does for all the other buildings nearby, and without checking I know that I pay the same municipal taxes as my neighbors, I buy the same products in the same supermarket for the same prices, because we are all equal members of one more unnecessary price club. The chef at the Brasserie [trendy Tel Aviv eatery – ds] doesn’t purposely mess up my food and at Arcaffe [trendy Tel Aviv café – ds] they don’t add cardamom to my espresso. At my bank they deal with me according to the balance in my daily checking account. The specialty shop never refuses to sell me the occasional chopped liver or fish balls.

Yes, I’m a proud Tel Avivian. Just as I am a proud Arab. Just as I am a proud Palestinian. Just as I am a proud Israeli. I feel the same sense of belonging in Tel Aviv, where I live, as I do in Haifa where I was born, or in Sakhnin where I sometimes work.  That’s my blend of identities and I’ve even learned to enjoy it. In the modern world I like to think I live in, multiple identities don’t have to mean an identity crisis; I’ve even encountered cases more complicated than mine.


“Proud” in Hebrew connotes gay – especially when paired with “Tel Aviv.” Adeeb’s cross-cutting identities run in many directions. But it’s as if the tired, traditional divisions can’t stand being neglected, and they reach out to wrench him back into their jaws, which probably creates a feeling that any semblance of the good life for Arab citizens, of which the bourgeois Israeli dream is perhaps one example, is just a mirage.


…I’m used to being judged by my taste in clothing or art, by my culinary sophistication or by the sort of wine I like, the brands I wear, and on occasion, by my level of intelligence. But to find myself judged based on one thing only – being Arab – and to dare to call it “profiling” – is truly insulting.


In my university course, I teach students that grouping a person according to a characteristic that you choose, but which may not be the characteristic that individual views as his or her primary identity, is an element of racism. In the airport, not only has Adeeb been reduced to one single identity that ignores all the other parts of who he is, but he’s been turned into something else altogether: a lump.


…only at Ben Gurion airport, a full human being with a well-rounded personality with a rich array of identities, suddenly becomes a “kilo” – the code word for Arab citizens used by security people at the airport security checks. If you’re a “kilo” they take your passport, and demonstratively take you aside behind a partition screen, examine you and your belongings, item after item, with the methodical determination Israel Beitenu uses to pass its racist laws.


I’ve been in Israel for fourteen years and I hold no illusions about the good, bad and the ugly of Israeli life, including the difficulties of its most marginalized citizens. But I never knew that one in five of our citizens is called “kilo” at the airport. In my mind, a vision of formless flesh weighing one kilo floats up. It’s pinkish-colored, for some reason, and of course it has no eyes, ears, nose or mouth, no limbs at all and probably no nervous system either:


…I tried to wise up: one time I was an indifferent kilo, another time an impatient kilo. I also tried to be an irreverent kilo, an offended kilo, or a resigned kilo. Nothing helped. The feeling was and remains that of being a humiliated kilo, blended with one kilo of sadness, and two more kilos of despair.


Many of the readers’ comments were too awful to repeat here (and this is on the Haaretz website). But the immediate argument that has and always will appear is security, which is not to be trivialized. The logic is that Arabs are the group with the greatest interest in committing an attack, and sure it’s unpleasant for poor espresso-drinking Adeeb, but all things considered his life isn’t so bad and it’s a small price to pay. Which is intolerably outdated and generally unacceptable thinking. Surely the great scientific minds of this country can fathom that some people just have other things on their minds than playing Achmed the Dead Terrorist, and are capable of devising appropriate security strategies. Unless they prefer that repeated suggestion puts those thoughts there.