What is the Cost of Security? – A Case of El Al Profiling

Every passenger flying into Israel has a unique experience. Part of the shaping of these experiences is derived from the use of profiling, both racial and predictive, by their security officials. Though Israeli airline officials are infamous for this intense security process, it is not particularly uncommon in any country in a post-9/11 world. The cost of this method of security though, especially when arbitrary, is discrimination and stereotyping of passengers. It can create a dangerous environment, not only for those vulnerable passengers being targeted, but for every other passenger as well.  

The method of security most used by El Al, the national airline of Israel, is racial profiling. This method uses appearance and ethnicity to identify passengers as a threat. This method can breed stereotyping and discrimination, especially amongst foreign passengers and Israeli Arabs. According to a 2012 survey published in the American Law and Economics Review33% of Israeli Arabs and 21% of foreigners felt they were treated differently by security at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, as opposed to only 13% of Israeli Jews. Additionally, 19.1% of Israeli Arabs felt as though they were humiliated by security officials as opposed to only 5.5% of Israeli Jews. These numbers are shockingly high in relation to the point that the chances that a terrorist is an Arab Muslim is only one in eight million. This can be seen as layer of the demoralization of Arabs and Muslims entering the country, where these groups continue to have freedoms, such as their freedom of movement, restricted. 

This author had first-hand experience of this type of racial profiling by El Al attendants when she was profiled as Arab before boarding the plane to Israel. Intimidation and humiliation were two of the tactics used during the 45-minute-long questioning session, where her suitcase and electronic devices were searched. Another statistic from the American Law and Economics Review survey showed that additional suitcase searches are far common for Israeli Arabs at 46.4% than they are for Israeli Jews at 9.8%. Experiences of searches only escalate from there. Aquilah Allaudeen reported the story of Marian Aldisi, a Palestinian-American, for Immigrant Connect Chicago. On a trip to visit Israel, Aldisi, who is an American citizen, was stopped in Ben Gurion Airport, forcibly strip searched, detained, and deported to Turkey, all without any explanation from security officials. “I was humiliated and not given a reason for why I was deported,” she is quoted by Allaudeen. “I was not able to see my own country.” 

Another method of security used by El Al, according to piece by Mark Feldman in the Jerusalem Post, is predictive profiling. This method examines the behavior of passengers and uses that to predict suspicion and whether the passenger poses a threat. This method of security is extremely advanced, and it can be much more efficient than random racial profiling. There have been cases though, where this method is used on passengers such as non-governmental organization (NGOs) workers trying to improve the standard of life in the area. In a story reported on the podcast “Israel Story,” two British citizens, and members of the International Solidarity Movement, trying to enter the country through Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv were deported for their refusal to hand over passwords to their emails were the information on the organization lay. As most NGOs entering Israel have the goal of improve the quality of life in the Palestinian territories, then this method of security could also be seen as demoralizing to the areas Arab and Muslim population that resides in those territories, keeping them from development. 

NYCFPA reached out to El Al Airlines for comment on their uses of profiling and methods of security, but as of the date of publication there has been no response. Security is imperative by airlines; they are the gatekeepers to any given country. Israeli security has been particularly successful in methods of air travel security, but at what cost? Security informs and protects, but this author would argue that it also endangers. Racial and predictive profiling endanger a passenger’s welfare and can strip them of social agency. In the case of Israeli security, profiling can also contribute to the undermining of Arab and Muslim identities. These are only a few of the heavy costs of this type of security, profiling. 


  • Isabella Gabriele

    Isabella is a graduate student at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, where she is studying International Economic Policy with a focus on development. She is an associate editor at the student publication, the International Affair Review, and has extensive background in international finance and economics.

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