I’ll never forget my trip to Prague about a week ago, unfortunately not because Prague is so beautiful, it actually is an amazing place to travel to and tour around for a week, but because of the traumatic expereince at the airport.
A brief acquintance on the way with two normal and educated young Israeli “Technion” (a highly acclaimed technical institute) graduates gave us the perfect option to share a cab, as well as pleasant companionship. Everything was wonderful – yes, it is possible for Israelis of Jewish and Arab origins, Muslim or Christian to get along and feel great together, despite those dark forces of evil, that made us realize the huge gap between us. These young people were abused – their non-Jewish name caused them awful damage and awful treatment at the airport.
This caused me injustice, shame, pain, disgust and emotional distress facing the racism, the carelessness the inhumane disrespect and the fear that I sensed myself no less than did those young gentlemen. Their entire “crime” is being Arab. One of them is Muslim and the other is Christian. they’re well educated, have iphones and laptops, look totally Israeli-European and decided, just like us, to travel abroad with El Al, Israel’s national airline.
We arrived at the Prague airport before 9PM. Everyone had to undergo strict questioning and security screening. A screening and questioning that is always tiring, monotonous, yet necessary. Me and my spouse, belonging to the chosen people, moved along to the duty free while the two Arabs remained behind. They didn’t reach the boarding gate until 11PM. I was looking for them at the airport, worried that they might miss their flight. I was sure they were late because they were busy with last minute duty free shopping. I didn’t think for a minute that it was for another reason. To my astonishment, they appeared at the boarding gate with a security person besides them. He warned them that they only have ten minutes to shop in the store. I was very surprised by the shocked look on the face of the younger one. He seemed to be in a complete state of shock. Blushing and stuttering, he found it difficult to explain what he had just been through. They stripped me naked and touched every organ in my body, including my most intimate parts. They asked me where I had bought each and every clothing item.
“They left me without clothes. They took away my latop, my bag and my cellphone. I don’t understand why they’re behaving this way to me.” I simply could not believe my ears. I intervened and asked the security guy why they treated him this way. His brief reply was: “I’m obliged to ensure your safety. I was carrying out orders”. “Please don’t destroy my laptop, it’s very important to me”, pleaded the young guy. I followed what was going on, all astonished, excited and helpless facing this situation. The security guy was pinned to them at the duty free shop, as if they were thieves. As if being searched and checked for the suspicion of being terrorists was not enough. This scene seemed totally unreal to me, as if taken from a horror film in which the stars were the two good and gentle young men being chased by the dark forces of evil wishing to annihilate them, rather than the other way around…
The young men decided to buy perfume and cigarettes. When they reached the cash register the security guy took the two items away from them and exchanged them with another two identical items from the shelf. I realized that this was in order to ensure that the items they took were not wired and placed on the shelf beforehand. I couldn’t tolerate this and I addressed the security guy again: “You’re disgracing and embarrassing me. They are Israeli citizens just like me. What is the meaning of this close personal escort? So what if they’re Arab and not Jewish? The security guy didn’t know, of course, that despite being an Israeli Jewish girl, I was flying on Yom Kippur, eating pork and listening to church concerts. I also look Arab. His reply was “I”m sorry, that’s true, but these are my instructions”.
His answer really upset me. I tried to address the security guy with a heart to heart talk, by explaining that by this behavior he’s causing me emotional distress and shame by being so disrespectful and discriminating against the Arabs. I was ashamed, yet I admit that I was also scared, especially after photographing the head security guy, Ilan, that said to me “I’m being nice to you, so what’s the problem? Did you photograph me?” He asked; “No, here, I’m deleting”, I answered him with shaking hands. I was really scared that now I’d be abused just like they were. Maybe they’ll undress me or prohibit me from boarding the flight because of some bottle of alcohol that I bought that might not be Kosher or they’d plant a bomb or some other incriminating substance on me, just for defending them. I was feeling awfully helpless in this condition.
I conversed with the young Arabs in order to try and calm them down. The younger guy told me: “The trip was so nice. I was born an Arab, I’m aware of my situation and I won’t let the security guys that treated me this way ruin my holiday. The other guy was upset: “I feel like I’m living in a vacuum. I am stateless, I have no citizenship, I’m not even a third class citizen, I don’t even exist. I feel like I must look for someplace else, where I can feel belonging and safety. Why am I being treated this way? What have I done? I expect, after everything the Jews have been through in Europe (Such identification and acknowledgement of the Holocaust!) for Israelis to have the awareness that human beings should not be treated this way”. His words made me cry. I asked him to forgive me.
I was feeling terribly guilty and was mainly troubled by the thought that we had just (justifiably) added another dear person to the cycle of hatred and bitterness. We’ve lost a vital citizen to society. I realized that we must screen people in order to protect ourselves from extremist terrorists, yet it is inconceivable that from the hundreds of passengers, only two citizens, the non-Jewish ones, should be forced to undergo over two hours of screening and questioning, including shameful humiliation. Why should I feel guilty because of you, El Al security staff? Why should I feel unequal to my Christian and Muslim friends because I’m Jewish? What do I care about religion anyway? I aspire to live in a country that respects its’ citizens and their liberty, regardless of race, religion and sex. I promise NEVER to fly El Al again. Your gate is always hidden and segregated. The constant applauds during landing are annoying and the arrogance unnecessary. I shall not choose you. I’ll never forget this experience! I take this opportunity to suggest to all of the citizens that feel being discriminated against in Israel NOT to fly El Al! The chance of being humiliated is great and far more frightening than the issue of security. You may regard this as a warning!
Transled to English by Nick Rosen.