After eight months in Israel, I’ve crossed through its borders approximately once a month with very little hassle. This past Monday, however, was an exception. Although only flying domestically from Tel Aviv to Eilat, and departing from the local Tel Aviv airport rather than the colossal fortress of Ben Gurion International, security was rigorous.

After thirty minutes of general questioning—where are you from, where are you going, why are you in Israel, what do you teach, why did you choose to teach in Israel, where is the school, do you know anyone in Egypt—I thought I had provided sufficient satisfactory answers. However, the stone-faced security supervisor was called over, and I was subjected to rapid-fire questioning, my answers hardly complete before the next query was delivered.

With twenty minutes remaining before the departure of my flight, I was taken to an outside bunker partitioned with heavy floor-to-ceiling drapery. The contents of my duffel and my tote were unceremoniously dumped into plastic tubs and sent through the industrial x-ray machine. The security officer proceeded to meticulously run her hands over every surface on my body, then passed her metal-detecting device over the same tracks. The wand beeped once at the fly of my pants, and the officer asked me to remove them.

“Am I going to miss my flight?” I asked the security supervisor.
She shrugged. “I can’t promise anything.”

My belongings proven to be explosive-free, they were returned to me in a pile resembling the clearance bin in a thrift store.

Seven minutes left until my flight, I was told I could refold, reorganize, repack my bags, then was personally escorted to the plane, a security officer carrying my suspicious duffel all the way from the security bunker to the interior of the cargo space of the plane. I settled into my seat, checked my watch: two minutes to takeoff.

I was relieved that I made my flight, but I was distracted by feelings of humiliation even though my experience was not severe. I certainly understand the need for heightened security in the state of Israel—a lone Jewish island in a vast expanse of Islamic territories. Especially given its international threats: the current tensions with Hezbollah, the open animosity of the Islamic Republic of Iran President Ahmadinejad, the stagnancy of peace efforts with Syria. And locally: a Palestinian suicide bombing in the resort city of Eilat in late January of 2007—the first such attack in nine months and the first to ever hit Israel’s southernmost city, the infighting of the Palestinian factions, the recent capture of suicide bombers in Bat Yam and the Sinai, and last year’s target of the popular Israeli-frequented Sinai resort town of Dahab that killed 24 people during the Passover holiday.

However, as a 22-year-old female of East Asian appearance with an American passport—an American passport with an Israeli government-issued work visa for employment at an international embassy-sponsored school no less—treated with such suspicion and rudeness, I could not fathom the humiliation and rage suffered by a young adult male of Arab appearance and a Palestinian Authority passport. (I’ve been told that Arab-Israelis give themselves a five- to six-hour window before departure time to even allow the possibility of catching their flights.)

In addition, this type of suspicious, inconsiderate treatment of foreigners on the ground in Israel stands in stark contradiction to the Israeli state’s efforts to improve their image abroad and revitalize the tourism industry in this historically, culturally, and religiously rich land that suffers from an exceedingly negative public image given the violence and instability of the intifadas and the recent Israeli-Hezbollah war.

Does Israel’s tangible and justified need for rigorous security stand compatible with its desire for a healthier tourism industry? Does the pervasive suspicion of the non-Israeli, the non-Jew allow, for warm reception of foreigners in this land? Does tight security mandate racial profiling, intensely elevated levels of suspicion, and potentially humiliating treatment of foreign visitors? Can Israel salvage its public image abroad and cultivate an image of friendliness and open arms while maintaining the distrustful, near-paranoiac scrutiny utilized to execute security efforts?

Rigorous security on the ground in Israel is a clear necessity, but I fear that the intense measures utilized to maintain this priority may be detrimental to other aspirations of the Israeli state.

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