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New York - What Israel Can Teach the World About Airport Security

Published on: January 1, 2010 12:56 PM
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A security officer questions passengers during their check-in at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel AvivA security officer questions passengers during their check-in at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv

New York - Over the years, I’ve spent many hours, more than I care to count, in airports around the world.

From the perspective of security, one is in a class by itself: Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport. In the wake of the thwarted terrorist attempt on Northwest Flight 253, it’s time to revisit the Israeli model, as other countries ask what more can be done to prevent such near-catastrophes.

What are the Israeli ingredients? I don’t pretend to know them all, many of which are understandably hidden from view. But some are quite obvious and rather distinguishable from the norm at too many other airports.

In Israel, security comes first. It’s never an afterthought. It’s not outsourced to the semi-competent. It’s not about show-and-tell. Rather, it’s front-line work that’s in the hands of professionals and is well-coordinated and no-nonsense.

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Israel creates a set of security layers, or circles, around airports - and, by extension, airplanes.

By the time a traveler boards the plane, there have been any number of potential interception points, starting with the toll-booth-like security entrance for all vehicles entering the airport grounds. Every car is stopped, while the guards make visual examinations and follow their training and instinct. Behind them stand intense-looking young men with sub-machine guns at the ready.

When entering the terminal buildings, again, more non-uniformed guards and more visual screening.

Then there’s the first actual security line in advance of flight check-in. An official approaches each passenger on line and patiently poses questions, which aren’t simply perfunctory, as they are, say, here in New York. They can be rather extensive and by no means predictable, usually accompanied by a review of tickets and passports - before the formal passport control, which only comes after check-in - to corroborate statements about itineraries and examine travel patterns.

When it comes to the actual security lines after check-in—the ones we’re familiar with—the contrast with, for instance, the U.S. can be striking. Everyone is quiet. There is no appearance of hyper-activity (the “more-is-less” phenomenon), as too often is the case at American airports. Interestingly, no one in Israel has ever asked me to take off my shoes or remove liquids from my hand luggage, suggesting how sensitive the available technology can be.

Apropos, in a similar vein, after 9/11, when, on American flights, we were being handed plastic cutlery, flights from Israel continued to use stainless steel. Israel was less concerned with the symbols of apparent security - the “Mickey-Mouse stuff,” as someone called it - and more focused on what constituted its real elements.

And even after successfully passing the security line, there’s more to come, right up to the plane’s interior, at least if it’s El Al, where air marshals are deployed on every flight.

In fact, speaking of marshals, in 2001, Richard Reid, who was later to become the notorious shoe bomber, flew on El Al. According to a CBS news report, while the Israelis didn’t have enough on him at the time to keep him off the plane, they were suspicious. They examined everything before he boarded and then, for good measure, placed a marshal in the adjoining seat. If he was on a scouting mission, he got the point and looked elsewhere.

To those who have never visited Israel, this may all sound as if it requires a full day, if not a week, before the actual flight. Not true. For the average passenger, the whole process moves quickly and with a minimum of personal inconvenience.

Of course, for travelers who have multiple visas from Yemen or Pakistan in their passports, look fidgety or distracted, become unnerved after the second question, try to buy a one-way ticket at the last minute with cash, show up with no luggage for an intercontinental journey, are wearing a heavy coat in summer, or display “attitude,” it’s likely to be a rather different story.

David Harris is Executive Director of the AJC 

Read the full story at The Huffington Post 


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Read Comments (18)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Jan 01, 2010 at 01:28 PM a yid Says:

Bottom line in Israel they focus on people, in the rest of the world they focus on things

2

 Jan 01, 2010 at 01:50 PM ah nechtigeh tug Says:

Bli ayin hurah, poo poo poo! We need to remember that ultimately security is biyad ha-shem and let's not fall into the trap of thinking that its all our smarts and savvyness that protect us.

3

 Jan 01, 2010 at 02:41 PM Albert Einstein Says:

I have a copy of the transcript of El Al's interview of Richard Ried befor his flight. They weren't just suspicious; they had him pegged!

5

 Jan 01, 2010 at 02:53 PM Anonymous Says:

When my husband * I were in Israel last, 2 tourists had come to Israel from Egypt and were leaving from Ben Gurion. They were in front of us. Their suitcases were emptied onto the counter literally dumped, taken away and xrayed and all their things were gone through. They wondered what they had done wrong!! The security explained to them that they had gone to an arab country, and their passports were stamped, and had they gone to Egypt after they would not have had this problem!!

6

 Jan 01, 2010 at 03:50 PM Anonymous Says:

they see a charedi, they trust him. i came a few weeks ago from israel, no questions asked. they have to much trust in chasidishe people

7

 Jan 02, 2010 at 07:04 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #2  
ah nechtigeh tug Says:

Bli ayin hurah, poo poo poo! We need to remember that ultimately security is biyad ha-shem and let's not fall into the trap of thinking that its all our smarts and savvyness that protect us.

so you don't believe in Hishtadlus. You think Hashem is going to protect you if you are so crazy as not to take precutions to safety. Check what Halocha says re safety. If to be Mechalel Shabbat. Go jump of thje roof of the Empire state builing as see the result -poo poo poo!

8

 Jan 02, 2010 at 12:12 PM Anonymous Says:

No 6 that's not true... I'm chareidi myself, last week I flew back to Israel with ELAl... and did i get it this time. never happened to me, they opened up both my cases and went with me through item by item. This was at heathrow... the gaurd was very nice about it and we joked how the xray machine didn't like chocolates!! again EIN KEMO ELAL

btw after living here 12 years, security becomes second nature even at the airports and the questions asked....

9

 Jan 02, 2010 at 03:44 PM Stamford Hilly Billy Says:

One of the main problems we have in the UK and probably in other Western countries such as USA is political correctness. It is well known that in Israel passangers are profiled, one of the unseen security measures, with the authroities checking peoples race, religion travel history e.t.c. In the UK they are reluctant to do this because muslims and asians will be 'targeted' and this is why our airport security is so lapse. Who cares if some muslims get targeted, most of them who are innocent will be safe and so will everyone else be. The fact most terroists are muslims and have been to countries like yemen and pakistan e.t.c. I dont think therre have been any terroists who are old white grannys. We need to stop playing into the terrorists hands and look after number one rather than worrying about being politically correct and offending a few muslims who only want to kills us.

10

 Jan 02, 2010 at 06:56 PM anon Says:

Reply to #6  
Anonymous Says:

they see a charedi, they trust him. i came a few weeks ago from israel, no questions asked. they have to much trust in chasidishe people

If who sees a chareidi" ,the americans or the Israelis? if you are thinking Israelis, you are SO WRONG, I have seen them pull "Chareidim" off the security lines and take them someplace "private" to talk to them, both here in the US (by El Al security) and in Ben gurion. If you are talking about Europe, you are very wrong, for flights going to Israel, they often have security at the gate where every Chareidi man or woman is pulled out of line and is re-searched physically. I was told they "expect" chareidim to smuggle goods/money to Israel. I have no idea if that is true or not, but I waltz through security (more modern looking) while the Chareidim are very often pulled aside. FYI, I make this flight at least 6 times a year.

11

 Jan 02, 2010 at 07:19 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #3  
Albert Einstein Says:

I have a copy of the transcript of El Al's interview of Richard Ried befor his flight. They weren't just suspicious; they had him pegged!

id like to read that transcript

12

 Jan 02, 2010 at 07:32 PM Anonymous Says:

In simple words in isreal they don't mix security with politics the rest of the world dose

13

 Jan 02, 2010 at 05:24 PM Frequent israeli traveller Says:

Reply to #6  
Anonymous Says:

they see a charedi, they trust him. i came a few weeks ago from israel, no questions asked. they have to much trust in chasidishe people

Your comment is incorrect. They question the religious people aswell. And in fact they very often check the chassidishe more. Especially on the way out wen they are key suspects for drug trafficking.

14

 Jan 02, 2010 at 09:04 PM Anonymous Says:

But we need to do our Hishtadlus. (Making an effort.) We need to do the utmost that is in our control. But must remember that the ultimate success is not in our control. As the Possuk (verse) in Tehillim states "If Hashem does not watch over a city, the watchman's diligence was for naught!

15

 Jan 02, 2010 at 10:23 PM Anonymous Says:

They don't play these childish politically correct games, because they know it's life or death, no monkey business.The West still has some growing up to do. Let's just hope that the Shomer Psaim will watch over us.

16

 Jan 03, 2010 at 01:42 PM Anonymous Says:

The problem in the US is they dont put people on the job with Brains!!! thats the diffrence between the isrealies and the rest of the world, Fact is a Yidisha Kup is smarter then the rest!!!

17

 Jan 04, 2010 at 09:39 AM Anonymous Says:

An Isaeli company developed a scanning machine that checks your shoes just by walking through it! They are a publicly traded company. Look up symbol IDOI. Once all airports order these devices company stock prices should rise. Good luck !!

18

 Jan 04, 2010 at 05:03 PM Anonymous Says:

i read that an israeli co. was in charge of security at amsterdam air port maybe their in cohots with the drug dealers thats how they framed the three boys in japan

19

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