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Israel - Security Agents Ask Arab Visitors to Open Their Emails for Search

Published on: June 4, 2012 05:42 PM
By: AP
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A passenger has his luggage checked by security personnel, inside the Ben Gurion airport terminal, near Tel Aviv, Israel. In a modern twist on Israel's vaunted history of airport security, the country has begun forcing incoming travelers deemed suspicious to open their personal e-mail accounts for inspection. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File) Israel - When Sandra Tamari arrived at Israel’s international airport, she received an unusual request: A security agent pushed a computer screen in front of her, connected to Gmail and told her to “log in.”
The agent, suspecting Tamari was involved in pro-Palestinian activism, wanted to inspect her private email account for incriminating evidence. The 42-year-old American of Palestinian descent refused and was swiftly expelled from the country.
Tamari’s experience is not unique. In a cyber-age twist on Israel’s vaunted history of airport security, the country has begun to force incoming travelers deemed suspicious to open personal email accounts for inspection, visitors say.
Targeting mainly Muslims or Arabs, the practice appears to be aimed at rooting out visitors who have histories of pro-Palestinian activism, and in recent weeks, has led to the expulsion of at least three American women.
It remains unclear how widespread the practice is.
However, asked about Tamari’s claims, the Shin Bet security agency confirmed she had been interrogated and said its agents acted in accordance with the law.
Israel has a long history of using ethnic profiling, calling it a necessary evil resulting from its bitter experience with terrorist attacks. Arab travelers and anyone else seen as a risk are often subjected to intense questioning and invasive inspections, including strip searches.
The security procedures appear to be getting stricter: Recent searches of journalists at official events have been invasive enough to create a series of mini-uproars and walkouts — a situation that has dovetailed with increasing concerns that the government is trying to stifle dissent.
Diana Butto, a former legal adviser to the Palestinian Authority and a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, said the policy of email checks, once used sporadically, appears to have become more widespread over the past year.
Butto said she has led three tour groups to the region over the past year, and in each case, at least one member of the group was asked to open their email. She said Muslims, Arabs and Indians were typically targeted, and in most cases, were denied entry.
Butto said agents typically want to see people’s itineraries, articles they have written or Facebook status updates.
“The problem is there’s no way to honestly say you’re coming to visit the West Bank without falling into some type of security trap,” she said. “Either you lie and risk being caught in a lie, or you tell the truth ... and it’s not clear whether you’ll be allowed in.”
Tamari, who is from St. Louis, said she arrived in Israel on May 21 to participate in an interfaith conference. She described herself as a Quaker peace activist and acknowledged taking part in campaigns calling for boycotts and divestment from Israel.
Given her activism, Tamari said she expected some security delays. But she was caught off guard by the order to open her email account. She said the agents discovered her address while rifling through her personal papers.
“That’s when they turned their (computer) screens around to me and said, ‘Log in,” she said. When she refused, an interrogator said, “‘Well you must be a terrorist. You are hiding something.’”
Tamari said she was searched, placed in a holding cell and flown back to the U.S. the following day. “The idea that somebody my age, a Quaker, on a peace delegation with folks from the U.S., would be denied entry — that never crossed my mind,” she said.
Najwa Doughman, a 25-year-old Palestinian American from New York City, said she underwent a similar experience when she arrived for a one-week vacation on May 26.
A female interrogator ordered Doughman to open her Gmail account, threatening she would be deported if she didn’t.
“She typed in gmail.com and she turned the keyboard toward me and said, ‘Log in. Log in now,’” Doughman recounted. “I asked, ‘Is this legal?’ She said, ‘Log in.’”
She said the agent searched for keywords like “West Bank” and “Palestine” and made fun of a chat in which Doughman talked of reading graffiti on Israel’s West Bank separation barrier.
“After she read a bunch of stuff, humiliating and mocking me, I said, ‘I think you’ve read enough,’” Doughman said, adding that agents jotted down names and emails of her friends as they inspected her chat history.
Doughman’s traveling companion, Sasha Al-Sarabi, said agents pulled her aside and checked out her Facebook page.
Both women said they were approached because of their Arab family names, and were repeatedly asked about the nature of their visit, and whether they planned to go to the West Bank and participate in anti-Israel demonstrations.
While acknowledging she belonged to Palestinian activist groups when she was in college, Doughman said she insisted the one-week visit was purely for a vacation.
“The interrogator asked me, ‘Do you feel more Arab or more American? ... Surely you must feel more Arab,” Doughman said. “I told her I was born in the U.S. and studied there, but she didn’t like my answer.”
After hours of questioning, both women were told they would not be allowed in. They said they were subjected to strip searches, placed in a detention center and sent back to the U.S. the following day. Doughman said they weren’t allowed to call the U.S. Embassy.
American Embassy spokesman Kurt Hoyer said the embassy does not comment on specific cases. But he said the embassy is “usually” contacted whenever an American citizen is not allowed to enter Israel, or any other country.
The embassy typically remains in contact with local authorities throughout the process until a decision on entry is made.
He said the U.S. stresses to all governments “to treat American passport holders as Americans, regardless of their ethnic origin ... At the same time, any sovereign nation has the right to decide who to let in, and not to let in.”
Israel has become increasingly strict following a series of run-ins with international activists in recent years, highlighted by a deadly clash two years ago between Israeli naval commandos and a flotilla trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. Both sides accused the other of provoking the violence in which nine Turkish activists were killed.
Since then, Israel has prevented international activists from arriving on similar flotillas as well as a pair of “fly-ins” by pro-Palestinian activists. Israeli officials acknowledge they used social media accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter, to identify activists ahead of time and prevent them from boarding flights to Israel.
Emanuel Gross, a law professor at Haifa University, said such a practice would seem to be illegal in Israel.
“In Israel, you need a search warrant to go into somebody’s computer,” he said. “I’m skeptical that the security guards asked a judge first for a warrant and I’m skeptical that a judge would give it.”



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Read Comments (16)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Jun 04, 2012 at 06:24 PM thecommissioner Says:

The part that this story fails to mention is that Sandra Tamari is a member of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, a radical activist group. Kudos to Israel security who prevented miscreants like her from entering Israel.

2

 Jun 04, 2012 at 06:41 PM AlbertEinstein Says:

"Israel has a long history of using ethnic profiling"

No, it does not. Israel has a long history of using behavioral profiling. There's a big difference. Before his attack, Richard Ried (the shoe bomber), scouted out El Al. The Israeli security agents pegged him in a two minute interview as a terrorist, even though he did not fit the "ethnic" profile. His behavior, on the other hand, made him stick out like a sore thumb.

3

 Jun 04, 2012 at 07:00 PM wollenberg Says:

This doesn't totally add up. Surely a terrorist will use a different alias and not carry incriminating emails in his personal account. How will they check the person disclosed all accounts?

4

 Jun 04, 2012 at 07:10 PM cynic Says:

The US has been searching traveler's computers and related material for years now, using the Asterisk that says the Bill of Rights has only a limited presence when crossing the borders.

Oh, and technically the Customs and Border Protection folk, and their US gov't overseers, claim that this exemption applies for _100 miles_ from the border. So yes, that gray zone, which you'd think would just be used for chasing a smuggler coming into the country, covers all of NYC, a good deal of NYS, and lots and lots of other parts of this country.

for an initial reference which gives cites to the caselaw:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Border_search_exception

5

 Jun 04, 2012 at 07:28 PM jewishcat Says:

I think Israel is definitely doing the right thing.It's clear that some Israelis live in another world..

6

 Jun 04, 2012 at 07:56 PM jewishcat Says:

This is really not that new. Americans have had their laptops checked before this. (And I bet the Israelis were a lot more polite than the American TSA.)

7

 Jun 04, 2012 at 09:10 PM Anonymous Says:

Now lets hear the whole world cry racial profiling.........Anyone?
If America would've done the same the twin towers will still be standing. Instaed we are wasting tax payers money and checking 80 year old woman and children.

8

 Jun 04, 2012 at 07:25 PM am Says:

hey - if they don't like it let them visit Jordan or any other Arab country and have their relatives move there as well

9

 Jun 04, 2012 at 09:52 PM Liepa Says:

The problem isn't with Israel, the problem lies with the arabs. After 64 years, they still haven't come to terms with Israel's existence, and never will.
Were it up to the arabs, they would kill every last Jew, including men, women and children.
With that in mind, Israel needs to do everything within its power to ensure its survival.

10

 Jun 04, 2012 at 10:00 PM ChachoMoe Says:

Kudos to Israel for choosing security over being PC. Let these whining losers think before they decide to support their wonderful "peace" agenda's, if they really want to enter Israel as their "vacation"...

11

 Jun 04, 2012 at 10:25 PM bigwheeel Says:

Reply to #4  
cynic Says:

The US has been searching traveler's computers and related material for years now, using the Asterisk that says the Bill of Rights has only a limited presence when crossing the borders.

Oh, and technically the Customs and Border Protection folk, and their US gov't overseers, claim that this exemption applies for _100 miles_ from the border. So yes, that gray zone, which you'd think would just be used for chasing a smuggler coming into the country, covers all of NYC, a good deal of NYS, and lots and lots of other parts of this country.

for an initial reference which gives cites to the caselaw:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Border_search_exception

The point being that anyone not involved in subversive actions (And activity) has nothing to hide. They will not mind at all to disclose their chat and e-mail activity. Those who have something to hide, are exactly the people the security agents are looking for.

12

 Jun 05, 2012 at 12:42 AM yankel Says:

Kol hakavod to our security forces. May hashem keep us all safe.

13

 Jun 05, 2012 at 12:36 AM Realistic thinker Says:

This might be taking it a little bit too far but I won't judge not at all! Whatever it takes to keep the country safe!! and I mean whatever it takes!!! Wouldn't you think that way knowing that openining someone's emails might have saved your loved one's life so if the Israeli government thinks this is the way then go ahead! As I said "whatever it takes"!!!

14

 Jun 05, 2012 at 09:17 AM Anonymous Says:

I have no sympathy for these provocateurs, whether they are Arab-Americans, Christian-Americans, or even Jewish-Americans. I wish the USA was as diligent in screening out potential lawbreakers or terrorists. Once a visitor enters the USA, there is virtually no control over where they go within the country, nor is there any control pertaining to when they exit. Hence, many visitors stay here illegally, by overstaying their visas.

15

 Jun 05, 2012 at 12:44 PM Anonymous Says:

Israel is doing the right and very best thing. keep doing the right thing. The country must be protected. no double standards.

16

 Jun 05, 2012 at 05:38 PM Erlich Says:

American border agents are just as tough with Canadians, their closes friends. Try messing around with armed American border agents. Israel would be crazy not to search these Jewish and non-Jewish radicals out to create mayhem in Israel.

17

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