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Israelifying air(ports)

Mar 28,2017 - Last updated at Mar 28,2017

Last Thursday, the Royal Jordanian Airlines satirically tweeted 12 recommendations to its passengers because of the US and UK governments’ ban of electronic devices that are larger than “smart” phones on direct flights to their countries.

The recommendations are: “Read a book, enjoy a light snack, say hello to the person next to you, meditate, spend an hour deciding what to watch, appreciate the miracle of flight, engage in primitive dialogue from the pre-Internet era, reclaim territory on armrest, pretend tray table is a keyboard, shop till you drop from the onboard duty free, analyse the meaning of life and think of reasons why you don’t have a laptop or tablet with you.” 

I would like to take up the challenge of thinking about the last recommendation.

Many have provided conjectures as to why the American and British authorities made that decision, despite the fact that both administrations refer to Jordan and some other countries to which the ban applies as allies.

Some put forth the plausible claim that US airlines put pressure on their government so that they can make more profits.

Others suggest that it was merely a security measure.

The latter seems less plausible, particularly because passengers from the countries in question already go through meticulous security measures, which can at times be described as invasive and humiliating, before boarding planes.

I think that there is a third, more convincing reason: the Israelification of world airports. In other words, the ban was inspired by Israeli practices.

It then behooves one to examine the Israeli prototype by understanding its structure and knowing how passengers — a substantial number of whom are Palestinians — are treated at it.

Ben Gurion Airport is a case in point. I will pass over — the pun is intended — the history of its construction, the symbolism of its architectural design, and the person after whom it is named — all of which are crucial issues.

Instead, I will focus on what happens at it. 

Pursued by the pervasive surveillance at the airport, the “others”, different from Israelis — Palestinians and pro-Palestinian activists — are all considered suspects.

In fact, they are generally faced with racial profiling, which is an acceptable and normative procedure conducted with impunity by airport officials.

According to a 2016 report published by Adalah (the Legal Centre for Arab Minority in Israel), Palestinians are consistently discriminated against by the personnel of Israel Airports Authority (IAA).

Palestinians experience strip searches and interrogation, their baggage can be confiscated, and they may be escorted to gates, all practices that infringe on Palestinians’ sense of dignity and privacy and are — ironically enough — in violation of Israeli law.

These practices, however, do not take place only at airports located in Israel, but also at other airports when Palestinians board planes operated by Israeli carriers, such as the notorious El Al, because of whose practices gates become detention centres for Palestinians.

Confiscation of their belongings deprives Palestinians of hand baggage. More often than not, they cannot even use their electronic devices, which they may not be allowed to reclaim.

The confiscation of baggage, the forcible removal of clothes, lengthy interrogations and the ban of electronic devices are all attempts at de-”civilising” Palestinians. 

Now, these acts are becoming more and more acceptable worldwide, as Israeli paranoia, projection and siege mentality have become the “golden” standard, an idea that manifests itself in the ban.

Prior to the ban, more than 150 officials from the US, European and African countries, and Russia, were drilled into the measures adopted by the IAA in June last year.

This is part of a larger US-Israel coordination effort. 

In fact, US President Donald Trump was recently clear about his golden standard: “[I]n Israel, they profile. They’ve done unbelievable job, as good as you can do.”

The similarities between the US and Israeli political systems are many and require further, more extended treatment. 

However, a pattern can be observed. While critics observed that Israel emulated the US in its formative years, now it is the reverse: the US — other countries follow suit as well — follows Israel’s example.

Royal Jordanian Airlines has implicitly laid bare the Israelification of airports and has put all the options of de-Israelification on the table, including sarcasm.



The writer, a Fulbright scholar, contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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