The Israeli Airports Authority has established a joint project with representatives from the Israeli Arab community with the aim of improving the experience of Arab citizens when they travel abroad.
Renowned Arab author and journalist Salem Jubran spoke to Ynet about the initiative, saying he hoped it would improve the current “journey of tortures” facing Arab travelers.
Arabs undergo stricter security checks (Photo: Shaul Golan)
“When a plane lands at the Ben Gurion Airport, everyone claps but me. I know what a journey of suffering awaits me. I hope it improves,” Jubran said.
“The team was established as a joint initiative between the Citizens’ Accord Forum between Jews and Arabs in Israel and the Airports Authority in order to jointly examine ways of improving services and procedures involving Israeli Arabs at airports and border crossings,” the Airports Authority said.
The team’s first meeting took place last week and was attended by Israeli Airports Authority Director-General Gabi Ophir, Ben Gurion Airport Pperations Director Ze'ev Sarig, and directors of other divisions, who hosted businessmen, academics, education specialists and other public figures from the Arab sector.
Among the representatives of the Arab sector were Rahat mayor Talaal al-Qrinawi, businessmen from the tourism industry, Ahmad Afifi, journalist and author Salem Jubran and many more. Ophir and Sarig stressed to the participants that they were fully committed to cooperating in order to improve the situation and hoped all members of the team would extend the necessary effort to understand the challenges facing the other side. They said they were launching this initiative with full openness and added that the number of complaints in the matter had significantly decreased over the past year.
The two-year joint work plan will focus on several central matters: security, education – continuing and expanding relations with Arab educational institutions, and communicating with community organizations in the Arab sector.
Jubran: Arab Israelis can’t be automatic suspects
Following last week’s meeting, Jubran said there was a cautious optimism that maybe this time things would change.
“When I was given the floor to speak, I stood up and I said that if this is just a public relations exercise, then it would be meaningless in my view. The question is whether they want to honestly and frankly examine the matter. Those present swore that the initiative was true and there’s no reason I shouldn’t believe them,” Jubran said.
“I said that the place Arab Israelis feel most alienated is at the airport, more than any other place, because there we are automatically stripped of rights and humiliated. I have been traveling for 30 years and feel the intense humiliation still now, although lately things have shown relative improvement. I don’t understand why there is discrimination between me and the rest of Israeli citizens if the advanced mechanized equipment can check my suitcase and identify something as small as a pin. I am a citizen of this country, and theoretically I am a member of El Al. It is unclear to me why we need to be hurt so much. It is an embarrassment to the State of Israel and we will fight so it doesn’t continue.”
Jubran recalled countless unpleasant experiences at airports in Israel. “An Arab citizen cannot be considered a suspect until proven otherwise. A number of years ago I was invited by Harvard University to visit together with the author Sami Michael. His check lasted a few seconds, while I underwent a series of degradations, at the end of which I said I wanted to go home. Only after there was a commotion did they let me go on my way,” Jubran said.
“This cannot be the reality. Even Gabi Ophir admitted to us that many Arab citizens travel to Jordan then fly to Europe and the United States from there. This is absolutely shameful to Israel. Do you think I wouldn’t get hurt too if God forbid there was an explosion on the plane? There is no sense that an Arab citizen would do something like that, unless we’re talking about one lunatic out of a million. I want security as much as everyone does, but you can’t do anything you want to people in the name of security,” Jubran explained.
“Gabi Ophir spoke fairly and I believe him. Up until now, I would land in my country without any happiness. We will apply pressures so that Arab citizens can land here with happiness in their hearts,” he summed up.