Authorities may question Palestinian Americans on arrival in Israel and require them to obtain a Palestinian Authority travel documents, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday.
Israel’s airline security also faced a legal challenge Wednesday from a civil rights group charging that its practice of ethnic profiling is racist because it singles out Arabs for tougher treatment, and Arab American groups slammed the government’s travel warning as condoning Israel’s policies.
“American citizens whom Israeli authorities judge may be of Palestinian origin are likely to face additional, and often time consuming, questioning by immigration and border authorities,” the State Department said in a travel warning to U.S. citizens.
It added that Israel may require persons judged to have residency status in the West Bank or Gaza to use a Palestinian Authority travel document to transit Israel when entering the West Bank or Gaza, and they may have to depart via the Allenby Bridge to Jordan.
James Zogby, president of Washington’s Arab American Institute, said the State Department had accurately diagnosed the problem for Palestinian Americans traveling to Israel but had not done enough correct it.
At a Supreme Court hearing, civil rights lawyers demanded an end to Israel’s airport racial profiling policy, which they say violates Israeli law. Racial profiling is illegal in the U.S., where passengers must be singled out for security checks on a random basis.
But some terrorism experts say Israel’s measures are effective precisely because they take ethnicity into account – and warn that equality at the airport could cost lives.
Israel is considered a prime target for hijackers and other attackers because of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and extremist Islamic rejection of the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East. Despite that, there hasn’t been a successful attack on an Israeli airliner in decades, and experts point to Israel’s security procedures as a key factor.
Many of the measures are kept secret, but known precautions on Israeli airliners include armored luggage compartments, armed sky marshals and reinforced cockpits. But a key to preventing attacks, experts say, is the screening process on the ground, and that is the focus of the civil rights complaint.
Israeli Jews and Arabs get dramatically different treatment when boarding Israeli planes, as anyone who’s ever stood in line at Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport has seen.
Hanna Swaid, an Israeli Arab, remembers being strip-searched by gruff security guards and having his luggage taken apart piece by piece 20 years ago before he flew from Israel to London, where he was a post-doctoral student.
Today Swaid is an Israeli Arab lawmaker, and he regularly receives complaints from Arab citizens about similar treatment. Swaid said last year a relative, a 25-year-old computer programmer, was not allowed to take his cell phone on a domestic flight, even though Jewish passengers were. He also said he knows of cases in which Arabs who serve in Israel’s police or military have been singled out for extra scrutiny.