Israeli Security May Want to See Email

Mark 13:8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom...

Sandra Tamari was in the International Arrivals line being processed to enter Israel at Ben Gurion International Airport terminal in Tel Aviv. Suddenly she received an unexpected request. The security agent placed a computer connected to Gmail in front of her and asked her to “Log in.”

The security coming into Israel is probably the most stringent in the world. The agents are highly trained in looking for eye-contact, body-language, nervous reactions, ethnic profiling, etc. because of their bitter experience with attempted terrorist attacks.

Tamari, a 42-year-old American of Palestinian descent refused  to open her email account and was swiftly expelled from the country. Airport security suspected her of being involved in pro-Palestinian activism, probably because of the way she answered some of their entry questions or maybe she was on a “watch list.”

This is not a unique situation, except for the cyber-age twist. When Israel’s one international airport is on high alert, they root out travelers who are deemed to be suspicious or have a history of being a pro-activist, specifically Muslims and Arabs. In the past weeks, this practice has led to the expulsion of three American women.

When the Shin Bet security agency (that handles security for the airport) was confronted with Sandra Tamari’s claims, they responded that she had been interrogated and said its agents acted in accordance with the law. Arab travelers and anyone else who is seen as a potential risk to the security of the airport may be subject to intense questioning and invasive inspections. Because of the times in which we live, security procedures appear to be getting stricter.

Diana Butto, a former legal adviser to the Palestinian Authority said she “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. Muslims, Arabs and Indians were typically targeted, and in most cases, were denied entry.” Butto said agents typically want to see people’s itineraries, computer 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. 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.”

Israel has had many run-ins with international activists in recent years including a deadly clash between Israel’s navy commandos and a flotilla attempting to break a blockade to the Gaza Strip. Nine Turkish activists were killed. Both sides accused the other of provoking the violence.

Because of that incident, Israel has prevented international activists from arriving onto Israeli soil either by boat or plane. Israeli officials acknowledge they use social media accounts to identify activists ahead of time and have even prevented them from boarding flights to Israel.

Kurt Hoyer, spokesman for the United States Embassy said they do not comment on individual cases but the embassy usually is in contact with local authorities throughout the process of each case until a decision on entry to Israel is made. The standard operational procedure is “to treat U.S. 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.”

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