This is what we should do

A week ago, the Toronto Star wrote a story asking if we should be Israelifying our airports to make them safer.

The nut graf(s):

“Israelis, unlike Canadians and Americans, don’t take s— from anybody. When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for — not for hours — but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, ‘We’re not going to do this. You’re going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport.”

That, in a nutshell is “Israelification” – a system that protects life and limb without annoying you to death.

Despite facing dozens of potential threats each day, the security set-up at Israel’s largest hub, Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, has not been breached since 2002, when a passenger mistakenly carried a handgun onto a flight. How do they manage that?

“The first thing you do is to look at who is coming into your airport,” said Sela.

There’s that. And then there’s this story from Time.com that ran in 2006. Describing the El Al (Israel’s national airline carrier) agents, Lisa Beyer writes, “They ask a lot of questions, don’t hesitate to take their time doing it, aren’t embarrassed about profiling fliers and are quick to take matters to a higher level of scrutiny.”

The idea of profiling in this country is met with discomfort – a pulling of the shirt collar that begins to constrict your neck. In Israel, though, the idea is to do exactly that. Not just profile the Arab-looking man or the guy with the long beard and the keffiyeh, but everybody. Maybe profile isn’t the right word. Maybe it’s practicing a different level of awareness. Security looks at who’s parking at the airport, who’s getting out of their car and walking through the automatic doors, who’s approaching the ticket counter. They look for suspicious characters.

Then, security asks questions – not just to the suspicious, but to everybody. Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Why? The answers don’t necessarily matter. It’s how you answer. Are you nervous? Shifty? Calm? Making eye contact? Sweating?

This is why El Al hasn’t been attacked by terrorists in 30 years, and it’s why there’s never been a hijacking out of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. The extra awareness – and asking of simple, basic questions – works.

An example: when my wife, some friends and I went on a group trip to Israel the summer after college graduation, we flew El Al from JFK Airport to Tel Aviv. Before we boarded the flight, the four of us were interrogated by El Al agents. They asked where we were going, why we were headed to Israel, if we knew anybody who lived there. They tried to ascertain whether we were Jewish. They wanted to see if our answers matched up. They wanted to see if they had a reason to be suspicious.

The questioning, from what I remember, lasted about 10 minutes, and you know what? We weren’t offended, and we weren’t inconvenienced.

We felt safe.

In the Toronto Star story, Rafi Sela, the president of a global transportation security consultation company, told of an old Israeli saying: It’s easier to look for a lost key under the light instead of searching in the darkness where you actually might have dropped it. In the US, we look under the light, because it’s easier. We don’t profile because people take offense. We don’t ask the questions we should. And we barely pay attention to the answers.

The people who want us dead stay in the dark.

If a different level of awareness keeps us as safe as El Al and Ben Gurion, then I’m all for it. We should Israelify our airports. We should profile. We should ask the basic questions and see how they respond. We should not let political correctness keep us unsafe. If Israel and its people don’t have a problem with it, neither should we.

We can’t be afraid to make the changes. In the end, it’s about being safe and not having to watch people die.

It’s about shining a flashlight into the darkness and seeing what’s out there.

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