The Corner

How the Israelis Keep Their Planes from Blowing Up

Forget the porn machines, Michael Totten suggests. Use some common sense instead. It works for the Israelis.

They are, out of dreadful necessity, the world’s foremost experts in counterterrorism. And they couldn’t care less about what your grandmother brings on a plane. Instead, officials at Ben Gurion International Airport interview everyone in line before they’re even allowed to check in.

And Israeli officials profile. They don’t profile racially, but they profile. Israeli Arabs breeze through rather quickly, but thanks to the dozens of dubious-looking stamps in my passport — almost half are from Lebanon and Iraq — I get pulled off to the side for more questioning every time. And I’m a white, nominally Christian American.

If they pull you aside, you had better tell them the truth. They’ll ask you so many wildly unpredictable questions so quickly, you couldn’t possibly invent a fake story and keep it all straight. Don’t even try. They’re highly trained and experienced, and they catch everyone who tries to pull something over on them.

Quite so: When I last flew El Al, they began with simple questions: Why are you flying to Israel? To give a lecture? Where? Who invited you? Really? Do you have a copy of the invitation? How do you know them? Really? And you don’t speak Hebrew? None? Why not? You didn’t learn any in school? Why not? It went on for quite some time. Somehow I ended up telling them where exactly I’d gone to kindergarten. That’s not one of those details that would be easy to manufacture on the spot.

The impression I had above all was that they were really paying attention to what I said. They weren’t rude. But I had no doubt they were thinking very closely about whether the details added up.

I flew El Al once when I was about eighteen. They asked me whether I was carrying any lethal weapons. “My wit,” I said. They let me on the plane right away, no further questions. Yeah, sure, they profiled me: “Smartass teenage Jew off on her first big foreign adventure away from her family.”

That sort of kid doesn’t blow up planes. She just ruins the kibbutz.

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