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If Israel's Learned One Thing About War, It's That Profiling Works

August 4, 2005 By:
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Yishai Ha'etzni

If Israel's Learned One Thing About War, It's That Profiling Works

The Shalem Center think-tank's executive director, Yishai Ha'etzni, writes in The New York Post (www. nypost.com) on July 26 about Israel's experience with profiling terror suspects:

"Since 9/11, U.S. officials have struggled with how to protect the American public without infringing on individuals' rights and sensibilities. The touchiest issue of all is 'profiling' - using various factors, including race or ethnicity, in security checks. So, it wasn't surprising that, when New York City announced last week that it would begin screening passengers on the city's subway system, officials promised loudly and insistently that the checks would be random and that racial profiling would not be used.

"Such a policy avoids discrimination against certain ethnic groups - in effect, inconveniencing, embarrassing and perhaps even punishing individuals for crimes they did not commit. This is an important value and a worthy goal. Unfortunately, however, blanket avoidance of profiling undermines the entire point of checking passengers.

"Following a spate of terrorist hijackings and other attacks on civilian aircraft and airports in the late 1960s and '70s, Israel developed a security system that utilized sociological profiles of those seeking to harm Israelis, among other factors. The American system developed at the same time relied primarily on technology like scanning devices, which checked people and baggage uniformly.

"Facing a less benign threat, Israelis found this system insufficient: Explosives and other weapons could slip through too easily. Since it wasn't feasible to perform extensive security searches on every passenger, Israel used sociological profiles in addition to screening devices: Each passenger is questioned briefly, and then airport security personnel use their judgment to identify suspect would-be passengers, who are then questioned at greater length and their bags searched more thoroughly. It is targeted and far more effective than random searches, which end up being nearly cosmetic.

"Screening and random searches would not have averted the tragedy that profiling stopped on April 17, 1986. Anne-Marie Murphy, a pregnant Irish woman, was traveling alone to Israel to meet her fiance's parents. Her bags went through an X-ray machine without problems, and she and her passport appeared otherwise unremarkable. But in a perfect example of the complexity of profiling, a pregnant woman traveling alone roused the suspicions of security officials. They inspected her bags more closely and discovered a sheet of Semtex explosives under a false bottom. Unbeknownst to Murphy, her fiance, Nizar Hindawi, had intended to kill her and their unborn child along with the other passengers on the plane.

"Unfortunately, the rise in terrorist assaults on Israeli public transportation, entertainment venues and public spaces necessitated that the airport security model be implemented in those areas as well - for one simple reason: It works better than anything else.

"In May of 2002, a would-be suicide bomber ran away from the entrance to a mall in the seaside town of Netanya after guards at the entrance grew suspicious. Though he killed three people when he blew himself up on a nearby street, he would have murdered far many more people had he been able to enter the mall. It's too simple to say that guards' suspicions were aroused simply because he was an Arab - dozens of Arab-Israelis undoubtedly had gone into the mall before he tried to enter. His ethnicity - along with his demeanor, his dress, even his hair - was merely one of many factors security personnel use in profiles. But it is one factor.

"The American system's 'blindness' admirably prevents infringements on equality. It also, however, cuts off the most important weapon in the war against terrorism: human capability, judgment and perception. Now that the U.S. faces a higher threat, it cannot afford to neglect those tools."

Mayor of London Sees Fit to Offer Another Tongue-Lashing to the Jews

British journalist Melanie Phillips writes on www. JewishWorldReview.com July 22 about the mayor of London's "weasel words" about terror:

"Shortly before last month's second round of terror attacks, a poster campaign was launched to display London's spirit of defiance in the face of terrorism. In Churchillian tones, the poster declared that the city was 'united in the face of these attacks,' and that Londoners 'will not let anyone divide them.'

"The message was signed by the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. Immediately after the bombings two weeks previously, he struck a similarly resolute note.

"All very proper and commendably statesmanlike for London's mayor at such a time. And he has drawn understandable praise for the way in which he has managed to articulate the spirit of the city under attack.

"Yet Livingstone made a series of remarks about the causes of this terrorism that were anything but statesmanlike. Indeed, they came close to justifying suicide bombings and even providing incitement to others to carry out further attacks.

"Although he said repeatedly that he did not support suicide bombings anywhere, and opposed killing and all violence, in the next breath he blamed Britain for having practiced 'double standards' in its foreign policy, which had helped drive young British Muslim men to murder their fellow citizens. In an extraordinary interview on BBC Radio Four's Today program, he blamed '80 years of Western intervention in predominantly Arab lands,' and accused Britain of having betrayed the Arabs after World War I by denying them their freedom in order to obtain their oil.

"But much more incendiary was what he said about the Israel/Arab conflict in this interview and at a press conference the previous day.

"He accused Israel, for example, of having 'indiscriminately slaughtered men, women and children in the West Bank and Gaza for decades,' and said that 'given that the Palestinians don't have jet fighters, they only have their bodies to use as weapons.'

"Now, Israel has done many controversial things which may justifiably be criticized. But it does not indiscriminately slaughter the innocent; on the contrary, it goes to great lengths to avoid doing so - for example, by conducting dangerous house-to-house searches for terrorists from which it sustains a high rate of casualties, as opposed to routinely bombing from the air.

"Above all, its military actions are only taken to defend itself against systematic attack. Yet Livingstone remarkably portrayed suicide bombings as morally superior to Israel's attempt to prevent its citizens from being murdered.

"Despite the mayor's professed horror of terrorism, this effectively justifies suicide bombings carried out by Palestinians against Israelis. He excoriates Britain for 'double standards' - and yet, while weeping over the victims of the London bombings, implies that the Jews of Israel are fair game for slaughter.

"Even more lethally, Livingstone's distortions about the Middle East conflict will undoubtedly have reinforced the unfounded, yet murderous, feelings of grievance about Israel in the Muslim world."

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