Airport Security: Israel vs. the United States
We were subjected to a 15-minute interrogation at the airport in Eilat, in southern Israel, after spending the weekend in neighboring Jordan. The young, bespectacled security official was robotic and driven in his questioning. He asked to see a copy of my husband’s invitation to his conference. The full names of anyone we knew in Israel. More and more questions, raising suspicions that started to make me feel guilty.
“Did you give anyone your e-mail or phone number? Did anyone want to stay in contact with you?” He had us pegged for naive travelers who could become the tool of terrorists.
He even went through our digital photos, stopping at a picture of a little boy, holding a baby goat. “Who is this?”
“It’s a Bedouin,” I snapped. “We don’t have his contact information.”
In the same calm tone, he told me not to become angry. Later I realized it was a necessary part of traveling in Israel, as a safety precaution. Ironically, we didn’t have to throw away our water bottles or take off our shoes when we passed through the security gate — which made me wonder at the effectiveness of U.S. policies at airports.
Regularly I hear people talking about Israeli airport security, and asking why we can’t do the same in the U.S. The short answer is: scale. Israel has 11 million airline passengers a year; there are close to 700 million in the U.S. Israel has seven airports; the U.S. has over 400 “primary” airports — and who knows how many others. Things that can work there just don’t scale to the U.S.