A few months ago, I was sitting in the terminal at Ben Gurion International Airport, in Tel Aviv, reading a fellow traveller’s account of flying out of Israel. I’d heard horror stories of strip searches and endless lines. I was curious what I was really up against.
I wasn’t surprised to learn security is top-notch.
After all, I had already been searched and questioned twice, once through the window of my taxi and again before the terminal doors. All this and I hadn’t even entered the airport yet.
But then I read about the stickers.
I learned that before any passenger ever gives up his luggage to the fine folks at Ben Gurion International, an employee places a neon yellow sticker on the back of your passport. On it is a 10-digit number. The first number, ranging from 1 to 6, indicates your perceived threat level to whomever else you’re passed along to.
I got a 5.
After I got back, I relayed this story to some friends who were more experienced travelling to and from Israel. My ego deflated a little to learn I didn’t actually seem threatening, just more suspicious than average.
For one, I’m not Jewish. That automatically raises some red flags in a country fraught with religious and cultural conflicts. I was also on assignment as a reporter, travelling alone, without so much as an estranged second cousin I could say I knew. The profiling alarms had to be blaring.
Looking back, I’m not sure I want to know what would have happened if I’d gotten a 6.
As Lia Tarachansky wrote back in 2010 for Mondoweiss, while a 1 rating “is awesome,” a 6 indicates that “you’re fucked.” It’s reserved for Palestinians, Muslims, and hostile internationals.
Extreme, yes. But effective.
No flight leaving Ben Gurion has ever been hijacked, and the airline servicing Israel, El Al, hasn’t seen an attack in more than 30 years.
Maybe the TSA could learn a thing or two.
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