Shir Hever examines the privatization of security, which undermines Israel’s racial policies.
Shir Hever is an Economist working at The Real News Network. His economic research focuses on Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory; international aid to the Palestinians and to Israel; the effects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories on the Israeli economy; and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel. His first book: Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation, was published by Pluto Press.
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Israeli security guards at the central bus station in Tel Aviv were instructed to stop people based on their appearance and demand identification from Arab-looking individuals. Some of the security guards leaked this information to the Haaretz newspaper claiming that they have become hunters of undocumented people. Racial profiling is illegal in the U.S., but in Israel AND Palestine it is openly practiced. Presidential candidate Trump before the election told Fox News that he wants to adopt the racial profiling practices from Israel. However, even in Israel at least two security guards resigned or were fired because they were uncomfortable with orders to racially profile. On to talk about this with me today is Shir Hever. He is a Real New correspondent in Heidelberg, Germany, but he covers Israel and Palestine extensively. Thank you so much for joining us.
SHIR HEVER: Thanks for having me, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, Shir, when we were in Ramallah and Tel Aviv we saw this practice of racial profiling quite openly. Security guards pull people out of lines based on the color of their skin and based on their race. This recent uproar, what is it about and what caused it?
SHIR HEVER: Tel Aviv, the central bus station is a very important transportation hub in Israel. In fact, it’s built on an area that used to be nicknamed “The Slave Market” because Palestinians from the West Bank and also from Gaza many years ago would go to that area very early in the morning and hang around hoping that shift managers would drive by and hire a couple of them for day jobs in construction or in cleaning. For people who had no other source of income they did this, but they did it illegally because they didn’t have a permit to work inside Israel. That meant they had very little ability to negotiate over a fair wage for their work day. Sometimes employers would have them work the entire day and then just call the police instead of paying them.The central bus station of Tel Aviv today is one of the areas that you see. It’s one of the poorest areas, and it’s one of the areas where very desperate people have no choice but to go through if they’re looking for a job. It’s not just Palestinians. It’s also labor immigrants, asylum seekers. What’s going on now is that security guards are reporting they’re not even looking whether people have possibly a weapon stashed, but they’re actually only looking at faces and listening to accents. They’re taking people based on that information and demanding that they show their ID. If there is no ID or if the ID is not up-to-date or something like that then they would call the police. They do that, actually, only for people who they perceive to be Arabs or sometimes they’ll look for asylum seekers. But for people who they perceive to be Jews, they don’t even ask for an ID. That, of course, means that if somebody has a Western look they might just stroll past them and maybe even carry a weapon, which is not allowed to take into the station.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, racial discrimination is a highly loaded topic in Israel, obviously. In many ways, the justification for establishing the state of Israel was to create a safe haven for Jews from racial discrimination from being mistreated just because of their appearance or ethnicity. How is it now acceptable that racial profiling is regularly practiced by Israeli security guards?
SHIR HEVER: Yeah, this is an issue that is raised again and again in criticism about Israeli policies from without and from within. How is it possible that Jewish people who descended from families that survived the Holocaust who were killed just because they were Jews or not only killed but also incarcerated, how can they do this thing to people just because of their race, just because of their color of their skin or whatever? I think there are many kinds of explanations how to justify this. Of course, there is the psychological explanation of the beaten child syndrome where somebody who was a victim of a certain trauma has a tendency to inflict that same trauma on others.I think that looking at it sociologically and politically there are different considerations that create this kind of policy within Israel. It’s not the same kind of policies that anti-Semites had against Jews in Europe. It’s the same in the sense of how it is enacted. It’s the same in the sense that it is equally criminal, but it’s not the same because of the reasons. While the situation in Israel is a colonial situation, this sort of hierarchy-building is much more similar to the story of South Africa than it is to the story of Nazi Germany. It’s a story of creating not just a constant sense of repressing people who are not Jews in the sense, sort of the elite group, and everybody else has to be under constant repression.It’s also taking that elite group and giving them a privilege because people who have a more European appearance can just walk by, stroll by into the central bus station and many other areas in Israel without being checked at all. They can just say hello to the guard, and with a certain accent that would get the guard to just let them pass without any kind of security check. That is something that has value to these people because it creates and it cements the hierarchy in society in a very important way. The entire regime within Israel Palestine is built on that hierarchy.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. What are the implications of this racial profiling policy on the security situation in Israel? Are people safer? Also, what are the economic implications of security companies which practice racial profiling?
SHIR HEVER: If we think about the security implications of this policy, it is horrifying because, actually, why wouldn’t, then, Palestinians want to conduct attacks against Israelis? Just send in people who have lighter skin, and, actually, there is a very good movie about this, it’s called Paradise Now. Two Palestinians who just dress up as Western-looking Jews in order to conduct a suicide bombing. It seems that there is very little protection against that kind of attack within Israel.Nevertheless, the vast majority of Palestinians who resist the Israeli occupation and who resist the Apartheid policies choose to do so in non-violent means. They choose to do so with demonstrations and through the media and so on and not by attacking. The result of that, and that’s what’s so horrifying, is that the Israeli government then goes on and say, “Look, our security policy is working. Racial profiling is effective because there are no attacks, or there are very few attacks. So, that proves that the only people who are really a risk to security are the dark-skinned people, are the people who look like Arabs or like Muslims.” I think that is a very dangerous thing because it creates an incentive for people who live under military occupation to use violence as their form of resistance, and I think that that is the worse form of resistance that they can choose. This is, I think, very concerning.There are also, like you asked, there are also economic ramifications. The economic ramifications are that Israeli companies, and here we have an Israeli company called Avidar, the Avidar Group, which is providing cleaning services, but also security services. It’s one of the biggest, but it’s certainly not unique or special compared to the other companies. What they’re saying, basically, is racial profiling can save effort and save resources, “We’re only focusing on people who look suspicious, and people who look suspicious are probably, then, also suspicious.”In numerous interviews and videos and conversations with policy makers, these representatives of Israeli security companies repeat the same message again and again. They say, “We think that the Europeans or the North Americans, they are being naïve because they don’t use racial profiling. It’s naïve to think that you should check everybody the same because that preserves a certain sense of democracy or a certain sense of equality in front of the law and so on. Toss that aside in the name of security. Our methods work better.” They use these methods within Israel, and then they try to export their services outside of Israel by saying, “We are experts.” If you go to the website of Avidar, you will see how they boast that their security guards are highly-trained veterans with experience in things like combating terrorism. What that actually means is picking out people based on how they look.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Avidar Group is a private company, but security in the public space in Israel was not always provided by private companies. In fact, it used to be heavily sourced publicly and a part of the state military apparatus. Especially after, I guess, the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000 that private security companies took over from police. How is the privatization relevant to racial profiling here?
SHIR HEVER: The privatization of security in Israel plays a very big role here because racial profiling is absolutely not new in terms of an Israeli security policy. Has been always part of the policy of the Israeli military, the Israeli police, so the state-operated institutions. In fact, when the second Intifada started in October 2000 the Israeli government created a new security force of public transportation security guards. They had very scary uniforms and they would go around bus stations, like the Tel Aviv central bus station, but not only that one, asking people, “How are you today?” Just listening to the answer based on the accent they would demand ID if that person answered with an Arabic accent. If somebody looks like an Arab or like a Muslim they would demand ID as well.That special force of security guards was a special force combined from people who were previous combat soldiers in the Israeli military. They were highly trained and well-equipped, but because public transportation exists everywhere and there are buses and trains all over the country by definition, this turned out to be a very, very expensive force. In order to cut cost the Israeli government did what many Western governments do and they think they’re going to cut cost by privatizing, when it rarely actually works. Instead, they go to private companies who don’t train their security guards so well, don’t equip them so well, but they make some profit for themselves. In the end they cost about the same, or even more.These private companies, they do the same thing. There is no new policy of racial profiling. The difference, however, is that when these people were state employees and they felt that they were part of the national project of maintaining Jewish dominance in the State of Israel and in the Palestinian area, then those people were very committed to their task, and they also understood that they have to be quiet about it, that these policies of racial profiling are something that everybody understands they’re doing and they have to keep on doing, but they don’t go to the press about it. They don’t write down instructions on paper that can later be traced that these are their policies.The difference with the private security companies, the private security companies don’t care so much if these papers are leaked to the press. We do keep written records of these orders. Some of these workers, which are very mistreated, the security guards are underpaid and receive very little benefits, they become very upset with the situation. Those who decide to protest about the racial profiling are quickly laid off, and so they have no incentive why not to go to the press and tell the full story, which is what we’re seeing now.Of course, the very important reason, which I mentioned before, these private security companies want to export their security technologies to the rest of the world, so they have to hint, at least, that part of their modus operandi is to use racial profiling. So, by privatizing the security operations to private security companies, the Israeli government actually lost its plausible deniability. Now these companies are allowing this information to be leaked, to be published, and now it’s no longer a secret that racial profiling is an established policy of the Israeli security institutions.
SHARMINI PERIES: As we said in the introduction, President Trump said he would like to borrow some of these strategies and tactics used by Israel for racial profiling right here. Also, Shir, this is a practice private companies can carry out in any state, including all over Europe where this kind of screen is currently desirable and is also being done by hiring some private companies. Of course, the state itself, we know, it has been carrying out these practices.
SHIR HEVER: Yes, absolutely. In Europe, especially in Northern Europe and in Western Europe, when countries such as The Netherlands or Belgium, Denmark, are attracted to hire Israeli security companies to provide them with various security solutions for airports or for border passes and so on, they quickly run into conflict. They quickly run into friction because the Israeli companies, even if they’re hiring local staff, they say, “But, yeah, we are going to create a separate area where we’re going to keep the people with the dark skin or people who we believe are Muslims. We are going to have security guards approach certain people on the line and take them out if we consider them to be suspect just by how they look.”Then in those countries, in Democratic countries, this is considered wrong, illegal, immoral, and so these countries have a problem with this kind of operation. I think in the United States we’re now seeing a very concerning transition because the United States does have very clear legislation about police not being allowed to pull somebody over just because of how they look. We know that this is happening, even though it’s illegal. When it can be proved when somebody, an African-American, can prove that they were pulled over just because they’re African-American, then the police has to compensate them, or there is some kind of legal process. They have some kind of legal protection in that situation.What Trump would like to see, not only Trump, but many senior officials at the U.S. administration close to the arms companies, to the Neocons and so on, they would like to see a change in the legal status to allow those sort of policies to be used. So, for example, the wall that Trump wants to build along the border of Mexico, there are already many kind of obstacles that the United States already built along that border, and Israeli companies are playing a very large role along that wall or along those sections. By bringing these Israeli companies they’re also bringing the so-called experts who can tell the American administration, “You know, what we can offer you is security guards that are trained to stop people by the way that they look.” At the moment that this is accepted, then the whole protection of being equal in the eyes of the law under a Democratic country is lost.
SHARMINI PERIES: Shir, many topics unraveled here that we could explore further, but our time is up. Thank you so much for joining us today.
SHIR HEVER: Thank you, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.