In October of 1994, there was a terrorist attack in the cafe district of Jerusalem. This was the first Palestinian attack in the city in several years and it happened right in front of the hotel where I was staying. Needless to say, it was terrifying. In the final analysis, 2 Israelis were killed, 2 terrorists were killed, and 13 other bystanders were wounded in a terrorist attack by Hamas in retaliation for something that happened in 1991. The terrorists opened fire in a busy shopping and cafe district across from our hotel that normally would have been even more crowded if it had not rained earlier in the evening.
I think about this event every time there is a breakdown in security at an airport. The day after this attack, we were due to leave Israel and because we had been traveling in Syria and Jordan, we had to explain ourselves to airport security.
This is what I wrote in my journal at the time:
The next day we were due to leave, and probably due to the terrorist attack and partly due to the Syrian and Jordanian stamps in our passports, we were interrogated at the airport for 45 minutes before we were allowed to proceed. Why did you visit Syria? Did anyone offer to guide you there? Did anyone ask you to deliver a package or letter for him or her? Did you ever leave your baggage unattended? They would question us for a while--separately--then our questioners would get together to compare our stories, then someone new would ask us most of the same question again. It was exhausting. After all that however, they never just went ahead and searched my luggage. I thought that would have been easier, but interrogating is probably a lot more intimidating. I was getting so tired, I was about ready to break down and admit everything until I remembered I had nothing to admit.Airport screeners in Israel are almost all (if not all) college educated and ex-military. They do not care about your shoes or your water bottle or your little metal container of lip gloss. They want to know where you have been, why you went there, who you met. They don't care about your stuff, they care about you. This is what airport screening should be. I am a white woman and do not fit the "profile" of terrorist, yet they had perfectly legitimate reasons for questioning me at length.
Airport screening in this country is a joke. It is window-dressing...designed to make you FEEL safe but does nothing to actually make you safe. If we were serious about airport security, we would take lessons from the Israelis. In case you were wondering, in 2008, the airline was named by Global Traveler magazine as the world's most secure airline.
This is how they do it:
Passengers are asked to report three hours before departure. All El Al terminals around the world are closely monitored for security. There are plain-clothes agents and fully armed police or military personnel who patrol the premises for explosives, suspicious behavior, and other threats. Inside the terminal, passengers and their baggage are checked by a trained team. El Al security procedures require that all passengers be interviewed individually prior to boarding, allowing El Al staff to identify possible security threats. Passengers will be asked questions about where they are coming from, the reason for their trip, their job or occupation, and whether they have packed their bags themselves. The likelihood of potential terrorists remaining calm under such questioning is believed to be low (see microexpression). At the check-in counter the passengers' passports and tickets are closely examined. A ticket without a sticker from the security checkers will not be accepted. At passport control passengers' names are checked against information from the FBI, Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Scotland Yard, Shin Bet, and Interpol databases. Luggage is screened and sometimes hand searched. In addition, bags are put through a decompression chamber simulating pressures during flight that could trigger explosives. El Al is the only airline in the world that passes all luggage through such a chamber. Even at overseas airports, El Al security agents conduct all luggage searches personally, even if they are supervised by government or private security firms.Decent airline security is possible but it all comes down to money. So far as I can tell, there is no political will to put highly educated, highly paid people in TSA positions. I'm sure someone, somewhere, did a cost analysis and decided a few lives lost to a terrorist attack were not worth the cost of proper security.
Fly at your own risk.
...and in case you're wondering, I still fly. I love to fly. The terrorists have not scared me away.