FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Have Israeli Spies Infiltrated International Aiports?

by JONATHAN COOK

South Africa deported an Israeli airline official last week following allegations that Israel’s secret police, the Shin Bet, had infiltrated Johannesburg international airport in an effort to gather information on South African citizens, particularly black and Muslim travellers.

The move by the South African government followed an investigation by local TV showing an undercover reporter being illegally interrogated by an official with El Al, Israel’s national carrier, in a public area of Johannesburg’s OR Tambo airport.

The programme also featured testimony from Jonathan Garb, a former El Al guard, who claimed that the airline company had been a front for the Shin Bet in South Africa for many years.

Of the footage of the undercover reporter’s questioning, he commented: “Here is a secret service operating above the law in South Africa. We pull the wool over everyone’s eyes. We do exactly what we want. The local authorities do not know what we are doing.”

The Israeli foreign ministry is reported to have sent a team to South Africa to try to defuse the diplomatic crisis after the government in Johannesburg threatened to deport all of El Al’s security staff.

Mr Garb’s accusations have been supported by an investigation by the regulator for South Africa’s private security industries.

They have also been confirmed by human rights groups in Israel, which report that Israeli security staff are carrying out racial profiling at many airports around the world, apparently out of sight of local authorities.

Concern in South Africa about the activities of El Al staff has been growing since August, when South Africa’s leading investigative news show, Carte Blanche, went undercover to test Mr Garb’s allegations.

A hidden camera captured an El Al official in the departure hall claiming to be from “airport security” and demanding that the undercover reporter hand over his passport or ID as part of “airport regulations”. When the reporter protested that he was not flying but waiting for a friend, El Al’s security manager, identified as Golan Rice, arrived to interrogate him further. Mr Rice then warned him that he was in a restricted area and must leave.

Mr Garb commented on the show: “What we are trained is to look for the immediate threat – the Muslim guy. You can think he is a suicide bomber, he is collecting information. The crazy thing is that we are profiling people racially, ethnically and even on religious grounds … This is what we do.”

Mr Garb and two other fired workers have told the South African media that Shin Bet agents routinely detain Muslim and black passengers, a claim that has ignited controversy in a society still suffering with the legacy of decades of apartheid rule.

Suspect individuals, the former workers say, are held in an annex room, where they are interrogated, often on matters unrelated to airport security, and can be subjected to strip searches while their luggage is taken apart. Clandestine searches of their belongings and laptops are also carried out to identify useful documents and information.

All of this is done in violation of South African law, which authorises only the police, armed forces or personnel appointed by the transport minister to carry out searches.

The former staff also accuse El Al of smuggling weapons – licensed to the local Israeli embassy – into the airport for use by the secret agents.

Mr Garb went public after he was dismissed over a campaign he led for better pay and medical benefits for El Al staff.

A South African Jew, he said he was recruited 19 years ago by the Shin Bet. “We were trained at a secret camp [in Israel] where they train Israeli special forces and they train you how to use handguns, submachine guns and in unarmed combat.”

He added that he was assigned to “armed security” in the early 1990s. “Armed security is being undercover, carrying a weapon, a handgun and at that time as well, sounds crazy but we carried Samsonite briefcases with an Uzi submachine gun in it.”

Mr Garb claimed to have profiled 40,000 people for Israel over the past 20 years, including recently Virginia Tilley, a Middle East expert who is the chief researcher at South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council. The think tank recently published a report accusing Israel of apartheid and colonialism in the Palestinian territories.

“The decision was she should be checked in the harshest way because of her connections,” Mr Garb said.

Ms Tilley confirmed that she had been detained at the airport by El Al staff and separated from her luggage. Mr Garb said that during this period an agent “photocopied all [her] documentation and then he forwarded it on to Israel” – Mr Garb believes for use by the Shin Bet.

Israeli officials have refused to comment on the allegations. A letter produced by Mr Garb – signed by Roz Bukris, El Al’s general manager in South Africa – suggests that he was employed by the Shin Bet rather than the airline. Ms Bukris, according to the programme, refused to confirm or deny the letter’s validity.

The Israeli Embassy in South Africa declined to discuss evidence that it, rather than El Al, had licensed guns issued to the airline’s security managers. Questioned last week by Ynet, Israel’s largest news website, about the deportation of the airline official, Yossi Levy, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, said he could not “comment on security matters”.

A report published in 2007 by two Israeli human rights organisations, the Nazareth-based Arab Association for Human Rights and the Centre Against Racism, found that Israeli airline staff used racial profiling at most major airports around the world, subjecting Arab and Muslim passengers to discriminatory and degrading treatment in violation both of international law and the host country’s laws.

“Our research showed that the checks conducted by El Al at foreign airports had all the hallmarks of Shin Bet interrogations,” said Mohammed Zeidan, the director of the Human Rights Association. “Usually the questions were less about the safety of the flight and more aimed at gathering information on the political activities or sympathies of the passengers.”

The human rights groups approached four international airports – in New York, Paris, Vienna and Geneva – where passengers said they had been subjected to discriminatory treatment, to ask under what authority the Israeli security services were operating. The first two airports refused to respond, while Vienna and Geneva said it was not possible to oversee El Al’s procedures.

“It is remarkable that these countries make no effort to supervise the actions of Israeli security personnel present on their territory, particularly in light of the discriminatory and humiliating procedures they apply,” the report states.

JONATHAN COOK is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

 

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 28, 2017
Abel Cohen
The Trojan President: America Never Saw It Coming
February 27, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Media Ban! Making Sense of the War Between Trump and the Press
Dave Lindorff
Resume Inflation at the NSC: Lt. General McMaster’s Silver Star Was Essentially Earned for Target Practice
Conn Hallinan
Is Trump Moderating US Foreign Policy? Hardly
Norman Pollack
Political Castration of State: Militarization of Government
Kenneth Surin
Inside Dharavi, a Mumbai Slum
Lawrence Davidson
Truth vs. Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Extradition Saga of Kim Dotcom
Robert Fisk
Why a Victory Over ISIS in Mosul Might Spell Defeat in Deir Ezzor
David Swanson
Open Guantanamo!
Ted Rall
The Republicans May Impeach Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Why Should Trump―or Anyone―Be Able to Launch a Nuclear War?
Andrew Stewart
Down with Obamacare, Up with Single Payer!
Colin Todhunter
Message to John Beddington and the Oxford Martin Commission
David Macaray
UFOs: The Myth That Won’t Die?
Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail