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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Fighting Toothpaste

New security measures are in effect in all airports in Europe. If one wants to take liquids or gels on board - e.g. toothpaste, deodorant, cream, lisptick, etc. - these need to be placed in a transparent, resealable plastic bag and taken out for security scanning. The liquids/gels need to be in containers of less than 100ml each, and no more than 1l in total.

I was unfortunate enough to be travelling to Europe on the day these new measures came into effect - Monday of last week. I went through four different European airports during the week and in all of them chaos reigned (except for Heathrow, where these measures are actually more lenient than the ones that were in effect for the past few months). The security lines were unbelievably long. The security personnel were busy checking containers to see whether the 100ml limitation was being violated, scarcely giving the passgengers themselves a second look. Debates raged between security personnel regarding whether this or that item qualified as liquid or gel. My instant shoe polish sponge was taken out from my carry-on as it contained a tiny capsule of shoe polish, which unfortunately was in liquid form.

In short, it is clear that the Western world has given up the fight against terrorism in favour of fighting toothpaste. I don't blame them. It is much easier to fight toothpaste than it is to fight terrorists...

On a more serious note, these security measures seem to indicate, once again, that the entire approach is wrong. In Ben Gurion airport, the security machines (x-ray, chemical scanner, etc.) are a secondary measure; the focus is on the PERSON and not on the LUGGAGE he or she are carrying. Security personnel question each passenger and only those that arouse suspicion or fit a certain profile are subject to a thorough search. Profiling, a taboo concept in the "enlightened" world, prevents Americans and Europeans from adopting this rational and effective approach to airport security. For them, a 90-year-old nun's bag poses the same security threat as that of a bearded youngster carrying a Pakistani passport. I whisk through security in Israel because I carry an Israeli passport and travel often, but my European colleagues - sharing this profile in their countries - must undergo the same security ordeal I go through as a foreigner in Europe. Their toothpaste is as suspicious as mine is...

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