On Sunday, 30 August 2009, Carte Blanche exposed how the Israeli airlines El Al, was profiling and detaining innocent people.
This is the text of that episode:
This man is part of an undercover experiment on his way to meet a friend at the airport checkin. Filming from a distance is a white scuffy cameraman. They are about to test an allegation that security personell from El Al Airlines will target our man even if he is not one of their passengers, simply because he’s a muslim.
It didn’t take long before El Al approached him.
El Al representative: ‘Hi, how are you? Where are you flying to?’
Undercover man: ‘No, I’m not going anywhere. I’m waiting for a friend of mine.’
El Al representative: ‘Do you have your passport or ID with you here?’
El Al representative: ‘We’re security from the airport here. You’re not flying today?’
Undercover man: ‘You’re from airport security?’
El Al representative: ‘Yes.’
Airport security? No they are not says Jonathan Garb, a former El Al security employee.
Jonathan Garb (Former El Al security employee): ‘This here is a secret service operating above the law in South Africa. We pull the wool over everyones eyes. We do exactly as we please – the local authorities do not know what we are doing.’
Undercover man: ‘Is something wrong?’
El Al representative: ‘No, we just have to… its just the regulations of the airport.’
Jonathan: ‘To members of the public they will represent themselves as airport security – not even as El Al security. It will be a public area and they will tell them that they are not allowed to be standing in this area.’
This is Golan Rice. According to his business card he was the El Al security manager.
Jonathan: ‘But in fact we are working for Israeli Security Agency which is the internal security service of the government of Israel.’
So our undercover footage shows a South African citizen, standing in a public place in his country being grilled by an Israeli secret agent – in full view of other passengers. Golan Rice (El Al Security Manager): 'Hi. I'm the security manager of the company. Can I see your passport or ID?'Undercover man [shows ID]: 'I just showed your friend over here now.' Undercover man: 'What is this about?'Golan: 'What time is he supposed to come… your friend?'Undercover man: 'He said about half past eight he'll be here.'Golan: 'What is your friend's name?'Undercover man: 'Bradley.'Undercover man: 'Why are you asking me all of this?'Golan: 'What time he told you to come?'Undercover man: 'Half past eight.'Undercover man: 'What is this about though?'Golan: 'No, I just want to see why…'Undercover man: 'I'm just waiting for my friend.'Golan: 'You know this airport decided that only passengers that fly can enter this area.'Jonathan: 'You know what the joke is – the way that they are behaving here they can't do it in Israel! They wouldn't dare do it in Israel. They would be taken to the Israeli courts by employees and by the way they treat passengers.' But at OR Tambo, El Al is unhindered.Jonathan: 'What we are trained is to look for the immediate threat – 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 – which is … this is what we do.' Bongani Bingwa (Carte Blanche presenter): 'This year after 19 years with the airline Jonathan was summarily dismissed for leading a labour dispute. Furious at how he was treated he decided to expose his former bosses.'Bongani: 'Why are you talking to us?'Jonathan: 'I am absolutely disillusioned with this whole story, it is like taking me like a piece of paper, crumpling me up and throwing me away.' Bongani: 'But now that they are doing it to you, suddenly you have problems with it?'Jonathan: 'Ya, I admit it. I am not proud of what I have done.'Jonathan's case is in good hands, his lawyer Michael Bagraim is also the President of the Jewish Board of Deputies. Michael Bagraim (Lawyer): 'I think it is an excellent case. I think he has been unfairly dismissed. I don't think they have a good reason for the dismissal, and I don't think they followed the procedure in the dismissal at all. And not only don't I think that, the paperwork proves exactly what I am saying.' 19 years ago El Al approached Jonathan to work for them. Jonathan: 'I arrived at the airport and they tell me,'You're going to do armed security.' Armed security is being undercover, carrying a handgun and at that time as well – sounds crazy – but we carried Samsonite briefcases with an uzzi submachine gun in it.'In preparation, Jonathan went to Israel for secret training. Jonathan: 'It was exciting, I was young, we were dealing with weapons. We were trained at a secret camp where they train Israeli Special Forces. They train you how to use hand guns, submachine guns and in unarmed combat. Bongani: 'For eight years Jonathan did armed security for the airline. Then in 1994 everything changed and only Israelis were allowed to do this, so he became a profiler. His role to identify suspicious passengers and turn on the heat.'Jonathan: 'Did anyone else give you anything to take or deliver to Israel?'Woman: 'No.'Jonathan: 'You need to understand that it's happened before on this airline where people have taken something, and what was in it was a bomb.'Woman: 'No, no.'All El Al passengers are profiled and the profilers are trained to look for specific suspicious signs. Jonathan: 'To give you an idea September 11th – Israeli security would have stopped it on the ground. After September 11 we didn't change our security procedure.September 11… all had one way tickets, they were also not dressed appropriately and they sat in business class so they could run for the cockpit. It was quick and no one could react to them.' El Al's own history is marked by bloody attacks and foiled attempts.1968 A hijacking en route from Rome – 21 hostages are freed after 40 days 1969 Zurich airport – a pilot is killed and a co-pilot injured1970 El Al flight from Tel Aviv to New York is hijacked1985 Deadly attacks at the airports in Rome and Vienna 1986 London – A terrorist attack is foiled2002 Los Angeles International – six Israelis are killedBongani: 'Isn't there a case that this is how El Al should do these things?'Jonathan: 'El Al does excellent security work but they work above the law.'Jonathan has profiled over 40 000 people, one of those was international expert on Middle East politics, Virginia Tilley. Jonathan: 'The decision was she should be checked in the harshest way because of her connections.'Virginia Tilley (Comparative political scientist): 'There are intelligence agents in the security area. They may call them airline security, but there's no difference here. And you have to get through that barricade to get on the plane.'Virginia was taken to an interrogation room where she was seperated from her luggageVirginia: 'And they set me in a room and they put my luggage on a table in another room with an open door. And then after about 5 minutes that door just closed and I couldn't see my luggage any more. Now what were they doing with all that stuff for 45 minutes?' Up until now she could only guess, but Jonathan confirmed what really happened that day. Jonathan: 'She had like a portfolio. Golan Rice took the folder while it was in the back room. She couldn't see what we were doing and photocopied all the documentation and then he forwarded it on to Israel.'Bongani: 'Who was that information passed on to?'Jonathan: 'Well I would imagine that it would be passed on to the Israeli Security Services, it would be of no benefit to El Al the airline.'Bongani: 'So you're saying it's like the CIA doing what they want at OR Tambo?'Jonathan: 'It's like the CIA or the FBI or MI5, but they are hiding behind the guise of the airline.'Virginia Tilley is currently on a two year research assignment at the HSRC. The project brought South African, Palestinian and Israeli scholars together to debate their future. To avoid El Al's treatment they came to South Africa on a different airline, but El Al phoned the travel agent, wanting to know who her visitors were meeting.Virginia: 'For El Al to be interrogating private South African citizens about the agenda of visitors to the Human Science Research Council is entirely inappropriate if not illegal!'Bongani: 'Given the difficulties of the Israeli's situation, isn't it reasonable that they take these kinds of precautions?'Virginia: 'Well there are two problems with that. First is the racial profiling – to judge people and treat them differently on the basis of race is inadmissable in South Africa today. Second the questions go far beyond the only legitimate interest at that point, which is the security of the airplane.'So who are these people that Jonathan says employed him?Jonathan: 'In Hebrew it is known as the Shabak or Shin Bet – it's the internal security service of the Israeli government. They have a reputation of being absolutley ruthless in the way that they have handled the situation in Israel.'As proof Jonathan produced several documents and a letter from El Al's general manager, Roz Bukris, in which she clearly states that the Israeli security agency is his employer, so we gave her a call. Roz Bukris (El Al – General Manager): 'Hello?'Bongani: 'Hello Roz., you are speaking to Bongani from Carte Blanche.'Roz: 'Hi Bongani, can I ask you to call me in about 10 minutes? I'm just busy on an overseas call.'So we tried Roz as she asked, but from then on for three days she ducked and dived, avoiding our calls. Then an email came from El Al in Bedfordview saying that they do not give out any information on their security but we simply wanted to know who Jonathan Garb worked for.Bongani: 'We would like to do an on camera interview. Now your guy has explained to us…'Golan: 'No, I can't.'Security manager, Mr Golan Rice, was also shy. We would have asked him why his weapon is licenced to the Israeli embassy and why he passed on Virginia Tilley's information to Israel, but no deal. The Israeli embassy were equally reluctant to give us answers. Man: 'This is the Israeli embassy…'Bongani: 'That's the Israeli embassy, this is public property…'The ambassador Dov Segev Steinburg told our journalist that we should look for answers from El Al as the embassy had nothing to do with a private company. Journalist: 'Sorry. So, from your side you're saying that the State of Israel is not involved with El Al at all?'Dov Segev Steinburg (Israeli ambassador to South Africa): 'Look, that is what I can tell you… El Al is a private company and with regard to your question you should refer it to them.'But how then does the ambassador explain the weapons used by the new security manager Eli Shukrun and his predecessor Golan Rice. Carte Blanche has confirmed that their arms are licenced to the embassy. If El Al is a private company with nothing to do with them, why would the embassy be so generous as to loan them it's weapons? Bongani: 'A recent El Al ad campaign features passengers flying on the airline as angels. In reality those with a certain look, your experience is likely to be one straight out of hell.' Isaac Mgidi (Mgidi Agricultural Development): 'I wasn't angry but I was burning… it was a classical replica of the old South African apartheid style.' Isaac was so incensed by his treatment at the hands of El Al that he has taken the matter to the South African embassy to Israel. He has a small NGO that assists woman's groups to produce food. The Israeli's are experts in hydroponics so he planned a knowledge sharing trip to Israel and arrived at the El Al check in, in June. Isaac: 'The question I asked is, 'Why are you doing all these things, what is your problem?' And then she said, 'Well, we are protecting the State of Israel.' And I said, 'If you are protecting the State, against who?' She said, 'Against the Palestinians or whoever…' I said, 'But do we look like Palestinians?'' Jonathan explained that 'black' people receive a harsher profiling process than 'white' people. Bongani: 'In South Africa in 2009, that doesn't seem right – surely?'Jonathan: 'Of course its not right, of course its not right.'Isaac and his colleague were taken to this little room behind the check in, told to remove their shoes and their pants, and with their hands up, face the wall. Isaac: 'The first question I had in my mind was, 'Where are the South African security people?' And it became even worse. You have these people that are saying that they are protecting the State of Israel and whereas we are in the Republic of South Africa.'Bongani: 'Can you say no?'Jonathan: 'You can say no. What right have I got as Israeli security to tell someone to open their pants?'So where does El Al get their authority? According to the law only an authorised person – that is the police, the SANDF or any other person appointed by the minister of transport can do this kind of search. This is an extract from the depratment of transport's letter to Carte Blanche:'… There is therefore no basis for appointing El Al or anyone within their security division as authorised person in terms of the Civil Aviation Offences Act. Our records do not show any attempt by the minister to appoint anyone within El Al as an authorised person under the auspices of the Civil Aviations Offences Act.' Isaac and his colleague were forced to leave their laptops and shaving kits in Johannesburg. Even a pair of shoes became an issue. Bongani: 'So they never even got onto the plane.'Isaac: 'No, no, no, they never got on the plane.'Isaac: 'And these were a brand new pair of shoes!'Xolile Nxu's story is not without irony. He was invited to an international conference which looked at ways in which Palestinians could move away from violence to achieve democracy through peaceful demonstrations. Jonathan profiled him too. Bongani: 'Why him?'Jonathan: 'He is 'black', he was travelling to the Palestinian Authority for some meetings and we were told that we had to give him the harshest procedure and we had to search him.' Once Jonathan had profiled him, Xolile was taken to the same small room, interrogated, searched and he too was stripped down to his pants. Xolile Nxu (First Deputy President SAMWU): 'Then this one said, 'Take off your pants,' and we started arguing. He never answered any questions. He kept on repeating, 'Please take off your pants.''Bongani: 'Were they aggressive with you?'Xolile: 'At one stage they were, they were swearing at me.'Bongani: 'What were they saying?'Xolile: 'They were saying, 'You are not going to f***ing go to this country – we will make sure that we follow you.'' Eventually after 2 hours Xolile was escorted onto the plane. He was left in no doubt as to who his interrogators were.Xolile: 'How do you allow intelligence of another country to operate in your country?'Bongani: 'How do you know they were Israeli intelligence services?'Xolile: 'The very people who asked me the questions escorted me to Tel Aviv – how can that be airport security?'So are South African authorities aware of what El Al security is doing here. We were surprised at the muted response we received from them. Perhaps that is exactly what El Al security is counting on. In the meantime South African passengers remain at the mercy of Israeli agents in Johannesburg.Jonathan: 'I once had an innocent man, an elderly man wetting his pants from being continually battered and badgered in the security process. The passenger was my passenger but I was working according to procedure pushing and pushing and just trying to intimidate passengers.'Bongani: 'When that happens, what did you feel?'Jonathan: 'I was embarrased for the gentleman and I was embarrased for myself because nobody deserves to be treated like this and for something like this to happen.'On Thursday Jonathan met with the investigators from the Private Security Industry regulatory authority. They have confirmed that El Al's security people are not registered with them and have opened an investigation into EL AL security's practices. Their investigation continues…
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