Thursday, December 21, 2006


Security update

Tel Aviv University. Seconds later, the guard in the foreground
informed me that picture-taking was not allowed on the campus.

“You want to take the bus?” said the hotel desk clerk in response to my question, “what bus can I take from near here to get to Tel Aviv University?”

I figured her implication was “tourists like you take a taxi because they lavish money on hotel rooms, so why save a few shekels on transportation?” rather than “tourists like you take a taxi because why risk yourself unnecessarily on the bus?”

I’ve decided not to make a thing about riding on buses in Israel, at least outside Jerusalem. (Even my Israeli friends back home said, “uh, maybe you don’t need to ride the buses in Jerusalem – you can take taxis.” Though perhaps they are being overly cautious on my behalf.) Rationally, the likelihood of being a victim of a terrorist act here is lower than that of being a victim of some sort of street crime or injury accident in large American cities. But highly publicized suicide bombings on buses in Israel since the eruption of the second Intifada in 2000 leave a mental impression. There’s an actual name for the syndrome of overestimating risks based on shocking anecdotes.

Anyway, you walk freely onto intracity buses in Tel Aviv (intercity buses are another matter – I’m told the bus station with service to Jerusalem has airport-style security). And, thus, the web of security arrangements I’ve experienced so far remains something of a puzzle to me. The story so far:
- Intensive security interview at airline check-in.

- Security guards in some, but not most, busy shops, grocery stores, and restaurants.

- One-at-a-time entrance gate with metal detector wand over torso for downtown shopping mall.

- Random bag inspections at any of these places – no consistent pattern, except for more institutional buildings, which always search, though with varying degrees of thoroughness
At Tel Aviv University, the entrance gate had three security guards standing in front of one of those floor-to-ceiling inter-meshing turnstiles you see in the New York City subways. After snapping this photo of it, the security guard in front walked up to me and politely, but firmly explained that picture- taking was forbidden at the University. I can only assume it’s a security measure, on the theory that photos of the grounds would be useful for planning terror acts on the campus. That made me sad.

At the risk of sounding cliche, the question of security versus freedom is one of life’s great mysteries, right up there with “why do we die, and what happens thereafter?”, “why do bad things happen to good people?”, “why aren’t more women sexually attracted to me?”, and “why do I care so much about that last one?” The tradeoff between security and freedom is probably the fundamental question of government. In the U.S. it seems to be constantly at least in the back of our minds; here in Israel, I find it pushed a bit further to the front.

Half the stories in the Israeli newspapers deal with security in some sense, but two in today’s paper showed how Israelis struggle to keep a balance. A broad security-based ban on Palestinian students studying in Israel was overturned as “unreasonable” by the Israeli High Court of Justice. And Israel’s Mossad (intelligence) chief, Meir Dagan, told the Knesset yesterday that Iran will not get a nuclear bomb before 2009, so that there is plenty of time for diplomatic efforts to block Iran’s nuclear program.

So, you see, it’s not all doom and gloom. And my bus ride was very pleasant.

Is the local paper printed in English?

And are you still doing word verifictionary? There have been some good ones lately.
I'm trying to imagine one-at-a-time entrance gates and metal detector wands at major shopping malls in the States, and failing utterly.
Yeah some parts of the world have gone all weird about picture takinng. When I was inn Europe I founnd out that it was an offence to take someone's picture without their permission. It's also ann offence to take pictures inside department stores because of design patents. So I basically came back from Europe with a lot of pictures of buildings, statues and sunsets cause I wasn't allowed to photograph anything else!
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