Ric Benjamin

Unexpected support from Israeli airport security

Together Israeli security and I discover that everything is not as it seems when displaying a Palestinian flag and Israeli flag together

My laptop – proudly showing a sticker used to combat pro Hamas and antisemitic slogans in Melbourne, Australia. It shows a common path forward for peace & security for both Israelis & Palestinians. The slogan underneath is from the pro-hostages and anti-war protests saying, “The moderate majority are wakening up.”

Last week I was going through the final security check before boarding my El Al flight to Bangkok at Ben Gurion airport after eight days in Israel when I had the most interesting conversation with the team leader of security.

But first, a little about my eight days in Israel – my first time back since I had left with most of my family late in the afternoon on October 7 ( we had been visiting my youngest daughter who lives in Tel Aviv). By chance, we had been scheduled to fly out then, so there was a sense of relief in getting the family out and guilt at leaving my daughter and Israel in the grip of a reign of terror unprecedented in its history. In the following months, I, like the rest of the world, have felt the pain of the loss of innocent lives on both sides of the conflict and a growing sense of rage as to how this Israeli government has not prioritized the release of the hostages.

Landing back in Israel last week to see my daughter and attend an NIF Study Tour, I was not sure what to expect of family, friends, NIF colleagues and the society in general. I knew that some had friends or relatives who had been massacred on Oct 7; I knew that many had spent long months in the IDF away from family to protect the south and the north of Israel, or were the anguished families left behind praying for their loved ones to return; and I knew both evacuees and survivors of Oct 7. Most fundamentally, I knew that I would see and hear forms of collective trauma that had affected young and old, Ashkenazi and Mizrachi, secular and religious, Israeli and Gazan, Jew/Druze/Muslim and Christian alike.

Over the four days of the NIF study tour we met and heard from a wide variety of people across all those elements of Israeli society. Yes, they were mainly progressive activists in nature – but not all. We had the humbling experience of many Israelis who we met expressing gratitude for our visit to be with them and concern for the levels of antisemitism occurring across the diaspora.  These interactions threw up mixed emotions as they competed with our feelings of the need to be in Israel, to show our support and grief as to what had happened and concern for them.

Throughout the study tour we felt an overwhelming sense of fear of what might be, but also a determination to organize. The fear was of the extreme tendencies of this current government and how they could become more entrenched in Israeli politics, society and the security forces. If this happened, the ideas of Israel as a liberal democracy would vanish. This fear of what could be lost has created a determination to organize. Israelis (across the political and ethnic spectrum) place security above everything else. Social researchers have tracked the public’s sentiment on many things from before and after Oct 7. What is abundantly clear from that research is that when linking this sentiment of personal and national security to the idea of a broad regional political agreement that the overwhelming majority of Israelis support this. So, for those passionate defenders of social justice and human rights the opportunity is now to mobilize and be ready to act when, as seems more likely, this government falls.

Mobilizing of course means to continue to support the protest movement that embodies the pre-Oct 7 democracy camp, and now also includes the significant support for the hostage families and the growing support to end the war with Hamas and prevent a war with Hezbollah and the wider region. Mobilizing also means being organized with policy objectives to wind back the harm that this government has done by its corruption of the political process, the bureaucracy and the security apparatus.  Mobilizing also means working to breakdown the false barriers created to divide Israel and harness the outpouring of selflessness and community cohesion that was shown in the first weeks after Oct 7 – when this government was absent in its response to those devastated in the south and the north.

This idea is not a pipedream.  On July 1, approximately 6,000 Jews and Palestinians attended a conference entitled “Its Time: The Great Peace Conference” at Tel Aviv’s Menora Mivtachim Arena.

But I am not naive. There is much work to be done to carry forward this momentum and to make an impact in a way that will bring Israel back to its founding principles outlined in its Declaration of Independence. This is the work of NIF, its grantees and the thousands of volunteers across the land who care as deeply about ending the war as they do about protecting women’s rights, LGBTQI+ rights, the rights of minorities to live free from police brutality and violent crime, the separation of religion and state, ending the occupation and much more.

So, after a week of these conversations and reflections, what did happen at Ben Gurion airport with Israeli security? Well, the last part of the security process is a final scan of carry-on luggage. Without thinking, I removed my laptop and placed it facing up in the tray (see picture above). On seeing the sticker on my laptop of a stylized Palestinian and Israeli flags shaking hands, the security officer immediately asked me to step aside and called her team leader. This is how the conversation went:

Team Lead: “I noticed you had a Palestinian flag on your computer.”

Me: “Yes, it is holding hands with Israel.”

Team Lead: “Why do you have a Palestinian flag?”

Me: “I live in Melbourne, Australia. Where there are pro-Hamas and antisemitic posters as a response to Oct 7. Some people tear them down or stick over them with other divisive stickers. However, there are a small group of people who are determined to promote respect and dialogue between Jews and Palestinians and Muslims. We do this, in part, by placing these stickers across pro-Hamas and antisemitic posters to show there is another path.”

Team Lead: (Looking at me carefully) “Thank you for doing what you do. Have a good flight.”

About the Author
Ric was a founding director of New Israel Fund Australia in 2011 and has been the chair since 2022.