Intuition can mean life or death

December 10, 1999

MY American editor was most unhappy. “I will never fly El Al again,” she said. ”It may be the safest airline in the world, but nothing is worth that much trouble. And humiliation. And frustration.”

She had come to Britain by Israeli 747 and her interrogation had delayed the flight by more than an hour.

“I cannot ever remember when anyone asked me the same questions so many times,” she said. ”Even when my children are asking, ‘Is it Christmas yet?’ – even they take No for an answer in the end. But El Al don’t seem to know the meaning of the word ‘No’.

“Am I Jewish? No. Am I a member of any proscribed organisation? No. Have I left my baggage unattended? No. Am I carrying any parcel on a friend’s behalf? No. Am I Jewish? NO! Am I a member of . . . ” NO! And on and on it goes.

”For more than two hours. I am never late for anything, I am always early. But by the time El Al were convinced I was not Osima bin Laden in disguise, the plane had been sitting on the tarmac for about 60 minutes.

“And everyone was staring as I boarded. I felt like saying, ‘I’m the terrorist you’ve been waiting for.’ In fact, the questions had gone on so long, I was on the brink of a confession.

”It was like the Inquisition – I would have said anything to get out of there. ‘Yes, I’m a hijacker. Yes, there’s a bomb in every bag. Yes, I personally started the Yom Kippur war. Now can I go please?'”

I am glad she didn’t say that. El Al security agents are not selected for their sense of humour.

For an Israeli Jew, travelling El Al is mildly disconcerting – where most airlines strain to emphasise the safeness and friendliness of jet travel, this company fixes its anti-terror lasers on every passenger even before the check-in desk.

Born in Tel Aviv and travelling on a national’s passport, with a famous face, I am usually made to feel like a suspect for only a matter of minutes.

An American Catholic who has chosen El Al for no reason other than a travel agent’s recommendation, and who is inclined to react to close questioning with anger and sarcasm, might not clear the interview room so quickly.

As I approach with my ticket, a uniformed guard – always an Israeli, whatever the airport – invites me to stand beside a desk. The questions are formal and brief, but I am aware that my face is being closely scrutinised at every moment.

I take care to use open, honest body language, keeping my hands away from my face and my chest towards the guard.

This is anti-terrorist policing at its simplest and most effective, using humankind’s finest weapon – intuition.

The airline, of course, will discuss no aspect of this. Spokesman Nahman Kleiman says: “What makes El Al security better than others? Because we don’t discuss matters of security or disclose our procedures within the media.”

Ex-security chief Tuvia W Livneh hinted at their thoroughness when he revealed: “To search for one piece of luggage from one passenger who left the plane, and to take it out of a 747 container, can take you four hours, and here at El Al we will do it.”

There are electronic scanners which can detect sophisticated devices. A decompression chamber screens every piece of cargo, simulating the low air pressure of a high-altitude flight to uncover barometric bomb triggers.

Mechanical sniffer-dogs search for high explosives such as Semtex which will not show up on X-ray.

But it was the human sixth sense, the sub-conscious signal that set off alarms when Irish passenger Ann-Marie Murphy tried to board a flight from London to Tel Aviv in 1986.

Believing she was flying to Israel to wed her Palestinian boyfriend, Ann-Marie was carrying luggage which he had instructed her to bring. She was in love and she was pregnant. And she was hours away from death at the bridegroom’s hands.

As her lover had asked, this naive young woman had not inspected the bags. Unsettled by something in the woman’s demeanour – perhaps the unconscious antisemitism which had been seeded by her boyfriend or perhaps by the ignorance she displayed of Israeli-Palestinian relations – the security officials decided to take her bags apart.

Sewn into the base of her hand luggage was enough high explosive to rip the Jumbo apart, killing all 387 on board. Including her. And including her unborn child.

Ann-Marie was cleared of any crime – she was the victim of an obscene act of terrorism. The hero of the hour was not an El Al guard or El Al itself, but the human mind. Intuition and a deep knowledge of the psychology of violence had revealed the plotting of a killer who was thousands of miles away.

Facts which were hidden from a woman’s knowledge were plucked from her sub-conscious and hundreds of lives were saved.

Next time you hear a murmur from your mind’s deep recesses, do not be afraid to take action. Sceptics, like bucket-flight airlines, might dismiss it as too much trouble for too little return. But intuition can be a matter of life and death.

Uri Geller’s novels Dead Cold and Ella are published by Headline at £5.99. Mind Medicine is published by Element at £20.

Visit him at and e-mail him at [email protected]


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