The El Al security checkers abroad are apparently trained to treat anyone who doesn’t come under the category of Jewish ‏(or Christian Zionist‏) tourist with extreme suspicion. This is the conclusion to be drawn from the treatment meted out to 32-year-old Rebecca and her partner Rafiq, 34, who flew from New York to Tel Aviv on December 23.

U.S. couple with Jewish roots didn’t expect El Al’s inquisition

While flying to Israel recently, Rebecca and Rafiq were treated with intrusive suspicion and lost a computer and iPad.

By Amira Hass
Rafiq and Rebecca. Subjected to humiliating body searches by El Al airport security.
Rafiq and Rebecca. Subjected to humiliating body searches by El Al airport security. Photo by Amira Hass

The El Al security checkers abroad are apparently trained to treat anyone who doesn’t come under the category of Jewish ‏(or Christian Zionist‏) tourist with extreme suspicion. This is the conclusion to be drawn from the treatment meted out to 32-year-old Rebecca and her partner Rafiq, 34, who flew from New York to Tel Aviv on December 23.

Rafiq ‏(a pseudonym, at his request‏) is the grandson of a Jewish woman from Germany – a refugee who came to Palestine in the 1930s and married a Lebanese Muslim man ‏(a leading figure in the Lebanese Communist Party‏). His mother, a native of Lebanon, met his father in East Germany when she was studying medicine there. At an early age, Rafiq moved with his parents to the United States.

He had visited Israel a number of times in the past, so was accustomed to the long questioning to which he is subjected because of his Arab name and his job: director of a peace education institute and workshop instructor on coexistence, tolerance and dialogue inspired by the Koran ‏(though he does not define himself as an observer of any of the three religions in his family background‏).

In addition to the projects he runs in the United States, he frequently conducts education workshops in Muslim countries in Asia and Africa. This time, he was invited by Seeds of Peace for a series of workshops in the West Bank and Israel, including one for Education Ministry inspectors about dealing with violence in schools. The latter workshop, held in Petah Tikva, was financed by USAID, the United States Agency for International Development.

For Rebecca ‏(also not her real name‏), this was her first visit to Israel. She teaches art at a junior high school in the Boston area. “What church do you attend?” the security checker at the airport in New York asked her.

“I went to a synagogue for my bat mitzvah,” she replied, astonishing her inquisitor. Her biological father is African-American; her biological mother is Jewish and gave her to a Jewish adoption agency. She has never met her biological parents, but her adoptive family is Jewish in every respect and on Passover Rebecca asked the Four Questions, like all the other children.

However, when answering the security checker’s many questions about Jewish holidays, Rebecca did not know that the matza grown-ups hide on Passover is called the afikoman. She says this – and not only her facial features – made him suspicious.

The two hadn’t intended to fly El Al. The Ukrainian airline from which they had purchased their tickets went bankrupt and they were transferred to the El Al flight. In the check-in line, they were separated for questioning: Rafiq for a brief questioning about, among other things, his life story; Rebecca was questioned for about 20 minutes, among other things about Jewish holidays.

When the investigation was complete they received their tickets and were told they could board the plane, but only with their mobile phones. They were required to put their laptops and tablets into their suitcases. When they protested, the security checkers told them: “This is the policy. Fly with a different company if you want.” At the exit gate they realized how uniform the policy was as they watched with jealousy the other passengers, busy with their computers and tablets.

Checking every hair

Even before boarding the plane they were given to understand that they had been marked as dangerous: Under guard, they were accompanied to the departure gate. Near the gate, they were escorted into a separate room for a second round of body searches, rummaging in their things and into the email accounts on their phones. In a side room, without any explanation Rafiq was told to remove his shoes, take off his pants and show the soles of his feet. They prodded him, scanned him with a magnetometer and passed an explosives sensor over the elastic of his underpants. He came out and two women took Rebecca into that same room.

After the rummaging in her hand luggage came the pawing of her body. Rebecca was told to remove her bra, which was passed through the scanner. She says the security checkers “poked their hands in a very intimate way, without saying anything. And then I was told to take off my jeans because something wasn’t right with the button.”

She said she was uncomfortable and relates that “the security checker continued to touch me in a very unpleasant way. I started to cry and said I didn’t want to fly. She said to me, ‘Calm down. I know this isn’t pleasant but there isn’t any alternative, otherwise you won’t be able to fly.’ She checked my hair – each hair. I told her I wanted Rafiq to come into the room. She said he was already on the plane. But that couldn’t be, because his boarding card was with me. And then she again told me to take off my pants, and started checking me in very intimate places.”

After all this, Rebecca was told to change her shoes, bra and pants as a condition for boarding the plane. They subsequently let Rafiq into the room and someone brought her a change of clothing from her suitcase. Even before she started getting dressed, a male security checker also entered the room. Rebecca says she shouted: “’I don’t want men in here!’ and I’m standing in my underpants and crying.” Finally, they relented on the issue of the bra.

When they landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport, and after passport control, Rebecca was questioned again, for about an hour and a half. They repeated most of the questions she had been asked in New York. She was also asked to supply names, telephone numbers and email addresses of friends in Israel. She replied that she did not remember them by heart.

“As a woman I have never been stripped like that,” she said two days after they landed, still upset. “As a woman, as an African-American, I am very aware of the layers of discrimination and snubbing, but I thought that at least here, as a Jew, I was safe.”

Still waiting

When they collected their suitcases, the two found that their clothes and belongings had been mixed up and there was no trace of Rafiq’s computer or his iPad. It was evident that Rebecca’s iPad had been opened and read. The jeans and shoes she had been made to change were lost. Upon their return to the United States on January 1, they did not get their belongings back.

During his time in Israel, Rafiq was supposed to have instructed workshop counselors in two African countries online. This turned out to be very difficult without his computer. For want of the computer, he also missed a deadline for submitting project funding applications. Three weeks after their harsh landing, their belongings have yet to be returned to them.

El Al spokesman Ran Rahav responded that the company “is sorry if the passengers were caused distress. Civil aviation security at the airports, in Israel and abroad, is carried out under the instructions of the official security authorities, and the airline can only act according to instructions. Every decision about the security check process, its extent and nature, is taken solely according to professional parameters and not, heaven forfend, with the aim of infringing on any passenger’s dignity.”

As for the lost belongings, he promised they would be compensated “in accordance with the procedures.”



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  1. owainglyndwr1416 said,

    January 13, 2013 at 15:39

    Turning into Bolshevik Communist Russia everyday !

  2. desertpeace said,

    January 13, 2013 at 15:50

    That would be an improvement.

  3. owainglyndwr1416 said,

    January 13, 2013 at 17:01

    Usually a story like this invites the usual Nazi Germany comparisons but is that charge fair ? In 1939 Dr Alfred Rosenberg German foreign minister (Slavic Jewish Ancestry) opposed settling Jews in Palestine because he believed it would cause unrest in the region and suggested either Guiana or Madagascar instead (The Italians suggested Abyssinia) and his British counterpart agreed and 3 months later the British proposed settling 500 Jews in Guiana as an experiment but those plans were shelved when War broke out.. In 1945 the British already crippled by War debt also had Jewish terrorists to contend with and ship loads of illegal immigrants, You know the rest. It wasn’t for the want of trying on the German side to protect the harmony in Palestine but the powerful Zionist organizations conspired to take Palestine by all and any means at their disposal including terrorism. Dr Alfred Rosenberg was executed for crimes against peace God rest his soul..

  4. Redpossum said,

    January 13, 2013 at 18:48

    Jews were actually treated fairly well under the early days of Bolshevism. Molotov’s wife was Jewish, and many other Jews figured prominently in the early days of International Socialism.

    This is just naked bigotry, no pun intended. The whole strip-search thing is about deliberately humiliating people. With modern technology, no intrusive searches are at all necessary. Zionism is a racist philosophy, and you can even see it in the way they treat their fellow Jews, for example the Haredim not wanting their daughters to go to school with Sephardic girls.

  5. Alfred Rosenthal said,

    January 13, 2013 at 19:32

    The Haredim dont want to work, go to military service or pay taxes. Yet they absorb half the social expenditure of the state.

  6. owainglyndwr1416 said,

    January 13, 2013 at 22:00

    [Haredim not wanting their daughters to go to school with Sephardic girls] That’s sectarian not racism..
    Are the Jews/Zionist Jews racist ? Or are they separatists ? It wouldn’t matter if the Palestinians or Christian minority were Chinese as Race as we define it has nothing to with it .. They want Israel/greater Israel to be a Jewish state period and foreign workers will be treated as virtual slaves and the Ethiopian Jews will fair no better than the migrant worker from say the Philippines. Assimilation is today as it has always been “a non starter” so with that in mind it is safe to say the Israeli leaders are separatists..

    [Jews were actually treated fairly well under the early days of Bolshevism.] Is that surprising considering the Bolsheviks were mainly Jews ? What did Winston Churchill say ? http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/84040038?searchTerm

    Look around you today; there was truth in what Churchill said and he supported Zionism..

  7. Big Man said,

    January 14, 2013 at 12:27

    Such an appalling society. And to think my govt blindly supports it.

  8. Redpossum said,

    January 14, 2013 at 19:42

    Owain, I must respectfully disagree. The Haredim not wanting their daughters to go to school with Sephardic girls is racism masquerading as sectarianism.

    When pressed, the Haredim claimed the essence of their objection was the length of the sleeves of the girls’ school uniforms. The Haredi said that their law required the sleeves to completely cover the wrist of the girl, whereas the Sephardic law required the sleeves to extend 10″ below the elbow, measured on the inside. Bearing in mind that we are talking about girls age 9 to 12, can you really tell me there’s any difference in the two?

    I’m a grown man, albeit not a large one, and 10″ from the inside of my elbow reaches almost to the web of my thumb.

    The sleeve length excuse was blatant ” steer manure”.

  9. owainglyndwr1416 said,

    January 15, 2013 at 19:50

    For the benefit of Desert Peace :

    IDF Officer Acquitted Of Child Execution Charges! He and other IDF officers raped and murdered a Palestinians 13 yr. old child.

    After they raped her she was shot 20 times on her abdomen to hide the horrific rape by the IDF.
    The girl was kidnapped, brought to the Army post, and raped by the soldiers.

    This is a common event, and is why these remote outpost ‘Killings’ of children are 99% girls between the ages of 8 to 15 years-old. After the rape, the monsters then use the children for sport killing. The Captain emptied his clip into her abdomen area to cover up the damage done from the sexual assault.

    This kind of crimes happens to thousands of Palestinian people by IDF through out decades of horrific IDF crimes.

    All the crimes committed by IDF must never be forgotten.
    Justice must still prevail for this little girl..

    The Bolsheviks used to do the exact same thing including the plucking out of the victims eyeballs with Bayonets .. What we have seen happening in Palestine for 70 years has Bolshevik fingerprints all over the crimes .. Ilya Ehrenberg donated his Memoirs to Israel and he set the Red Army off on a rape and murder spree after WWII which will never be equaled in its ferocity and magnitude..

    Communism is pure evil .. You might not agree with me but they are my firm beliefs..

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