El Al ordered to compensate humiliated Israeli Arab passengers
Court orders airline to give NIS 30,000 to two citizens subjected to intense security check in N.Y.
Haifa District Court Wednesday ruled that El Al airlines must compensate two Arab Israelis some NIS 30,000, for humiliating them during security checks in a New York airport. The brothers were closely guarded throughout the checks, their movements were constrained by the airline's security detail, without anything that would determine them as a security risk. One of the brothers was also told he would not be allowed to board the flight home unless he apologizes to one of the guards.
The brothers, Abd al-Wahab Shalabi, 43, and Abd al-Aziz Shalabi, 44, insurance agents from the village of Iksal in the Jezreel Valley, were on their way back from a trip organized by their employer, the Menora insurance company. The brothers were the only Arabs in a group of 17. After they passed the security checks for the Israir flight home, an El Al security guard, Keren Weinberg, began following them all the way to the airplane. According to the verdict, when Abd al-Wahab got up to speak on his cellphone, and then went into the rest room without Weinberg, she scolded him, telling him he must maintain eye contact with her wherever he went. He responded by pointing out that she had no right to speak to him like that, and as long as she wasn't arresting him for any offense, she should "get away from him."
At this point the brothers were approached by an El Al security officer, Ilan Or, who demanded Abd al-Wahab apologizes to the guard, or he won't be allowed onto the flight. "I walked away, sat down on a bench and began crying," Abd al-Wahab said in his affidavit. "I was crying over the humiliation I was put through, despite being a law-abiding citizen all my life, over being humiliated in front of all the other passengers and colleagues, and over being treated differently just because of our national and religious origin. People walked over to me and tried to cheer me up, but I was in shock. I cried like I never cried before in public."
Eventually the passenger approached the security guard, apologized to her and was permitted to board the flight.
The judge, Amir Toubi, stressed in his decision that the security officer Or admitted that neither of the brothers were deemed dangerous by the security check. The law, Toubi wrote, permits El Al security officials to search a person, his luggage or his clothes and ask the passenger for identification. It does not, however, allow them to follow a passenger around after the security check is complete, if there is no real and specific suspicion.
"There is no disagreement that strict security measures are necessary, especially with the increase of the terrorism threat over recent years ... With all due understanding of security needs, there is still no justification for sweepingly ignoring the dignity, freedom and basic right of a citizen in the shade of the 'holy cow' of security," Toubi wrote.
The judge specifically noted that conditioning the boarding of the flight on an apology to the security guard was tantamount to abuse of the passenger and abuse of the power and authority vested in the El Al employee. He noted the guard's conduct was "arrogant" and "insensitive."
El Al stressed that it had no interest in running such checks for itself or other companies, and had asked the state to relieve it of this duty.
Abd al-Wahab Shalabi said the court's decision was "brave" and called on Arabs and everyone opposing discrimination to boycott El Al.