East Jerusalem Athlete Loses Luggage to Israeli Airport Security

Taekwondo expert Mohammed Juda was told his personal effects would arrive in Seoul two days later; he's still waiting.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Mohammed Juda in South Korea.
Mohammed Juda in South Korea.Credit: Shady Dajani
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

A young Palestinian from East Jerusalem was compelled to board a flight at Ben Gurion Airport last week without his shoes, coat, laptop, camera and carry-on hand luggage, which had been seized by security personnel.

Mohammed Juda, 22, is an athlete and expert in Taekwondo, the Korean martial art. After excelling in Taekwondo contests in Turkey two years ago, he received a scholarship for a month’s course at the International Taekwondo Academy at Kyung Hee University.

He told his family after the November 7 flight to Seoul that security officers had ordered him to undress, interrogated him and then confiscated his personal effects. He said he was left completely naked and feeling deeply humiliated.

Juda was told his hand luggage would arrive at Seoul Airport two days later, But, as of Tuesday - six days after the flight - they had not yet arrived.

The Airport Authority said yesterday that Juda’s luggage was given to Uzbekistan Airways a day after his flight and had been put on a flight to Tashkent on Tuesday, from where it was to be sent to Seoul.

Juda said he he had told the security inspector that he had no other shoes or jacket and that it was cold in Korea. (The temperature in Seoul was 4-8 degrees Centigrade on November 8 and dropping.) Juda called one of his uncles from the airport and asked him to persuade the inspector not to confiscate his new shoes. The uncle said the inspector told him those were the security orders and he was not at liberty to discuss them.

Juda also told the inspector that the academy he was going to was a six-hour drive from Seoul and it would be hard for him to leave the intensive studies and return to the airport to collect his possessions. The inspector remained unswayed. Juda received open-backed clogs instead of his shoes. Since arriving in Seoul he has been taken sick, he told his family.

Airport Authority spokesman Ofer Lefler said the authority regretted “the passenger’s feelings due to the security check at the airport. We intend to send him an apology letter, as we do whenever the security constraints require us to carry out such procedures.”

Lefler said that according to security regulations, certain effects that set off the alarm during examination must be checked again, to make sure there is no danger to the passengers and flight.

“After completing the check, Mr. Juda was sent to board his flight with all his hand luggage, apart from the items that set off the alarm and required additional checking, which takes time. Therefore, it was not possible to hand them to the passenger before his flight,” he said.

Lefler denied that Juda had been stripped of his clothes.

A former security officer at Ben Gurion Airport told Haaretz that the luggage of certain groups, including Palestinians, is taken for thorough inspection to make sure no explosives are hidden in them. The security personnel, although acting on orders of the Shin Bet security service, are Airport Authority employees and the authority is responsible for returning the luggage to its owners.

The man said Palestinians, especially young ones, are almost automatically subject to the strictest, most invasive examination. The security officers’ task is to prevent a terror attack and to do so they must check items that cannot be excluded as bombs with certainty or whose matter density, as indicated in the initial examination, was similar to that of explosives. These items undergo an atmospheric examination in a cell simulating the pressure conditions inside a plane, he said.

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