The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court ordered the Israel Airports Authority to pay compensation to an Arab professor from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, eight-and-a-half years after she underwent a humiliating security check at the Ben-Gurion International Airport.
The court ordered the payment of 7,500 ($1,880) shekels to Prof. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian in a ruling handed down about two weeks ago.
The court ruled only partially in favor of the plaintiff, without seriously addressing the issue of the security inspection at the airport. In addition to the 7,500 shekels, it also ordered a payment of 2,500 shekels to cover fees for professional services, although the lawsuit had demanded compensation of 75,000 shekels.
Criminologist Shalhoub-Kevorkian, an Israeli citizen who lives in East Jerusalem, and a leading activist in the field of human rights and women’s rights, arrived at Ben-Gurion in November 2006 on her way to an academic conference in Tunis, where she was scheduled to deliver a lecture. While at the airport she was delayed for over three hours for the purpose of an investigation and a preliminary security inquiry by IAA inspectors.
In its decision, the court’s deputy president, Judge Delia Avi-Guy, wrote that the inspection and the comprehensive search of the plaintiff upon her entry into the airport and before boarding the plane, were authorized. But later the judge stated: “I have been convinced that there is a kernel of truth in the words of the plaintiff and a story that describes the humiliation she endured, beyond the security check itself, from which we can also conclude that the accused violated their duty to respect the plaintiff and to safeguard her privacy.”
The judge also noted: “I am therefore convinced that the accused did not handle the plaintiff with sufficient sensitivity, did not show consideration for her distress and her frustration, and did not do enough to guarantee the dignity and privacy of the plaintiff during the inspection of her belongings ... which was, at least in part, not businesslike and overly invasive.”
In response, Shalhoub-Kevorkian said that she was not surprised by the ruling, which constitutes “a typical Israeli decision that supports the entire security inspection procedure undergone by Arab citizens at Ben-Gurion airport.”
Her attorney, Hussein Abu Hussein, said that “the issue of the amount of compensation is marginal compared to the fact that the court chose not to get into the issue of the security inspection – which can be attributed to the fact that the High Court of Justice is in no rush to decide on a petition that has been pending before it for several years.”
Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s complaints were first published in Haaretz about two weeks after the incident, when she reported that her problems began at the entrance gate to the airport. She said that guards at the site ordered her and her taxi driver, a resident of East Jerusalem, to stand to the side. The inspection lasted 40 minutes, during which the taxi and the equipment she had brought with her were examined. Afterward came the inspection at the passenger terminal, during which she was forbidden to speak on her cell phone.
“They treated me as though I have no identity or voice,” said Shalhoub-Kevorkian. “I felt naked in front of the inspectors.” In a letter she wrote after the incident, she described the inspection procedures she had undergone. She explained that when she arrived in the departures hall, and was identified by the security inspectors, she underwent a preliminary inquiry and an inspection by a team of six people. She says that her reading material was scattered about, and her shoes were placed on top of a photo of her daughter.