Arab Filmmaker Wins Film Award, Israel Airline Security Nabs It

Sun D'Or returns statuette to Sahera Dirbas, 35 days after her film scored top points in Barcelona.

Thirty-five days after returning from Barcelona on a Sun D'Or flight, items belonging to documentary film director Sahera Dirbas, which Israeli security people had removed from her luggage and sent separately, were returned to her. Among them was a bronze figurine she had won at the International Euro-Arab Amal Film Festival in Spain for best documentary - awarded for her film "Stranger in My Home."

The figurine was found and returned on Tuesday, six days after Haaretz requested a response from Sun D'Or regarding its whereabouts. Haaretz was informed that the prize had been found before the company alerted Dirbas.

The award-winning film directed by Dirbas, who was born in Haifa and lives in Jerusalem, has been screened at Israeli cinematheques and abroad. It was among eight films shown at the annual festival, which was held at the end of October. "Stranger in My Home" tells the story of five Jerusalemites, refugees from the 1948 war, who lost their homes in West Jerusalem, and a refugee from 1967 who was evacuated from his home in the Old City's Mughrabi neighborhood.

On November 5, Dirbas made her way home from Spain via Barcelona. After answering questions from Israeli security employees regarding her work and the film festivals in which she had taken part, she was asked to enter a separate room for continued questioning, where a female security guard demanded she remove all her clothing. All of her belongings were taken out of her suitcase, and she was told that four items would be taken for additional examination and sent separately: two chargers for hard disks she had with her, a hair straightener and the bronze figurine. The examination took more than two hours.

When she arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport, she could not find the box with the separate items and filed the standard form for lost luggage. Four weeks later, on December 3, after her telephone inquiries went unanswered, Dirbas' lawyer Reem Alhatib, submitted an official complaint to El Al (to which the security company was said to be connected) and a demand for compensation. In the letter of complaint, Alhatib linked the loss of the prize to a "discriminatory attitude and misuse of the security check to abuse, humiliate and hurt an Arab passenger."

The two hard-disk chargers have yet to be returned to Dirbas.

Sun D'Or spokesman Ron Rahav released the following statement: "The security check was carried out by security personnel in Barcelona as it is carried out for all Israeli airlines, according to regular procedure as directed by the relevant state bodies. During the security check, items were indeed taken from Ms. Dirbas: two chargers, a hair straightener and a bronze figurine she won at a film festival. We apologize for the delay in returning the items to the passenger. The company made great efforts to locate them and indeed, after a careful search, the items were found in Israel and sent to the passenger by messenger. We regret the harsh feelings engendered as a result of the delay in locating the items, but at the same time, Sun D'Or is committed to the highest standard of security. We are in contact with the passenger and we will see to it that she is compensated."

Dirbas told Haaretz that she had been offered a free ticket to Europe.