Israeli Security Guards Strip-search Arab Israeli Couple in Greece Airport

Sahar Issawi and her husband, Firas Asali, were also asked to present their marriage license. One other couple on the same return flight from Crete to Israel was strip searched. They were also Arab citizens

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Issawi in Jerusalem, May 10, 2018
Issawi in Jerusalem, May 10, 2018Credit: Emil Salman

An Arab Israeli couple was asked to present their marriage license before boarding a plane to Israel from Greece on Sunday. The couple also claimed they were subjected to a degrading security check.

Sahar Issawi and her husband, Firas Asali, who were asked for their marriage license by Israeli security personnel before they could board an Israir flight to Israel from Crete.

Issawi, a journalist, and Asali, a lawyer, both Israeli citizens, came to Heraklion Airport in Crete on May 10 for their flight back to Israel.

“When we got to the check-in counter we were greeted by an Israeli security guard, who then called a female security guard to take me so we could be questioned separately,” says Issawi.

The security guard asked her where she lived in Israel and what she did, and she showed her card from the Government Press Office. Then, she said, “The security guard asked me how long I knew my husband, how many times we had traveled together, when, and to where.

“Then she surprised me by asking if I had my marriage license with me. I said, ‘Seriously? Does anyone travel with their marriage license?’” Isawi said, adding that her husband was asked similar questions.

The humiliation continued, Issawi said, when the chief security officer informed them that their bags would be checked without them present and that they’d have to be physically searched, which meant removing her bra and her husband his pants. Only one other couple on the flight, also Arab, had to undergo this search. Since there was no other flight to Israel for several hours, they saw no choice but to undergo the invasive search.

At some point Issawi began to video what was going on with both her cell phone and her husband’s. After they underwent the body search, she said, the Israeli security supervisor “made it clear that we could not get on the flight without handing over our phones. He took our phones for two hours and when he gave them back we understood that he had erased the video and all the documentation from the airport.”

She added that when she went to the bathroom at the gate before the flight, a male security officer entered the women’s bathroom with her. A security guard was also seated in front of them on the flight. The couple recently wrote a letter of complaint to Israir, demanding compensation and a public apology, otherwise they’d pursue legal action.

Israir said in response, “Israir does not carry out and is not permitted to carry out security checks required for boarding the plane. These inspections are carried out only by the security officers authorized by the state authorities.” El Al airlines, which is responsible for the security operations said, “The security checks are carried out as per the guidelines of the state authorities. The passengers were checked in accordance with regulations.”

According to Issawi, “There were no security considerations here, it was all built on profiling. If you’re an Arab, you’re a suspect.”