Israeli Arab Musician Barred From Bringing Violin as Carry-on by El Al Flight

Hisham Khoury claims discrimination, says he may sue the airline.

An El Al plane on the tarmac at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Daniel Bar-On

Why does a violin that costs thousands of dollars constitute a threat to the safety of an El Al flight?

Airline security officers refused vehemently to answer this question when it was posed to them by violinist Hisham Khoury (no relation) Thursday morning at Berlin’s Schonefeld Airport, where he was due to board a flight back to Israel after a year of studying abroad.

Khoury, 25, is from Haifa and has a master’s degree in music from Tel Aviv University. He spent the past year at Berlin’s Barenboim-Said Akademie. He told Haaretz from Berlin that when he arrived at the El Al security checkpoint, he was shocked to be told that he couldn’t bring either his violin or his backpack into the passenger cabin and they would have to be sent as checked luggage.

Khoury asked why he, alone of all the passengers, wasn’t allowed to bring his carry-on baggage onboard. He told both the security officer and the shift manager that he was willing to have them conduct any check they wanted, but he could not have his valuable violin placed in the plane’s cargo hold.

“The violin costs several thousand dollars, and I don’t move without it,” he said.

He told the security officers they were welcome to X-ray the violin and knapsack or search them manually, “but they said no, without even examining them, because that’s the order.”

He also said he was asked many questions that bear no relationship to security, “like how much I earn and why I’m returning to Israel. I reminded them that I’m an Israeli citizen; my parents live in Haifa, and I’m returning home.”

Khoury claims that the sole purpose of the officers’ conduct was to humiliate him. “What order forbids taking a violin on the plane? It’s clear that such an order wouldn’t be given to a non-Arab passenger.”

He added that he has flown El Al before, and that this was the first time he was not allowed to bring his violin onboard.

Ultimately, Khoury took a train to a different airport and flew home with a German carrier. The academy, which was paying for his trip, bought him a new ticket. The German airline, he said, gave him no hassles about either the violin or the backpack. Khoury is now looking into the possibility of suing El Al.

In a response, El Al said Khoury was dealt with according to the rules, and “beyond that, we don’t comment on matters relating to security.”