A member of a Jewish-Arab nonprofit was held up at Ben-Gurion International Airport Saturday night while attempting to board her return flight to San Francisco.
Laura Mandel, a board member of The Abraham Initiatives, told Haaretz that during her security check she was asked, among other questions, "why an American Jew would be interested in relations between Jews and Arabs."
She was ultimately allowed to board the flight – but without her personal belongings.
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The Israel Airports Authority, which is responsible for the security checks, responded that the security inspection processes are "laid out by official sources in the State of Israel and are anchored in Israeli and international law in every aspect related to civilian flight security."
Mandel arrived at the check-in desk, and, over the course of the security check undergone by all passengers flying from Israel, was asked what she did in Israel. She responded that she participated in the 30th anniversary celebration of the establishment of the Jewish-Arab nonprofit, which works to advance integration and equality between the two civilian populations.
The security inspector then turned to his manager and requested additional details about the non-profit.
"He asked for the name of the organization and what we did. Once I told him, he asked for names of other people involved with the organization," Mandel said, "where in Israel we visited and more details about the work."
Mandel said that she was asked at the desk "Why an American Jew would be interested in relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel."
"He asked if I was involved with similar activities back home in the U.S.," she recounted. "At one point I became visibly upset, and he asked me why I was upset and if I was sure I was telling him everything."
After the routine screening of her carry-on luggage, Mandel was asked to undergo an additional, comprehensive pat-down and inspection of her belongings, separately from the other passengers.
She was asked another series of personal questions and was then notified that she would be able to board the plane, but without her luggage.
"The agents then told me that they had found security issues with some of my belongings so I would not be able to take any of my items — not even the items on my person — on board with me," she said. "I would only be able to travel with my boarding pass, passport and some money."
Mandel had to part with her sweater, which she requested to take on the long flight with her as she was dressed in a short-sleeved shirt, her personal hygiene products, cell phone, laptop, glasses, pillow and book. She was asked to deposit all of these in a box and was told that she could get them back only after landing.
"I told them I had one medication I had to take every night before bed and they brought me some water and allowed me to take it in front of them," she said. "I then proceeded to my gate, with only a few minutes to spare."
Security sources clarified that there is no existing protocol in which passengers are requested to take medications under inspector supervision.
The Abraham Initiatives partners with a number of Israeli authorities, including government offices. The joint general managers, Amnon Be'eri-Sulitzeanu and Dr. Thabet Abu Rass, told Haaretz: "The delay and humiliation of a member of our management points to a deterioration in the relations of the state to Arab citizens. Anyone who cares about equality and a shared life, and anyone who is in contact with Arabs – citizens or non-citizens – is tagged as a potential threat. It seems as if the security directives now include harassment not only of peace activists but also of those who act for a shared life between citizens of the state. We will not let this pass, and we plan to act on this issue on the legal level as well."
The Israel Airports Authority, which is responsible for the security checks, responded: "We are troubled by the feelings of the passengers on the basis of the security check at Ben-Gurion Airport. During the security check, the passenger's luggage was flagged and sent for an additional inspection in order to ensure and guarantee that no danger is posed to the security of the passengers and the flight."
The statement went to say the items were sent to the plane's cargo hold together with the passenger, but separated from her physically.
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