Departing British Visitor Delayed at Tel Aviv Airport, Questioned About Arab Partner

Greg Baird, who said he worked many years ago for the UAE airline Emirates, said he was not given an explanation, and was asked mostly about his Israeli partner and his employment with the Emirates

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
Ben-Gurion Airport, this week.
Ben-Gurion Airport, this week.Credit: Eyal Toueg
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

A British citizen who arrived in Israel to visit his Arab partner was delayed for questioning for about three and a half hours last week at Ben-Gurion International Airport on his way out of the country.

The passenger, Greg Baird, said during the security inspection that he was not permitted to go to the restroom or to drink water, despite his requests. He was then permitted to board his flight, but electronic items in his possession were taken from him and sent to him separately.

Baird is in a relationship with an Arab man who lives in a small Jewish community in Israel's north. In the two years of their relationship, they had only met abroad due to coronavirus regulations, and this was Baird’s first visit to Israel.

When he arrived at the airport on Sunday last week for his departing flight, Baird said he was questioned for about an hour and fifteen minutes by a security guard. At check-in he was questioned again for another two hours, his suitcase was unpacked, and he was required to pull down his pants, he said.

Baird reported being questioned by several, different officials who asked him the same things. Most of the questioning, he said, related to his Israeli partner, but also to his former employment with the Emirates, the UAE airline. He said he has not worked for the airline for years and is now a travel consultant.

Baird said he was told that he couldn’t take anything with him on the plane and had to argue with airport personnel to keep his cellphone. The British visitor said that his other belongings were sent to him three days later and that he was told that something had been spotted in his items.

The Israel Airports Authority said in response that security inspections at the airport are mainly performed through the use of technology and are done without regard to sex or gender. “When a warning is received, it is checked out. We regret the time that the inspection took and the feelings that the passenger had,” it said in a statement.

Airport personnel asked him about his partner’s family, Baird said, and when he told them that they toured around the country, he said he was asked if they went to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and he said they had not. As Baird recounted it, he was also asked whether they went to the Temple Mount and when he replied that they had not, he was asked why and he said he is not Muslim. When asked why the partner had not gone to the Temple Mount, they were told that he was not very religious.

It was never explained why he was considered a risk, Baird said, adding that he felt discriminated against by the questions and helpless. He said that he had been promised water that he never received, and that he would never visit Israel again.

“I tried to show him a different picture of Israel,” Baird's partner, who asked to remain anonymous, said. “They ruined everything that I had tried to do.”

As an Israeli Arab, he said he was familiar with security delays at the airport. “My partner’s experience has prompted me to think how routine this has become for me, this violence of questioning. It reminded me that what has been happening with me is not the norm. It’s traumatic.”

“When he wrote to me that it had been a traumatic experience for him, I thought he was exaggerating,” the partner said. “Later I thought he was right. We’ve turned it into something that is taken for granted.”

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