Three Palestinian women, all citizens of Israel, are suing two Israeli airlines for an “intrusive body search”, alleging racial profiling by security personnel in Belgrade ahead of a flight to Tel Aviv.
As reported by Al Jazeera, the young women allege that the incident last October “went well beyond a pat-down and amounted to sexual assault”. One of the women fainted during the strip search.
The ordeal, which exceeded two hours, “during which the women say they were threatened with being denied permission to board the plane if they did not agree to a strip search”.
The women’s tickets were bought from Arkia Airlines, “but El Al handles security checks for all Israeli airlines, including flights bound to Israel”.
The women say they were the only passengers pinpointed for extra screening. “I overheard the chief security officer tell [a female officer] that if I did not take off my bra I will not get on the plane”, one of the plaintiffs told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity.
“I couldn’t speak. It was a shock. I completely undressed the upper part of my body. It was painful”.
Awni Bana, the lawyer representing the three women, told Al Jazeera that his clients were subjected to a strip search simply because they were Arab.
“The search was unwarranted. The women were not acting in a suspicious manner and there was no intelligence suggesting that the women posed a security threat”, said Bana.
The defence has until 20 October to answer the charges, after which the court will appoint a trial date in Tel Aviv.
Al Jazeera cited John Coyne, an expert on border security, who said that strip searches “should be a security measure of last resort and should be underpinned by an evidence-based assessment that on the balance of probabilities, the person is concealing something that represents a threat”. “It should also be undertaken in a respectful manner that seeks to protect the subject’s modesty and by a person of the same gender”.
In a statement sent to Al Jazeera, El Al said that its security procedures were in accordance with all relevant laws and regulations, noting: “Every action taken by any El Al security employee is closely monitored and debriefed. It goes without saying, that El Al does its very best to keep every security procedure respectful and tolerant”.
Shatha Amer, a lawyer for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said that the policy of ethnic profiling by Israeli airlines is “not new”, adding: “By default, you are put under suspicion if you are an Arab”.