CHICAGO, ILLINOIS: An Arab-Muslim woman filed a complaint Monday against El Al, the national airline of Israel, alleging she was prevented from boarding a flight on July 18, 2023, and subjected to invasive screening by officials because of her ethnic background and faith.
Noor Wazwaz, an American citizen and journalist, said she was attempting to board the El Al plane in Newark to visit relatives in the West Bank when El Al Israeli security agents and American TSA, or Transportation Security Administration, officials put her through a special screening process that included an extensive body pat-down and removal of clothing.
She was subsequently barred from the flight when they alleged her laptop tested positive for “explosives.”
An official of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee called the accusation of “explosives” ludicrous, asserting the claim is often used to block Palestinian Americans from traveling to visit families and friends in the occupied territories.
“It is unconscionable that a US citizen would be subject to such treatment, let alone having it happen here in the US. There is no justification for the treatment she faced, and we demand an immediate investigation into all of El Al’s policies,” said Abed Ayoub, the ADC’s national president, in a statement.
“There is no room for airlines who create different rules and procedures for passengers of different racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. There is no justification of allowing Israeli security personnel to target our community members at American airports. The treatment Ms. Wazwaz faced has been historically faced by US citizens of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim backgrounds while flying El Al and continues until today.”
Ayoub stated that Wazwaz managed to book a different flight but was then detained for a long period by Israeli security at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv when she arrived days later. Wazwaz charged that Israeli security also deleted documents that were on her cellphone, which went through extensive security examination.
Although Israeli security asserted the laptop tested positive for “explosives,” Ayoub stated that they did not do any additional testing or screening and also denied Wazwaz an opportunity to challenge the claims.
“Among the demands made of Ms. Wazwaz (by Israeli officials) was an accounting of every contact in her phone that had a Palestinian or Israeli country code,” Ayoub stated.
“When Ms. Wazwaz’s ordeal finally ended and she arrived at her destination, she discovered that her bags had clearly been searched and ransacked though no note was placed indicating such a search.”
The ADC complaint is embarrassing for Israel which has been lobbying to win special privileges under the US’ Visa Waiver Program, which would allow Israelis to travel to the US with minimal security requirements.
To win support for inclusion in the visa-waiver program, Israeli officials in early July declared that US citizens, regardless of background, would be allowed to travel through Israeli ports of entry open to tourists.
That assertion prompted America’s Department of Homeland Security to release a statement on July 19, 2023, further strengthening support for visa-waiver approval.
“DHS welcomes these steps by Israel toward meeting the Visa Waiver Program requirements. The United States will engage with the Government of Israel on its implementation of its new travel policies. For entry into the Visa Waiver Program, all of the Program’s mandatory requirements must be satisfied. The Department is working closely with the Government of Israel in its efforts to meet those requirements, in furtherance of our shared goal that Israel join the Visa Waiver Program.”
Historically, Americans of Arab heritage have been singled out by Israel for special scrutiny and physical searches before being allowed to board El Al planes in New York, and also when they arrive at Ben Gurion Airport.