“Why do you have Arabic in this notebook?”
17-year-old American student strip searched and interrogated in Ben Gurion airport, Israel:
[ Hanna is a “17-year-old American girl” who grew up in a small town in Massachusetts. Because her father is a U.S. citizen born in Morocco, and she was traveling with a notebook that had one page of Arabic writing in it, she was subjected to an interrogation and strip search when leaving Israel’s Ben Gurion airport. ]
“I am a 17-year-old American girl. I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts. My mother is from the U.S. and my father is a U.S. citizen born in Morocco. In the summer of 2016, I went through Ben Gurion Airport. Going into the country I had no issues. Leaving, however, was a different story.
Getting through the initial security check was relatively quick, but the number they put on the back of my passport was a 5 out of 6. The man at security told me I had to bring my bag to oversized luggage, so I made my way there and tried to give the man my bag. The man at oversized luggage asked to see my passport, checked the number on the back, then made me put my bag on a special table. He told me I was all set to go.
I then went to the security check on the way to the terminal. The officer there told me to go through the shortest line, which I later found out was extra security. When it was my turn to get checked, I was sent to the end of a long metal table and was told to dump out all my belongings so another security officer could check them.
After only about 10 minutes of checking and questioning me, the officer said I could pack all my stuff and I was ready to go. He picked up my notebook to hand it to me and it happened to open to the one page of writing in the whole book, a childhood Arabic lesson, which was dated 2012 at the top. He told me he would be back and came back with another man who grabbed the notebook, stared at it, then stared at me. He started by asking, “Why do you have Arabic in this notebook?” then asked, “What connection do you have to Arabs?” When I told him my father is from Morocco, he took my passport and walked away. I stood there for about five minutes watching as the man showed multiple security officers my passport.
He came back with a woman who right away started asking questions like, “What holidays do you celebrate?” “Are you sure you are not Palestinian?” At the end she asked, “What are your parents’ names?” When I answered, “Susan and Ahmed” she said, “and what?” so I repeated “Ahmed.” She grabbed my passport and told me she would be back.
She came back with another woman who told me I would have to go with her. She asked me if I had any weapons on me or anything that could hurt her and did not seem convinced when I answered no. She took me to a security scanner where she made me stand with my hands above my head for a prolonged period of time, even after the scanner was done scanning. She told me I needed to take off my sandals and to sit down. She checked in between my toes and then called someone as she was staring at me. She took me into a little closet room with a curtain and began feeling me to check me, then told me I needed to take off my bra. I gave her a confused look and she said the scanner found something and she needed to check. I took off my bra, handed it to her and she took it and left me standing there with another woman watching me for ten minutes. She came back and felt me and scanned me again and then left me there again. After about 20 minutes, she gave me my bra back and let me get dressed again and brought me back out to the main security area.
At this point I started to shake and cry. It had been about two hours and I was very nervous but also very, very angry. They sat me down and took my things for a final check. Finally, they let me pack up all my things for the second time and leave. They handed me my passport and as I looked on the back they had put a 6 sticker over the 5. I took my stuff and made my way to my gate.
I was thirsty so I went to the little shop near my gate and bought a juice. The woman at the counter asked to see my passport. When she saw the 6, she told me I couldn’t take the juice on the plane with me. I saw that others were allowed to take their liquids on the plane. I was too tired to care so I went and waited at the gate.
At the gate, I thought it was all over, was starting to relax and could finally take a deep breath. My plane was ready for boarding and I was looking forward to resting on the plane and getting home. I got to the gate and gave the woman my passport and boarding pass. She stared at my passport for a second and then said, “You need to come with me.” My heart dropped. I had thought it was all over, but apparently they were not done with me. The lady informed me that they had lost my bag and had located it because of name tags I had left on it. She blamed me for losing the luggage and told me I had to wait there. Everyone else had boarded the plane and I was over at the side waiting. They brought me my bag and told me I had to wait for security to come to check my already checked bag. My plane was scheduled to leave in ten minutes and when I asked if I would still make my flight they ignored me. A security officer came over and asked me some questions about my bag and checked it at the gate of the flight.
Finally, after over two hours of being questioned and strip searched, I was able to board the plane and go home. The bag, which had been searched in front of me at the gate, did not make the flight and was delivered two days later. Rather than scare me off, this experience has made me more determined to help those who suffer much worse every day.”