Turkish tourists claim harassment at Tel Aviv airport


A group of Turkish air passengers claimed they were harassed and intimidated at a Tel Aviv airport on Monday as fallout from the diplomatic rift between Israel and Turkey spreads.

Late last week, Turkey ejected the Israeli ambassador from the country after Israel refused to apologize for a deadly military raid on a Gaza-bound ship that resulted in the deaths of nine Turks last year. Israel expressed regret for the loss of lives but was not prepared to apologize for upholding its naval blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza that the ship had tried to breach.

Reports of airport harassment first emanated from Turkey, where media reported that Turkish passengers on a Turkish Airlines flight said they were harassed at the security check-in in Israel before departing for İstanbul. One man said he was forced to recite a prayer from the Quran. Others said they were patted down.

Turkish travelers arriving in Israel on Monday were also harassed by security, the Anatolia news agency reported. Turkish citizen Mustafa Teke, who travelled to Israel for the nine-day Eid al-Fitr holiday, told the Anatolia new agency that Turkish tourists were searched several times in a special room at Ben Gurion International Airport. He said only Turkish tourists were taken to the special room and that they were humiliated. “We were exposed to a kind of mistreatment which would not even be shown to terrorists,” Teke said.

“Policemen in that room wanted me to take off all my clothing. They searched me both manually and with a detector. They wanted me to take off my pants. I objected to that. They insisted, saying the detector was giving off a signal. I requested a translator. I pushed them back when they touched me. Then, many other police officers came. They asked me why I was refusing to take off my pants. I said I am a Muslim and I cannot do that. They told me that I cannot fly then. ‘No problem; my country will take me back,’ I said. But I said we do not deserve this mistreatment. Then they forcefully took my pants off. I saw Turkish women were also being taken to that room as I was leaving the room. That upset us more,” Teke said.

Another Turkish citizen, Eyüp Ensar Uğur, also said Turks were treated differently than other tourists and were searched more thoroughly. He said the plane took off half an hour later than the scheduled time due to security checks.

Israeli security procedures are generally strict, often eliciting complaints from foreigners who find them unnecessarily intrusive. Similar claims came from a group of Israeli air passengers who said they were harassed at an İstanbul airport. Later on Monday, dozens of Israeli passengers on flights between Tel Aviv and İstanbul reported that Turkish security officials at Atatürk International Airport briefly took their passports and questioned them, a passenger and the Israeli Foreign Ministry said. At least one woman reported being strip searched.

Security at Turkish airports is usually tight, but a strip search would be highly unusual. Passengers are required to go through X-ray searches twice and sometimes three times before boarding a plane, but are only briefly questioned.

The woman, who identified herself as a newlywed named Alina, told Army Radio her passport was taken away and she was taken to a dark room by security officers who spoke only Turkish. There, she was forced to strip to her underpants to be searched by a female officer. After being allowed to dress once more, she was directed to a corner where all the Israelis had been told to sit. “We weren’t allowed to go to the bathroom. They didn’t tell us what was happening,” she said. “A moment before the plane closed its doors, they returned the passports and let us board the plane.”

Separately, about 40 Israelis on a flight to İstanbul from Tel Aviv were detained at the Turkish airport, had their passports taken away and were questioned before being released with their papers, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. He gave no further details.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry and Turkish Airlines reported they were not aware of incidents at the airport. Turkish Foreign Ministry officials told Today’s Zaman they are examining the cases in both countries in order to verify the allegations.

The dispute between Israel and Turkey has brought relations between the once close allies to the verge of collapse.