Ingrid Steinitz, a 72-year-old Danish Jew, has alleged she was strip-searched and harassed by Ben-Gurion Airport security for hours and on a second occasion told to spread her legs and place her hands against a wall. But Ben-Gurion security officials said Monday that everything was done according to procedures, and that the treatment the grandmother and left-wing activist had received was entirely justified.
Steinitz travels annually to Israel, both to visit her daughter, Michal and her four grandchildren who live in the Sharon area, and also to participate in NGO projects, such as helping Palestinians during the olive harvest.
Steinitz says that each year, airport security guards harass her more and more. In November 2005, the security check included a search that required her to remove what she described as "almost all" of her clothing.
Last week, Steinitz landed in Israel for her annual trip. According to Steinitz, immediately upon her arrival, airport officials took her passport and requested that she present her purse to the security guard. Steinitz said that despite repeated requests for a written document authorizing the seizure of her passport, no such documentation was provided. After refusing to hand over her handbag without a police officer present, a police officer arrived on the scene as airport officials emptied out all of her bags.
Following the search, Steinitz was taken for a physical examination, during which she was told to stand with her back to the woman conducting the search and to spread her legs. When Steinitz told the woman searching her that the treatment reminded her of a concentration camp, the woman's supervisor allegedly yelled at the elderly woman. Steinitz responded that as a girl, she and her families had fled Nazi-occupied Denmark in 1943.
It took two hours for Steinitz to clear the security checks in order to enter Israel. After the experience, she promised her family that she would not return to Israel following the repeated harassments.
Steinitz's daughter - who was born in Israel and has spent all of her life here - told The Jerusalem Post that she believes her mother was placed on a "black list" of left-wing activists. The family has written letters to Knesset members, but has not received any response.
"Are they aware that these people are their grandparents?" Steinitz's daughter asked. "I don't understand how they can act this way to elderly people. It shows a complete lack of respect for human beings."
Ben-Gurion Airport spokesmen did not deny that any of Steinitz's descriptions were accurate, but emphasized that "the decisions as to which people are checked, the extent of the inspection and the type of inspection are made by government security agencies" and not by the airport guards. Even the supervision of the checks, they said, was carried out by "government security agencies." The Airports Authority is, according to airport officials, "simply an executive body."
Airport officials said that in the specific case of Steinitz, "the woman was checked according to the guidelines which are set by law." But they also said that "although in the course of the check, the passenger was told in a polite and courteous manner that her cooperation would reduce the length of the inspection, she refused to cooperate with security officials."
They said her previous visits had also been "accompanied by provocation and lack of cooperation."
Airport officials emphasized that the security checks were carried out in order to "ensure the safety and security of millions of passengers who pass through the airport's gates," but also said they were "sorry for all unpleasantness caused to passengers and [that they] make every effort to reduce the inconveniences while adhering to the security demands."
But Steinitz's daughter isn't buying it. "Even if they had to check her, they could have done it in a more gentle manner. When this sort of thing happens, it embarrasses the airport, security services and the entire country."