Verbal abuse, intimidation routine for foreigners at Ben Gurion airport

Population and Immigration officials threaten to handcuff one individual, ban another from Israel for a decade. ‘I felt like a criminal’ say three separate travelers who experienced hostile behavior.

A passenger at Ben Gurion Airport  (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/ REURERS)
A passenger at Ben Gurion Airport
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/ REURERS)

Incoming travelers to Israel are frequently subject to abusive behavior by officials from the Population and Immigration Authority (PIBA) at Ben-Gurion Airport, including threats to handcuff them, ban them from the country and other forms of intimidation.

Officials from PIBA, which has responsibility for granting entry visas into Israel, routinely shout at and demean foreign tourists and Israeli visa holders, confiscate their passports, and fail to provide them with any information for hours as to whether they will be allowed into the country.

Three individuals who recently traveled to Israel have told The Jerusalem Post of what they described as their “humiliating” experience at the airport at the hands of PIBA officials, with all three stating they felt they had been treated like criminals.

Sources familiar with the issue have stated that these kinds of incidents are daily occurrences.

PIBA declined to respond to the Post’s request for comment on three specific cases in which foreign travelers said they were verbally abused or threatened, including a case where video evidence shows an authority official threatening to handcuff a traveler for asking for his passport back.

The authority said merely that many travelers do not comply with the entry conditions and that “they turn anger on border security personnel.”

On November 8, Ben David, an American citizen and university student studying in Israel, arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport on a flight from the US.

David had neglected to renew his student visa, and had also not obtained a COVID-19 Green Pass certificate, although he was eligible for one.

PIBA officials berated him, confiscated his passport, and said he was being put on a return flight to the US.

David sought to redress the bureaucratic problems through various channels but needed his passport number and a photo of his passport, but the officials refused to give him back his passport for this purpose.

“Why are you talking to me?... You want handcuffs, you really insist to have handcuffs, yeah?” a PIBA official allegedly told David.

After intervention by former Knesset member Dov Lipman, founder of the Yad L’Olim organization, David’s passport was eventually returned and he was able to arrange the necessary documentation for entry into Israel.

“It’s appalling that these people had so little compassion and so little willingness to help him stay,” said David’s father, Carl.

Population and Immigration Authority official threatens to handcuff foreign student seeking to enter the country (Credit: Courtesy)

“These people don’t know what Israel is meant to be about. They’ve lost sight of the purpose of the State of Israel. No one should be treated like that, Jew or non-Jew, but especially those for whom this state is meant to be a refuge.”

Others were not as lucky as David.

Turid Wolf, 62, from Norway, flew into Ben-Gurion on November 3 from Oslo, via Frankfurt, on a Lufthansa flight with her two adult children, arriving at around 10 p.m., to meet up with her Israeli husband and visit his mother.

Prior to the flight, Wolf tried to fill out the Health Ministry’s Passenger Entry Statement Form, which is required to obtain an entry permit, but was unable to upload her vaccination documents through the online form due to technical glitches which have still not been resolved.

Wolf was told by the Health Ministry that she could travel to Israel regardless, because of the technical problems, and that the entry permit would be arranged upon arrival.

Officials with Lufthansa and Israeli officials at Frankfurt Airport told her the same thing and allowed her to board the flight to Israel.

WHEN SHE and her children arrived, however, they were confronted by hostile officials from PIBA who reprimanded them for not having completed the form, and confiscated their passports.

One official from the authority told Wolf to try and complete the form again, but when she asked for her passport back to fill in the form, the official exploded with anger and screamed: “You’re not getting into Israel,” and left the area with all three of their passports.

Wolf and her children were given no further information by any PIBA officials from that time on.

They were made to wait in the passport inspection area for over five hours, from 11 p.m. to 4:30 a.m., without anywhere to lie down, sleep or rest, and it took an hour and a half before they were provided with water and a sandwich.

At 4:30 a.m. they were taken to have their hand baggage scanned through security, at which point they realized they were being returned to Norway.

Security officials eventually escorted Wolf and her children through the airport and onto the plane. Their passports were given to the flight crew instead of being returned to them.

“We’re in shock about what happened here. They treated me like a criminal,” said Wolf, who said that every official they tried to speak with had been rude, dismissive and unhelpful.

“It will be a long time before I can go back to this airport,” she continued, noting that she has been visiting Israel regularly since 1987 and, together with her children, has always enjoyed their visits.

“I don’t want to say we’re not coming to Israel anymore. I just want people to be more friendly,” she added.

And in another case, Lisa Adams, not her real name, arrived at Ben-Gurion from Los Angeles via New York on November 3.

Adams, who declined to give her real name since she is in the process of enlisting in the IDF, has a valid student visa but received her last COVID-19 vaccine shot seven months ago, and so was barred entry upon arrival.

Her passport was confiscated, as was her luggage. She was given no information about what would happen, and when she asked for help at PIBA’s office, she was told to get out.

At one point, a PIBA official told her that if she did not get on the flight back to the US, she would be barred from Israel for 10 years.

Adams was taken to the departure lounge and left there for six hours, without anyone informing her when someone would come to get her. She was eventually taken to an airplane for a flight back to the US, with her passport handed over to the flight crew until the end of the journey.

Adams has now had a third COVID-19 vaccine shot in the US and is arranging to fly back to Israel to continue her IDF enlistment process.

“Their treatment of her was horrendous. They spoke to her unkindly and gave her no information,” said her mother, who also questioned why Israeli officials at the airport in New York had not told her there might be a problem.

“She was scared; she was crying. She’s a 19-year-old; she didn’t know what was happening. She told them, ‘I’m not a criminal; don’t treat me like this.’”

PIBA said in response that “a week ago, the borders of Israel were opened to foreigners on condition that they fulfill health conditions determined by the state. One of those conditions established by the Health Ministry is having a Green Pass.

“Border inspectors implement the regulations, but unfortunately no small number of tourists come without fulfilling the conditions of entry, and when the rules are explained to them behave inappropriately and turn their anger on the inspectors.

“We emphasize again that foreigners who do not fulfill the conditions will not be able to enter, and they would be well advised to look into the issue before they arrive.”