26 April 2017 | Staff writer
The long arm of Israeli occupation apparently stretches all the way to South Africa. The departure from South Africa of Jerusalem archaeologist, Abeer Zayyad, at OR Tambo International Airport left her shocked as she encountered Hebrew speaking security officials at the El Al check in counter.
Wearing white shirts without any ties and black pants, the “security staff” crowded the counters A01 to A04 of the international departure terminal at the airport as passengers queued for the Israeli flight to Tel Aviv.
Upon arrival at the queue, Mrs Zayyad and her brother Othman Ahmed were asked to handover their passports before reaching the check in counter. The siblings were then separated from each other and interrogated separately.
“They started to compare the answers between my brother and myself. They checked all our bags and started to ask us to take off parts of our clothes. They also did a body check. It was a hard time,” she told Salaamedia from her office in Jerusalem.
During the interrogation they questioned her about her travels in South Africa. “They wanted me to give them a timeline. They wanted to know about each day, whom I met, where I went, what I discovered and I refused to answer these questions.”
While standing and waiting to board, a guard was made to stand with the Palestinian travelers until they got to the flight. They were made to sit in the last seat of the plane despite having other seat numbers issued to them.
“All people who have traveled know that this is not normal procedure at an airport. I don’t think any country will allow El Al or any plane company to do this… This (South Africa) is supposed to be a democratic country but this is where we were interrogated.”
At Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv they proceeded through the normal check in procedure but their luggage was not all returned to them.
“When we arrived at Tel Aviv airport, all our luggage did not. The stuff we did get was damaged inside the bags. My laptop was removed from my bag and I did not receive it as yet. The most important thing for us however was to get back home even if we didn’t get our bags back.”
All attempts to get hold of the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) have proved futile thus far despite telephonic and email requests for information.
This is not the first time that El Al staff have been accused of fronting as Israeli spooks
Advocacy group, the Media Review Network said in an online statement that they were disturbed that the harassment of passengers by unidentified “security personnel” continues at one of South Africa’s key security points.
Previously the MRN alerted the authorities of armed foreign “security agents” operating at OR Tambo International Airport. The scandal surrounding the deployment of Israel’s Shin Bet security agents was featured in an expose’ by Carte Blanch in August 2009.
The group called on the South African government to give the public an unadulterated assurance that the security at key security points in general, and at OR Tambo in particular, is not compromised by outsourcing it to foreign agencies.
The Star newspaper reported in 2011 that a South African woman was left traumatised and humiliated when she was forced to strip down to her jeans after airline staff incorrectly accused her of carrying a bomb.
Alta Klein told the publication at the time that the incident took place for “no proper reason” and without explanation.