The price of humiliation: El Al Airlines will pay NIS 30,000 (about $8,000) in damages to two brothers from the Galilee who claimed the company humiliated them while they were waiting to board a flight to Israel.
The two said that after going through an unusually long security check, a female security office was instructed to follow them while they were waiting to board the flight. When one of the brothers lost his temper and confronted the guard, a supervisor approached him and demanded that the brother apologizes to the guard – or else he will not be allowed to board the plane.
El Al claimed one of the brothers threatened to hit the security guard, but the claim was dismissed in court. A Haifa Magistrates' Court justice ruled that the airline's measures were not in line with what is allowed by law and called them "abusive and unnecessary."
In the beginning of February, a group of insurance agencies from Menora insurance company traveled to the United States. Two of the group members, brothers Abd al-Wahab shalabi and Abd al-Aziz Shalabi from the village of Iksal arrived at the New York airport four hours prior to the scheduled Israir flight to Israel.
During the security check, which was conducted by El Al personnel, the two were asked to leave their luggage and carry-on bags at the security counter and come back to retrieve them in two hours. When they returned to pick up their bags, they were asked to come back again in half an hour.
After 30 minutes the brothers returned the second time, and were told that a female security officer will escort them until boarding. After the flight was delayed, an argument errupted between Abd al-Wahab and the security guard.
According to the lawsuit, after Wahab spoke on the phone and went to the restroom, the security guard "scolded" him for "roaming freely and not letting her keep an eye on him." At this point, Wahab told her that "as long as she is not arresting him for any offence, she can 'get lost'."
'Security constraints'The lawsuit stated that at this stage the security officer's supervisor approached Abd al-Wahab and demanded that he apologizes to the security guard, or else he will not be allowed to board the flight. Wahab, who broke down sobbing due to the series of humiliations, eventually apologized and was allowed on the plane.
El Al's statement of defense said that the company's actions were in line with security constraints. The company claimed that the security guard was told to escort the passengers in order to spare them from having to go through an additional security check at the boarding gate.
The defense also stated that the supervisor demanded an apology after the plaintiff threatened to hit the security guard. The supervisor later denied telling the plaintiff he couldn't board the flight if he didn't apologize.
Justice Amir Toubi ruled that El Al's conduct exceeded its authority and what was allowed by law. "There is no argument about the need for strict security measures, especially due to the increasing terror threats in recent years. However, the law has certain boundaries pertaining to security, which do not include surveillance, escort or restriction of the passenger's freedom of movement in any way, without a substantial suspicion," he said.
"There is no justification for infringement of civil rights under the mantle of the sacred security cow," Toubi added.
Addressing the supervisor's demand for an apology, the judge said it was the product of "arrogance and obtuseness." He then instructed the airline to pay Abad al Wahab NIS 20,000 ($5,400) and Abd al-Aziz NIS 10,000 ($2,700) in damages, in addition to NIS 6,000 ($1,620) in expenses and fees.
El Al Airlines said in response that "Israeli aviation security is solely the responsibility of the State of Israel. El Al was asked by the State to conduct security checks abroad on behalf of Arkia and Israir airlines, and is acting under the security guidelines set by official elements of the State.
"El Al is not interested in providing security services, in general or for other airlines, and has requested the State to be relieved of providing this service."