The US Transportation Department has opened an investigation following the submission of a discrimination complaint against El Al Israel Airlines on behalf of a Palestinian-American journalist who was barred from boarding her July flight from Newark to Tel Aviv after hours of screening, according to a Tuesday report on the Kan public broadcaster.
The complaint was filed by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) on July 31, less than two weeks after Noor Wazwaz was denied boarding on an El Al flight. ADC said that the Israeli airline in cooperation with the US Transportation Security Agency discriminated and harassed Wazwaz due to her Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab background.
“She was forced to undergo extensive and humiliating searches and questioning unlike other passengers. These included separate and multiple screenings, head to toe pat downs, removal of certain articles of clothing, swabbing of all personal items, amongst others,” ADC said in a statement.
Wazwaz posted a thread on Twitter documenting the ordeal in real-time.
“I wasn’t allowed to take my laptop, portable charger, any charging wire or electronics. I straight up asked, ‘Why? Is it [because] I’m Palestinian?’ Without hesitation, he said, ‘Yes, and you’re going to places like Ramallah,'” she wrote in one of her tweets.
Wazwaz said El Al staff then demanded to see her phone and proceeded to delete pictures from it. Scans of social media from nearly a decade ago, when she was a teenager, showed a handful of anti-Israel posts.
I was denied boarding on @EL_AL_ISRAEL because they claimed that I was a “security risk.” Here is a glimpse of what it’s like to travel to Israel as a Palestinian, even if you’re an American. It all started when I went to go drop off my bags at the counter at EWR. pic.twitter.com/1W9X9fm3pX
— Noor | نور (@nfwazwaz) July 18, 2023
Wazwaz was later told that the airline would have to ship her laptop to Israel because a scan found that it might contain explosives. A subsequent scan of her shoes produced a similar result and she was ultimately barred from boarding the El Al flight, she said.
The Palestinian-American was placed on a United Airlines flight and managed to make it to Ben Gurion Airport. But there too, Wazwaz said she was pulled aside and endured another two hours of security questioning.
An El Al spokesperson rejected the woman’s claims of discrimination, telling The Times of Israel in July that the inspection of her luggage sparked “several alerts” that required additional security checks.
“All of the operations were done in accordance with the security procedures and the instructions of the authorized bodies for the purpose of maintaining the safety of the aircraft and all passengers and for these reasons only,” the spokesperson said.
In a statement to Kan on Tuesday, the US Transportation Department confirmed its decision to launch an investigation into Wazwaz’s case, saying it is “committed to protecting the right of passengers to fly without any type of discrimination.”
An El Al spokesperson told Kan that it was aware of the US probe and would respond to the inquiry in an orderly manner.
The investigation comes roughly one month before Israel hopes to be accepted into the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
In order to enter the VWP, Israel is required to treat all US travelers equally, regardless of national origin, religion or ethnicity.
This has been a sticking point for the US amid longstanding complaints of discrimination against Palestinian, Arab and Muslim Americans by Israeli airlines and authorities.