Israeli businessman jailed in Turkey over ‘stealing’ bag of soup mix on flight

A Pegasus Airlines plane. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

(JNS.org) An Israeli businessman was arrested and spent three days in a Turkish prison because the Turkish carrier Pegasus Airlines accused him of stealing a bag of dry soup mix on a flight from Tel Aviv to Istanbul.

"Never in my life was I as afraid as when I was in the prison cell," said 57-year-old Ben Gal, who owns a perfume wholesale distribution business, Yedioth Ahronoth reported.

"During the flight, I brought myself breakfast and paid the flight attendant with dollars. After a few minutes, she came back and mumbled the word 'soup.' I told her that I didn't understand what she wanted from me,” Gal said.

Later, the flight attendant returned with another attendant and requested that Gal empty his pockets. Annoyed at the request, Gal reportedly asked the attendants not disturb him for the remainder of the flight. After landing in Turkey, he was arrested and questioned by three detectives, first at the airport and later at a police station. Several hours later, Gal was transferred to a detention facility full of detainees from Arab nations hostile to Israel.

"It was insulting, degrading, and mostly scary," Gal said. "Ninety percent of the detainees were Muslims, and one of them said he had been deported from the United States for his ties with the Islamic State. I actually did get along with the Iraqis and the Iranians, but the Palestinians frightened me and threatened me. I kept hearing the words 'Israel' and 'Jew' thrown into the air."

After three days, Gal was sent back to Israel. After his release from Turkish prison, the airline admitted that the bag of soup was actually discovered under Gal's seat, and that the real reason for his arrest was his disruptive behavior on the flight.

The airline said in a statement that Gal “behaved in a manner that violated rules of conduct during the flight and the staff is obligated to report such incidents to the authorities. The passenger was warned to stop acting in a way that endangered the safety of the flight and its passengers.”

While it is not clear whether Gal's arrest was motivated by either anti-Israel or anti-Semitic views, the incident follows a series of inflammatory comments about the Jewish state by Turkish officials in the wake of last month's Islamist terror attacks in Paris.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of committing “crimes against humanity," and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Netanyahu has carried out “state terrorism.” 

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department told JNS.org that while there is no current travel alert or warning for U.S. citizens traveling to Turkey, there are some security concerns that should be noted not only by Israelis, but also Jewish Americans.

"There have been instances of religious violence targeting individuals in Turkey working as religious missionaries or viewed as having proselytized for a non-Islamic religion. ... Threats and actual instances of crime have targeted Christian and Jewish individuals, groups, and places of worship in Turkey, including several high-profile murders of Christians over the last decade," the State Department website's page on Turkey says.

Although Turkish officials "expressly said they excluded Jewish people, in Turkey and elsewhere, from their criticism of the Government of Israel in the wake of the intervention by the Israel Defense Forces on the Free Gaza Flotilla in May 2010," the level of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic sentiment in Turkey "remains significant following Israel's 2008 and 2014 Gaza offensive," the State Department adds.

Posted on February 5, 2015 .