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UK investigates reports staff harassed Israelis at Heathrow

After a customs official identified an Israeli flag on a suitcase, "he started shouting that everyone on the Israeli flight must go to the room on the left."

New immigrants from North America celebrate their arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport, Aug. 16, 2023. Photo by Kobi Natan/TPS.
New immigrants from North America celebrate their arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport, Aug. 16, 2023. Photo by Kobi Natan/TPS.

The U.K.’s Home Office professional standards unit is looking into a report of harassment of Israeli travelers by customs officials at Heathrow International Airport.

Passengers arriving at Heathrow on an El Al flight from Ben Gurion International Airport made their way to the exit at around 10:30 p.m. on June 10, according to UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI), which filed the complaint with the Home Office that led to the opening of an investigation.

As one passenger described it to UKLFI: “We were walking towards the exit when a customs official appeared and asked a man in front of me what he had on his suitcase. The man replied that it was an Israeli flag. Immediately the customs official started shouting that everyone on the Israeli flight must go to the room on the left.”

“One traveler said ‘why us?’ The official didn’t reply. Another traveler said: ‘We are Jewish, why are you doing this to us?’ The official said ‘I’m a customs officer and I can do whatever I want,’” the passenger related.

Two officers were in the hallway, a man and a woman. The woman repeated, “We can do whatever we want.”

The Israelis had to take their luggage off their carts, and another airport staff member put them through a scanning machine. After that, the passengers were allowed to leave.

A second passenger on the same flight wrote a complaint to the Border Force, saying:

“I was very unpleasantly surprised to be very suddenly hurled aside with all other passengers from my flight from Israel. The officer gave no explanation, prevented anyone that came from Israel from coming through and forced us all to have all our baggages checked. Even the other officers were smiling uncomfortably, saying ‘I don’t know why she did that.'”

The passengers described feeling harassed and subjected to degrading treatment simply because they were Jewish.

“It was a horrible feeling to be shunted into another room,” the first passenger said.

“According to s.29(6) of the Equality Act 2010 (‘the Act’), a person must not, in the exercise of a public function, do anything that constitutes discrimination, harassment or victimization,” according to UKLFI.

The Border Force denied the allegation, stating on June 12: “It is categorically untrue to report that passengers were detained upon arrival into Heathrow on Sunday evening.

“Border Force Heathrow target late night flights looking for prohibited and restricted goods as part of Border Security work, and on Sunday passengers from various flights were spoken to by Border Force Officers and had their bags X-rayed as is routine,” it said.

This is not the first reported incident of Israelis feeling intimidated or being harassed at U.K. airports since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7.

A week following the above incident, UKLFI filed a complaint with Heathrow’s services director after El Al passengers on June 16 were alarmed by certain badges on the lanyards of security staff. 

Two of the staff wore watermelon badges—a symbol for Palestinian “resistance.”

“The people responsible for making sure terrorists don’t blow up airplanes were wearing badges that identify with terrorists,” one passenger noted.

UKLFI noted in its complaint to Heathrow’s services director that by wearing political badges, the staff were in breach not only of Heathrow’s uniform regulations, but also of Equality Act 2010.

In March, two brothers, Daniel and Neria Sharabi, who survived the Nova music festival massacre were singled out and interrogated as they entered England via Manchester Airport.

“When we presented our Israeli passports to the border control officers, they began asking us questions. I told them we came for Purim to speak with our community. My brother told them we were there to speak about Oct. 7,” said Daniel. 

“At that point, the officer asked us what our religion is. We told them that we were Jewish survivors of the Supernova festival and that we came to tell our story.”

According to Sharabi, the officer then told the brothers to wait, without specifying the reason for the delay or explaining what the next steps would be. 

“After an hour and a half, someone came to interrogate us in a very aggressive manner, repeating the same questions multiple times,” Daniel told JNS. 

“When they finally stamped our passport, we didn’t want to go in anymore. We wanted to come back to Israel, but the community was waiting to hear from us, and we were not going to let them down,” he said. 

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