York man's nightmare in an Israeli prison cell
Updated 11:53am Monday 18th February 2013 in News
A YORK man said he was wrongly detained in a prison cell in Israel overnight after flying into the country with his family.
Tawfik Saabi, 41, of Haxby, flew into the Israeli city of Tel Aviv on New Year’s Eve with his wife, Christine, and three young children to visit his family a short drive away near Tulkarem in the West Bank.
Mr Saabi, who was born in Palestine but has lived in the UK for the last 14 years and has a British passport, claims he was denied entry to the country after airport authoritites learned he was of Palestinian origin.
He said he was subjected to four hours of questioning to the distress of his children Olivia, seven, Sophia, four and Adam, two – who he said were held without water or food – before entry was refused.
But when his daughter began to cry and to ask why she could not see her cousins, Mr Saabi said the family were told his wife and children could travel to the West Bank from Tel Aviv but that he would have to go back to the UK or stay in a hotel room at the airport before flying to Jordan and crossing into the West Bank via the Allenby Bridge border crossing.
Upon reluctantly agreeing to this, he said he was taken to stay in a crowded prison cell overnight and was then made to pay £200 for a visa before being put on a plane to Jordan.
He said: “This whole experience left me and my wife and my children very traumatised from what I believe to be racist treatment. My two daughters are still talking about it, especially Olivia who is more aware of what was going on but still can’t understand fully why this happened to us.
“I will never forget the image of my children been held in the airport for hours crying and demanding to see their cousins while the Israeli authorities didn’t take any notice or care about these children just because their father is of Palestinian origin.”
Mr Saabi said he had to return to the UK through Jordan at an additional cost of hundreds of pounds while his wife and children flew back from Tel Aviv.
A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in London said Mr Saabi had not declared that he was Palestinian as he was obliged to do in order to enter Israel and the authorities had felt he was trying to hide something.
The spokesman said Mr Saabi had not been transparent and told the truth when he was asked.
He said: “If someone is trying to hide something in a secure place like an airport... they would have the right to question it fully.”
However, Mr Saabi said he answered all their questions honestly.
Mr Saabi’s wife, a GP at Heworth Green Surgery, said: “It was shocking the way we were treated, particularly as a young family with three kids. I’m very, very disappointed.
“We are both peace-loving people and I can’t believe what has happened to us. I’m sure this is not the first time it has happened. It’s shocking.”