The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bedlam at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport after family packs unexploded shell

Travelers walk with their luggage in Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv last year. (Ariel Schalit/AP)
2 min

JERUSALEM — A family of American tourists sparked pandemonium at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on Thursday when they tried to pass through security with an unexploded shell they had found while touring the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Video of the scene showed travelers sprinting for safety and ducking behind luggage and counters as parents called frantically for their children. Israel’s state of permanent readiness for attack was on display as dozens of people instantly assumed prone positions on the floor of the departure hall.

There was no explosion, but a 32-year-old man was hospitalized for injuries he received when he tried to run along a luggage conveyor belt, according to the Israel Airports Authority.

The incident reportedly started when security screeners found a suspicious object in the family’s luggage and identified it as unexploded ordnance. Officials immediately triggered evacuation procedures, creating panic throughout the terminal.

The family told agents that one of their children had found the object while they were sightseeing in the Golan Heights, a mountainous area 95 miles northeast of Jerusalem — and 50 miles from Damascus — that Israel captured from Syria in 1967. The family said they were taking it home as a souvenir — unaware of its hazardous nature, according to local media.

Security officials canceled evacuation orders after questioning the family. They were allowed to board their flight.

The device, presumably a remnant of fighting with Syria in 1967 or 1973, is one of many incidents of unexploded ordnance discovered in a region where locals know to use caution whenever straying from known paths.

Mine clearing operations are ongoing at many places along the war-torn Israeli, Syrian and Lebanese borders. And in January, the Israeli military detonated hundreds of munitions from a Syrian arms bunker abandoned after the 1967 war and recently discovered in the Golan.

The clearing of explosives is part of Israel’s efforts to promote population growth and tourism in the area of rich valleys and open fields. The government last year announced plans to double the number of Israelis living in the Golan with a $300 million investment in housing and infrastructure.

Israel annexed the Golan in 1981 despite Syria’s continuing claims on the region. No country had honored Israel’s sovereignty over the area until President Donald Trump officially recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel in 2019.


An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to an abandoned Syrian arms bunker in the Golan Heights. The bunker is at least 55 years old, not 45 years old. The article has been corrected.