El Al airlines, Israel
Three Arab women, who are Palestinian citizens of Israel, are suing two Israeli airlines - Arkia and El Al - over alleged strip search and racial profiling - File photoReuters

Three Palestinian women have sued two Israeli airlines, Arkia and El Al, after they were allegedly strip-searched by Israeli security personnel at Belgrade airport in October 2016. They alleged that they were subject to the "intrusive body search" that amounted to sexual assault because they are Arabs.

The three complainants were scheduled to fly to Tel Aviv in Israel from Belgrade airport on an Arkia Airlines flight when the alleged incident took place.

Alleging racial profiling by the security staff the women also sued El Al as it handles security checks for all Israeli airlines at the Belgrade airport.

The women told Al Jazeera that their search lasted for more than two hours and went beyond the pat-down search. One of them even fainted during the search, they said and added that the security personnel threatened them saying they will not be allowed to board unless they underwent a strip search.

"I overheard the chief security officer tell [a female officer] that if I did not take off my bra I will not get on the plane," one of the three women, who asked that her name not be published, told Al Jazeera.

"I couldn't speak. It was a shock. I completely undressed the upper part of my body. It was painful," the woman added.

The women also alleged that they were the only ones who were taken for extra screening. They were flying to Tel Aviv for a short break before they resumed their Masters' studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Awni Bana, the lawyer representing the three women, told the news channel that the strip search was "unwarranted" and it was done only because his clients were Arab nationals living in Israel.

"The women were not acting in a suspicious manner and there was no intelligence suggesting that the women posed a security threat," Bana added.

The defendants reportedly have until 20 October to answer to the charges. The court will appoint a trial date in Tel Aviv following a response from the defence.

Meanwhile, commenting on the allegations, El Al said in a statement that all its security procedures were in accordance with laws.

"Every action taken by any El Al security employee is closely monitored and debriefed. It goes without saying, that El Al does its very best to keep every security procedure respectful and tolerant," the statement read.