On Thursday April 28th, Israel‘s Ben Gurion International Airport had to be evacuated after an unexploded artillery shell was found in the luggage of American passengers.
The device was a dangerous ‘souvenir’ that an American family intended to travel with on their flight back to the United States. One of the family members had found it on a visit to the Golan Heights, the scene of heavy fighting between Israel and Syria in 1967 and 1973.
As soon as it was discovered inside a suitcase, security agents ordered the evacuation of the airport check-in area, according to the Israel Airports Authority (IAA). The announcement sparked a wave of panic throughout the departures area. A video posted on social media shows passengers running in all directions. In the confusion, one traveler was injured and had to be taken to a hospital.
Some noted how the permanent security alert that Israelis are accustomed to caused most of those present in that area of the airport to assume defensive positions and take cover behind columns or under tables, some behind pieces of luggage. Shortly thereafter, the airport returned to normal activity. After being questioned, the family boarded and traveled as planned.
The Golan Heights region is a strategic plateau that Israel seized from Syria in the Six-Day War (1967). In 1981, Israel annexed the area. The object was presumably a remnant of the fighting that left the area littered with unexploded devices. Locals know to be careful when straying from known paths and visitors are warned not to touch any debris they may find.
Mine clearance operations are ongoing in many places along the war-torn Israeli, Syrian and Lebanese borders. In January of this year, the Israeli army detonated hundreds of munitions from an abandoned Syrian weapons bunker after the 1967 war that they recently discovered.
The area was also the scene of battles during the Arab-Israeli war six years later in 1973. The site is littered with bombs and mines that were never detonated. Where they are located is clearly marked and fenced off.
Former President Donald Trump turned the country’s international policy around by making the U.S. the only country to recognize the site as Israeli. Syria continues to insist that a peace agreement with Israel requires the return of the territory. In December 2021, Israel’s Prime Minister, Neftali Bennett announced plans to push for settlements in the territory.