The women, who later dubbed themselves the ``Gang of Six,'' also included Ameenah Young, vice president for sales and marketing for the Pennsylvania Convention Center; Francine Cheeks, director of communications for the American Friends Service Committee; Alicia Beatty, director of Circle of Care, a medical funding agency for children with AIDS; Jahara El-Amin, a registered nurse and avid traveler; and Sylvia Wright, a social-services program manager for the state of Pennsylvania and a travel agent.
Each is accustomed to wielding authority - not being told what to do. Each is a seasoned traveler.
Both Jahara and Zoharah, Muslims, understand the tensions and customs in the Middle East. They wore Western clothes and carried passports bearing their given first names - Charlotte and Gwendolyn, respectively.
But Jahara's last name - El-Amin - raised suspicion in Tel Aviv, although her husband is a black American.
She was questioned for about a half hour: How did you get your name? What are you doing here? Where are you going? Where are you staying? Who is your friend? Why didn't you come together?
The rest in the group arrived without incident. The next day, they returned to the Israeli airport to fly to Jordan, bearing U.S. passports and round-trip tickets to the United States.
They might as well have been in fatigues toting Uzis.
At the security gate, all six were detained and questioned for nearly three hours. At first, the questions seemed routine: Did you pack your own bags? Did anyone give you anything to take to someone?
Then the security agents would huddle to compare answers. Soon, the questions became interrogation.
How long are you taking off from work? How much did it cost to do this trip? Why aren't you staying in Tel Aviv - didn't you like Tel Aviv?
Many of the questions centered on why the women hadn't arrived together.
``I said, because we're all adults and we travel on our own schedule,'' Francine Cheeks recalled.
The women were angry, but calm. Then the situation took a scary turn: They were ushered by a crowd of 14 security agents to separate interrogation rooms.
They got scared and hysterical - like six volcanoes erupting at once. Every item and every suitcase was X-rayed and even underwear examined - with rubber gloves.
``What the hell did they think this was,'' said Ameenah Young, `` `Get Smart' or something?''
Frustrated, the women voiced their real feelings, which boiled down to this:
If we were six white women, they wouldn't treat us this way.
Racism was denied by everyone, although no reason was offered for the humiliating ordeal.
``I want them to know that I consider the people I met representing Tel Aviv to be racist,'' said Wright. ``As a travel agent, I'd encourage both whites and African-Americans not to go into Tel Aviv any more - and not to support Israel in any way.''
El-Amin says she won't return. ``That was the first time in my entire life that I have ever been treated like that - and I've been all over the world.''
For Ameenah Young, the incident was particularly maddening. Two years ago, she took the mayor and other officials from Tel Aviv on a tour of the Convention Center. She was invited to visit Tel Aviv - Philadelphia's sister city - at her first opportunity.
``And this was my welcome? My sister city treated me like the stepsister from Cinderella,'' she said. ``I am so hurt by it, I need to dialogue with some Jewish people about this. I can't bring it to closure alone.''
``We all recognize the need for security - but this went beyond that - it was harassment,'' said Cheeks. ``It was people having authority who do not know how to exercise judgment - and who saw black faces and overreacted. Something really bad could have happened.''
By e-mail from Jordan, Simmons said that on three previous visits, she was singled out for aggressive questioning, while white companions breezed through security.
``This racist, irrational behavior - this collective notion that all darker people are enemies of the state - is exemplary of the mass paranoia and racism which have overtaken Israel,'' she said.
The ugly incident ended when an aviation official intervened, because the plane for Amman, Jordan's capital, was waiting. Declaring the situation outrageous, he escorted the women aboard.
But no one explained anything or apologized. Rick Black, a spokesman for the Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia, says what happened is a part of life in Israel. ``By no means does Israel single out African-Americans for security searches,'' he said. ``Many terrorist attacks have succeeded. We apologize for any inconvenience but we're doing it for the safety of everyone.''
The women insist they saw no one else treated as they were, and that other civilians in the airport expressed sympathy for what they experienced. By the time they returned to Tel Aviv for their flight home, their ordeal was airport legend. Beatty was interviewed by a security agent with relatives in Glenside.
``She said, `We heard about you.' I said I hope someone got in trouble, and she said a lot of people did,'' Beatty said. ``Then she said, `I want you to know that this was not racism.'
``I told her I don't believe that. And that was pretty much it.''
Linda Wright Moore is a member of the Daily News editorial board. Her column appears here every Thursday.