Banning the ‘flytilla’: an own goal for airlines
By Felicity Arbuthnot, blog, New Internationalist
Israel has put pressure on several world airlines to cancel the tickets of hundreds of activists – dubbed a ‘flytilla’ – who were due to arrive at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport on Sunday April 15 en route to the West Bank for a week of educational and cultural activities. Many airlines, including Lufthansa, duly obliged without protest. Felicity Arbuthnot writes an open letter to Stefan Hansen, CEO of Lufthansa Airlines…
Dear Herr Hansen,
I write more in sorrow than in anger that your airline caved in to pressure from Israel and joined Air France, Alitalia, Turkish and Brussels Airlines, Jet2 and Easy Jet in refusing ‘flytilla’ passengers en route to Bethlehem in Palestine, with fully paid tickets, on to your flights to Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport.
My own experiences of flights to and from the Middle East on Lufthansa are numerous, each with heart-warming memories of conversations with crews which revealed both their kindness and their real love for the region.
What makes Lufthansa’s stance so ironic is that as an airline, it was, for 45 years (until 1990), isolated and unable to fly to Germany, its home country. Thus it is uniquely placed to understand the isolation of Palestine which is also forbidden its own airline and which has an airport that is nearly destroyed.
When Iraq was also isolated during the years of the embargo – when Iraqi airways were grounded by the terms of the UN freeze on the country’s access to just about anything – your crews and staff consistently expressed empathy, even outrage. It has to be wondered how they regard their company’s shoddy stance which is adding to the siege of Palestine.
Lufthansa’s own isolation was also subject to the justice of its country’s victors. In 1945, at the end of the Second World War when Germany was occupied by the Soviet Union, the US, France and Britain, the Berlin Wall went up and, as is the case for Palestine today, Germany was walled in or walled out, depending on the viewpoint. Stark parallels.
That Germany’s flag carrier has collaborated in barring passengers from a journey described as ‘a beacon of hope’ by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mairead Maguire, that is a gesture of solidarity with Palestinians, a people near forsaken by governments due to pressures from those now occupying Palestine’s land, is especially craven from a country which also has suffered the humiliation of occupation.
Your company has negated the rights enshrined in the founding charter of the United Nations and Vienna Convention of the right of all to travel freely. It has also validated the arresting of both Jewish and Palestinian welcomers of the visitors at Ben Gurion International Airport who were incarcerated for holding ‘welcome’ cards – and in one case a drawing by a Palestinian child.
Perhaps Palestinian journalist Susan Abulhawa pinpoints the reason for the seemingly incomprehensible decision: that it is part of a wider pattern of Germany’s attitude towards the region.
She writes: ‘Everything – home, heritage, life, resources, hope – has been robbed from us to atone for Germany’s sins. To this day, we languish in refugee camps that are not fit for human beings.
‘We are the ones who find ourselves at the other end of the weapons that Germany supplies to Israel. It is Palestine that is being wiped off the map. It is our society that is being destroyed. Of course, Germany’s silence is easy and convenient, but “understandable” it is not.’
As one who has a deep affinity with Germany, her words make me infinitely sad.
Germany’s ‘Iron Curtain’ has been jubilantly pulled down, while physically and aeronautically it now apparently endorses another in the Middle East.
With the boycott movement ever gaining worldwide strength, it remains to be seen how it will impact on airlines complicit in sabotaging an international initiative conceived in solidarity with a nation mourning 64 years of isolation and ever-creeping dispossession.
As for the profitability of future flights to Ben Gurion airport, in the words of an Israeli Foreign Ministry official: ‘We have insulted hundreds of foreign citizens … direct damage has been done to tourism and to Israel’s good name.’
Indeed, with 1500 potential extra passengers into the airport, what a dream chance for a charm offensive. Instead these passengers were demonstrating with others, against both Israel and the airlines involved in this scandal, in numerous airports around the world.
An own goal all round it seems, Herr Hansen. And yes, like many others, I will, with sadness, be reconsidering my modest contributions to Lufthansa’s coffers in future travels.
Al-Akhbar/Muslim News UK
French activists participating in the Welcome to Palestine campaign over the weekend accused Air France of racism on Tuesday after the airline asked passengers if they were Jewish as part of a strategy to prevent the activists from boarding.
“The racism of Israel and Air France was brought in plain light on Sunday…It was proven that one had to declare themselves Jewish or holder of an Israeli passport to have the right to travel,” the French contingent of Welcome to Palestine 2012 said in a press release on their website.
The activists noted the case of a passenger named as Horia, who had successfully boarded the plane, but was then asked by an air hostess whether she was Jewish before the flight had taken off.
An Air France employee signed Horia’s response on an official document (see below), and was then allegedly told by Air France personnel that she was prohibited to travel to Tel Aviv, according to activists.
Coordinator for the French chapter of Welcome to Palestine 2012, Maximilien Shahshahani, told Al-Akhbar that Air France was colluding with Israel’s secret service, Shin Bet, in determining which activists were not permitted to board Sunday’s flight to Tel Aviv.
“Shin Bit shared a blacklist of names with Air France, but told the airline to double check [others not blacklisted] with a series of questions,” he said.
The questions were also asked of other passengers, Shahshahani said, who were not participating in the Welcome to Palestine campaign.
“We saw another passenger, to which the same questions were asked. The response to the second question was that they were Jewish. The passenger was extremely shocked by the nature of the questions,” he said.
Air France in a statement issued on its website said Israeli authorities demanded that the airline question one of the passengers, without detailing what kind of questions were asked.
“The Israeli authorities requested that one of the passengers be questioned. The answers did not satisfy the Israeli authorities, the passenger had to disembark the flight at their demand,” Air France said.
Hundreds of activists, mostly from Europe, were due to fly into Tel Aviv international airport on Sunday as part of a global campaign to raise awareness of the restriction of movement and travel for Palestinians brought by Israel’s military occupation.
But, as in 2011, Israel threatened airlines that they faced sanctions if they did not prevent activists from boarding their flights, providing them with a list of names.
“You are ordered not to board them [activists] on your flights to Israel. Failure to comply with this directive will result in sanctions against the airlines,” a stern statement from Israel’s Ministry of Interior to airlines, obtained by activists, read.
Dozens still managed to board flights to Israel, with the official website for the French contingent of Welcome to Palestine saying that 40 French activists were detained upon arrival.
Preparations for legal proceedings against Air France are underway, Shahshahani said.
Welcome to Palestine has become an annual campaign, which is part of a growing international movement to highlight the continued suffering of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and Israel’s apartheid policies.
An alleged Air France document showing questions asked of a passenger boarding a flight to Israel on Sunday 15 April 2012. (Photo: Handout – Welcome to Palestine 2012)An alleged Air France document showing questions asked of a passenger boarding a flight to Israel on Sunday 15 April 2012.
Meeting the Demands of the Occupation in the UK
By Richard Irvine, Palestine Chronicle
Amongst what remains of the Israeli left, the siren cry for many years has been that the Occupation is destroying Israel. This view, brilliantly propounded by Pulitzer Prize Winner Richard Ben Cramer in his 2004 book How Israel Lost, makes a simple case. Israel cannot remain a Jewish and democratic state whilst it rules the lives of four million Palestinians, it will either cease to be Jewish or cease to be democratic.
Well when one looks at the legislation before the Knesset with its introduction of loyalty oaths, community residence laws and a whole host of other discriminatory and anti-democratic legislation – over twenty bills recently passed or proposed according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, it is clear which track Israel’s politicians have opted for. Yet surely, destructive as this is of Israel’s own so called democracy, this need not concern us in the UK, after all Israel is a far away country, its problems domestic?
Unfortunately the truth is otherwise. Israel and its Occupation are now infringing on our liberties. The latest example of this was The Welcome To Palestine Initiative (WTPI), popularly dubbed ‘the Flytilla’. An invitation by 25 completely legal Palestinian civil society organizations to international participants “to come see Palestine for themselves. Come get involved, building the school and other peaceful activities in Palestine.”
However, as with so much else when it comes to the Occupation, Israel views anyone seeking to find out about the Occupation or express solidarity with its victims as ‘provocateurs’ who, according to Israel’s public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, “will be dealt with in a determined and quick way.” That is denied entry to Palestine, locked in holding cells at the airport and then deported from Israel. Israel, a state they only proposed travelling through because as the organizers of the WTPI pointed out, “There’s no way into the occupied Palestinian territories other than the Israeli control points.”
However, not content with merely denying access to the four million civilians living under the 45 year long military occupation, the Israeli government wanted to avoid the embarrassment of locking up the hundreds of foreign visitors. In pursuit of this illegitimate goal Israel pressurized airlines across Europe not to permit passengers it suspected of wishing to visit Palestine from being permitted to board flights. Accordingly Jet2, Easy Jet, Air France and Lufthansa cancelled the flights of hundreds, thereby colluding in the policy of turning Palestine into a giant prison and effectively bringing the Israeli Occupation to our own shores.
Yet this should not surprise anyone, another example of how the Occupation is now embedded in British society was revealed last week in the case of the unlawful banning, deportation and detention orders placed upon Sheikh Raed Salah. Salah, a leader of the entirely legal Islamic Movement in Israel had come to visit the UK last June to address, amongst others, British Parliamentarians. Instead he found himself arrested and threatened with deportation.
Whilst the grounds for Salah’s arrest focused upon an alleged threat to public order, based mainly on contested evidence supplied by the Jewish charity, The Community Safety Trust, the most interesting aspect of the case is that Home Secretary Theresa May actively sought out reasons to bar him. And whilst Appeals Tribunal Judge Ockelton overturning the deportation order commented that Theresa May had been “misled” and “had acted under a misapprehension of the facts;” the important aspect is that she had sought to be misled, something which is evident in her taking a mere 17 minutes to put the ban in place once she had received CST’s contested report.
Commenting on the case last September, Tayab Ali, Salah’s solicitor said: “When the secretary of state makes a decision to exclude someone from the UK, it is imperative the correct policy is followed. The home secretary made a decision and then searched for reasons to justify it. Its not for the home secretary to determine who should speak in parliament. This is an attack on parliamentary democracy.”
Yet the Occupation is here in other ways too – whether it be the trading in Israeli settlement produce; investments in companies that profit from the Occupation; or in security and intelligence collaboration. Whatever the instance, it is Israel’s position that is taken as normative and that receives priority from the UK’s decision makers. And while for most of us it is only the far off Palestinians who feel the consequences of this moral myopia, some actions should alarm us more directly.
Last year’s change in the law on universal jurisdiction is one such instance. In that case a law that was put in place to protect us all was diluted in order to protect suspected Israeli war criminals; the UK government removing the decision as to whether a war crimes suspect could be arrested from the independent judgment of a magistrate to the politically appointed Director of Public Prosecutions. And whilst this change in the law was condemned by Amnesty International Ilana Stein of the Israeli Foreign Ministry commented, “We are glad that Britain has made the right choice.”
One is left then to ponder, when to cater to Israel’s illegal policies our politicians change our laws, our airlines bar passengers and our Home Secretary actively seeks out reasons to stop Palestinian representatives from visiting or speaking – is it not the case that the Occupation is also here?
Richard Irvine is a Belfast-based writer. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.
Israel bans ‘flytilla’ activists but hundreds left in Europe
Organisers of “Welcome to Palestine,” now in its third year, had been expecting to welcome up to 1,500 people as part of a campaign to expose Israel’s control of movement both into and out of the occupied territories.
But Israel vowed to prevent their entry, warning airlines they would be forced to foot the bill for the activists’ immediate return home in a move which saw many carriers toeing the line.
With airlines cancelling at least 300 passengers’ tickets, scores of activists staged angry demonstrations at airports in several European capitals.
At Brussels airport, protests erupted after at least 100 French and Belgian nationals were unable to board flights with Brussels Airlines, Lufthansa and Swiss Air.
In Geneva, several dozen activists held an angry demonstration after around 45 people out of a group of 70 who had been planning to join the campaign were barred from boarding an easyJet flight.
Scores of activists also protested at Charles de Gaulle in Paris, where airport sources said 90 passengers had been prevented from boarding boarding Lufthansa and Swiss Air flights for Tel Aviv.
Flanked by dozens of anti-riot police, they marched up to the Lufthansa counter to demand an “official written statement” as to why they had not been allowed to fly.
At Istanbul airport, another 50 activists were stranded after Turkish Airlines reportedly refused to allow them on board, Anatolia news agency reported.
In Vienna, Austrian Airlines said five passengers were barred from flights to Tel Aviv, and in Rome, Alitalia turned back seven Italian activists, press reports said.
Air France and two British budget carriers, Jet2.com and easyJet, also barred an unspecified number of passengers, with easyJet confirming it had prevented activists from boarding Israel-bound planes from both London and Switzerland.
Despite the success of its diplomatic campaign to pressure European carriers not to allow activists to board flights for Tel Aviv, Israel deployed hundreds of police at its main international airport with orders to “exercise restraint, but to intercept any troublemakers.”
All of Sunday’s arrests took place far from the whirring cameras with police detaining 33 French nationals, two Spaniards, two Italians, one Swiss national, one Canadian and one from Portugal as soon as they landed.
Of that number 27 French nationals were refusing to board planes back to France, immigration spokeswoman Sabine Haddad told AFP, saying they would be “transferred to a detention facility.”
The rest had either already been deported or would be sent back later in the day, she said.
Police also arrested another six Israelis and a French national, who were already in the country, for disturbing the peace at various locations in and around the airport.
Not a single protester was identified passing through the main arrivals hall at Terminal 3, an AFP correspondent said, although two protesters from outside the airport who held up signs reading “Free Palestine” were quickly hustled away by police.
Another two men and a woman carrying a handwritten sign reading “Palestine forever” were also quickly removed.
Last year, around 800 people tried to join the campaign, with many blocked from flying by airlines. Another 120 were denied entry by Israel and deported.
Israeli officials hailed their counter campaign as successful.
“We have prevented harm to Israel’s sovereignty and also to Israel’s image. The main aim is to prevent violent images and provocations,” deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon told army radio.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday advised activists to concentrate on solving “real problems” in the region.
“We appreciate your choosing to make Israel the object of your humanitarian concerns,” he said. “We know there were many other worthy choices. You could have chosen to protest the Syrian regime’s daily savagery against its own people, which has claimed thousands of lives.
“We therefore suggest that you first solve the real problems of the region, and then come back and share with us your experience,” he said.
“Have a nice flight.”
Earlier reports on the flytilla are at Israel pulls out all the stops to block activists flying to Israel