Jet2.com move follows pressure from Israel as 2,000 pro-Palestinian activists prepare to fly in on way to West Bank
Israel has forced low-cost airline Jet2.com to cancel the tickets of three women from Manchester intending to travel to Bethlehem via Tel Aviv this weekend for a gathering of pro-Palestinian activists.
Jet2.com informed the women by email that the airline would refuse to carry them and no refund would be paid. The move follows pressure on airlines from Israel to ban known activists.
One of the women, retired nurse Norma Turner, said Jet2.com had caved in to pressure. “It never crossed my mind that Israel could stop people with British passports leaving British airports,” she told the Guardian.
Israel has promised to deny entry to hundreds of activists due to arrive at Tel Aviv airport on Sunday en route to the West Bank for a week of educational and cultural activities.
Up to 2,000 mainly European sympathisers plan to board planes in what has been dubbed a “flytilla” in reference to previous attempts to breach the blockade of Gaza by flotillas of boats.
Jet2.com’s decision followed a similar move by the German carrier Lufthansa, which cancelled the tickets of dozens of activists on Thursday, saying it was complying with Israel’s demand not to fly certain passengers to Tel Aviv. Other airlines are expected to follow suit.
In an email sent to the three women, Jet2.com said it had been obliged to provide the Israeli authorities passengers’ names, dates of birth, passport numbers and nationalities.
“As a result of providing that information, Jet2.com has been informed by the Israeli authorities that you will not be not permitted to enter Israel. Consequently, if Jet2.com carries you to Israel, you will be refused entry and Jet2.com will be liable for both a fine and your return to Manchester,” the email said.
“We regret that, in light of the decision taken by the Israeli authorities, we are unable to accept you for carriage to Israel on this occasion and your booking with Jet2.com has been cancelled.”
The airline apologised and said the cancellation was “totally beyond our control” but said the passengers would not be reimbursed.
The Israeli authorities have warned they will not permit entry to “hostile elements” and “provocateurs”. It distributed “no-fly” lists of known activists to airlines, which were warned that they would be expected to bear the costs of flying activists back to their point of departure.
“The provocateurs will be dealt with in a determined and quick way,” Israel’s public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, said this week. “If they arrive in Israel they will be identified, removed from the plane, their entry into Israel will be prevented and they will be moved to a detention facility until they are flown out of Israel.”
Hundreds of police will be deployed to Ben Gurion airport from Saturday night and flights carrying activists will be diverted to a smaller terminal, where security forces and immigration officials will check and question passengers.
Israel’s response was “paranoid and hysterical”, said Mazin Qumsiyeh, one of the organisers of the Welcome to Palestine programme and a university professor in Bethlehem. “They simply don’t want the world to know what’s going on in Palestine.”
The activists say they will be open about their intention to travel directly in special buses from the airport to Bethlehem. Israel controls all entry points to the West Bank.
A similar “flytilla” last July resulted in the detention and deportation of scores of activists. In May 2010, a flotilla of boats attempting to reach Gaza ended in Israeli forces shooting dead nine activists.
The mayor of Bethlehem, Victor Batarseh, told a press conference: “These people are coming to talk about peace, they are not coming to wage war against Israel. They are coming to visit the Palestinian people who are under occupation and to talk to them and to help them because these people are isolated.”
Turner said she would seek legal advice on Jet2.com’s move. “I think the airline should honour its commitment. We had checked in, and we have our boarding passes.
“Every country has the right to control its own borders. But to stop us leaving British shores just shows the extent of Israel’s power and influence.”
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