French activists protesting European airlines canceling flytilla passenger flights, 2011. (Photo: Abu Nawfal)
This Sunday, I was planning to fly to Tel Aviv with up to 1,500 other participants in Welcome to Palestine 2012, a peaceful initiative of travel and solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank. We had an invitation from over 25 civil society groups across the West Bank. We had the blessing of the mayor of Bethlehem. Our plans consisted of such terroristic activities as laying the cornerstone of a kindergarten, repairing damaged wells, and planting olive trees.
This morning I received the following notice from the airline on which I had purchased a ticket to fly to Tel Aviv:
From: CustomerCare <firstname.lastname@example.org> Fri, Apr 13, 2012 at 10:21 AM
To: Laura Durkay
Jet2.com Flight LS907 Manchester to Tel Aviv Sunday 15th April 2012
Dear Laura Durkay,
Jet2.com is required by the Israeli authorities to provide Advance Passenger Information in relation to all passengers that it carries on flights to Israel. Advance Passenger Information includes a passenger's name, date of birth, passport number and nationality.
In accordance with Article 7 of its Terms and Conditions, Jet2.com has provided Advance Passenger Information in respect of your flight from Manchester to Israel. 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.
As a result, and in accordance with Article 24 of its Terms and Conditions, Jet2.com: "may refuse to carry you where such action is necessary for reasons of safety and/or security and/or to comply with any applicable laws, regulations or orders of any country to be flown from, into or over including laws or regulations relating to Advance Passenger Information requirements." 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.
In accordance with Article 26.3 of its Terms and Conditions, Jet2.com is a non-refundable airline and we will therefore be unable to offer any refund, with the exception of a refund of the applicable taxes paid, as a result of the decision taken by the Israeli authorities.
Jet2.com would like to apologise for the inconvenience caused by the cancellation of your booking, which we hope you will appreciate is totally beyond our control.
Jet2.com Customer Care Team
I soon found out I was far from alone. Many other UK participants had received the same notice. In France, Lufthansa had cut to the chase and canceled an entire flight to Tel Aviv.
On the one hand, this is hardly surprising. The Israeli government has a long record of denying entry to any international suspected of sympathy with the Palestinians. And of course this is just the tip of the iceberg—the iceberg being the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who are unable to return to their own country, even for a brief visit as a tourist.
But it is worth taking a step back to realize how thoroughly absurd and far-reaching these policies have become. With this sweeping denial of entry of hundreds of activists simultaneously, the Israeli government policy of criminalizing mere travel to the Occupied Territories is laid bare for all the world to see.
When I participated in Welcome to Palestine 2011, last July, I was effectively imprisoned for four days simply for answering, when asked where I was going, "Bethlehem." In the bizarre world of Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, even to speak the word Palestine is forbidden.
One of the goals of the Welcome to Palestine initiative is to highlight the fact that, while conditions may not be as dire as in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank is also under Israeli siege, since Israel controls all points of entry and exit. Today, with the willing cooperating of European governments and corporations, that siege extends as far as Brussels, Paris and Manchester. But all the Israeli government has done is ensure that resistance to its policies will reach those shores as well.