Israel's flytilla block hit innocent passengers
JERUSALEM // Israel mistakenly prevented ordinary passengers from boarding flights to Tel Aviv during an effort to block the arrival of more than 1,000 pro-Palestinian activists, foreign ministry officials said yesterday.
Scores of mostly European protesters were barred on Sunday from flying into Israel to take part in the "Welcome to Palestine" demonstrations, organised to call attention to Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.
But almost half of those prevented from flying to Israel were not involved in the protest, Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported, citing information from an unnamed security source.
The newspaper cited a "high-ranking" government official who said that authorities had insufficient evidence to bar 470 of the 1,200 blacklisted passengers.
Among those mistakenly placed on the list that Israel gave airlines were a French diplomat and his wife, a board member of a German pharmaceutical company and an official at Italy's communications ministry.
"We put people on the list who are as far removed from anti-Israel political activity as east is from west," the newspaper quoted an unnamed foreign ministry official as saying. "We have insulted hundreds of foreign citizens because of suspicions, and have given the other side a victory on a silver platter."
Paul Hirschson, a foreign ministry spokesman, confirmed to The National that "mistakes were made" in the bid to block participants in the fly-in. But he said the number listed in the Haaretz article was exaggerated.
"I do believe there were some mistakes on the individual level, but I don't think we're talking 40 per cent," he said. "We're talking about individuals."
Hundreds of passengers protested in airports across Europe on Sunday against the cancellation of their Israel-bound tickets. Last week, Israel began threatening airlines with financial punishments if they flew in blacklisted passengers.
Airlines could face stiff penalties if they do not comply with passenger blacklists. They range from fines to denial of their aircraft to use a country's airspace.
Mazin Qumsiyeh, the Bethlehem-based spokesman for the activists, said only about 25 activists successfully reached the West Bank on Sunday. Yesterday, they were touring Hebron.
He said organisers of the fly-in would initiate lawsuits against foreign carriers that cancelled activists' flights. He accused them of discriminating against Palestinians.
"The airlines should not act as subcontractors to the Israeli occupation," he said, adding that one European airline barred all non-Jewish and non-Israeli passengers from boarding a Tel Aviv-bound flight on Sunday.
"These airlines implicated themselves in Israeli racism," he said.
But Lufthansa said it had no choice but to comply with Israeli demands.
"Several airlines received information by the Israeli authorities on specific passengers who are not allowed to enter the country and therefore may not board a flight to Israel," the airline said in a statement.
"Airlines must comply with the immigration laws and administrative decrees of the states they are operating into. Therefore no passenger whose entry into the respective state has been denied by local authorities beforehand, like in this case, may be transported."