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West Bank Freedom Flytilla

Around 1,300 supporters of Palestinian human and national rights planned to arrive in Israel’s Ben-Gurion international airport on 15 April.

Their destination was the West Bank in occupied Palestine, where they planned to take part in a cultural project including the building of a school and repairing wells damaged by settlers.

Travellers to the occupied territories are forced to lie in order to pass through Israel, otherwise they are subjected to interrogation, detention and deportation. The ‘Welcome to Palestine’ mass fly-in was endorsed by Desmond Tutu, Tony Benn and Noam Chomsky, among others.

The initiative aimed to draw attention to Palestinians’ rights to travel to the West Bank in compliance with international law.

Israeli authorities responded by sending letters to 60% of the participants banning them from flying on the grounds they were a threat to security, including myself and four others from Scotland.

The airlines were threatened with legal action and complied. Israel sent 650 police and security officers to the airport to deal with the ‘threat’ of confrontation and violence, although the activists came with a message of solidarity and peace.

Those who had planned to leave from Manchester on the budget airline Jet2 were presented with a piece of ridiculous theatre as ground staff tore up their boarding passes in front of them.

A small victory was achieved when the airline finally caved in to demands for a refund.

Many other European airports had demonstrations against the flight ban.

Other passengers on Lufthansa flights to Tel Aviv were affected when the airline cancelled all flights on 15 April.

Six Scots made it to Ben Gurion airport including Joy Cherkaoui from Dumfries and Galloway.

At Manchester airport she decribed how ‘the goal of the initiative is not to demonstrate at Ben Gurion airport but to proceed peacefully to Bethlehem, where our Palestinian hosts are waiting to greet us. There is no way into Palestine except through Israeli-controlled airports or checkpoints.’

Also flying were Karolin Hijazi from Aberdeen and Lyn Leitch who is a member of Mid Lothian Trades Council in Edinburgh.

On landing they were taken to Givon prison. In total, Israel holds 4,600 political prisoners including 200 children.

In a solidarity action, and to commemorate Palestinian Prisoners Day on 17 April, British prisoners refused food on that day.