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Banning the ‘flytilla’: an own goal for airlines


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.

Yours sincerely,

Felicity Arbuthnot 

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