Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Israeli airspace a prison"

From Alaa Tartir in Ma'an:

On a recent journey from Ramallah to London -- of course through the compulsory Amman route as the West Bank is not allowed an airport -- I experienced a new form of Israeli detention, this time in Israeli airspace.

It was an unpleasant experience, as passengers were forbidden from fulfilling basic human needs such as using the toilet, receiving food or water, or moving between seats to chat with friends.

I am fully aware that the denial of these basic human needs does not compare with the everyday violations of human rights that the Palestinians suffer on the ground due to the Israeli occupation, or with other violations of human rights in the wider region.

But, while traveling, I was puzzled by a simple question: How many people from all over the world are imprisoned everyday in Israeli airspace?

On my flight back to London, I sat in the front row opposite the crew manager.

Early on in the flight, the pilot announced: "Ladies and gentlemen, we are now entering Israeli airspace and due to security requirements, all passengers must remain seated with their seat belts fastened until a further notice."

I looked at the crew manger at that point and said: "I am in an urgent need to use the toilet, can I please use it?"

While I felt like a pupil asking his teacher in the classroom for permission to use the bathroom, she told me confidently, "Sorry sir, this is not allowed at the moment, please wait and hold it."

I tried again, and she refused once again.

When I asked why, she told me "Due to the rules and regulations."

I asked which "rules and regulations," and after some hesitation, she said she truly didn't know but "We have been told that if any passenger moves that will be a threat to the Israeli security."

As a passenger, I felt I deserved a satisfactory reason why using the toilet presented a threat to Israel's security. I asked how she felt about this "plane arrest" for herself and the passengers she flew with to Amman.

As she blushed, the passenger next to me introduced himself as an American Jew and said: "So the government of Israel is also arresting us, the Jewish people."

I tell this story for illustrative reasons: my concern is that these airlines accept Israel's demand to "arrest" their passengers and deny their basic human rights.

How do the global civil aviation regulations allow Israel to apply this pressure? Why don't the stakeholders confront this policy? Why does the international community allow it?

I want to illustrate that the occupation follows us all, not just Palestinians, who try to fly freely.
There was a similar article in the Jordan Times a couple of years ago, blaming "the usual Israeli arrogance." (Interestingly, it mentions that some flights ignore people who walk about at the time.)

Of course, neither writer bothers to do a modicum of research to find out why these restrictions might be in place. They are interested in bashing Israel, not in doing reporting. And their audience certainly doesn't want to know whether any of these restrictions are anything but Israel acting like a bully for no reason.

There is indeed a rule that Israel requests passengers sit down while in Israeli airspace. And the reason is simple: fears of a 9/11 style attack.

From The Telegraph, December 2009, which discussed restrictions on flights to and from the US at the time due to fears of specific terrorist activity:

Up to 25,000 people were caught up in the disruption at British airports on Sunday as airlines scrambled extra staff to cope with demands from US authorities which were kept deliberately “unpredictable” to wrong-foot terrorists.

The most stringent restrictions came as aircraft entered US airspace, with passengers confined to their seats for the last hour of their flight, banned from having access to books, newspapers or even blankets or pillows.

The clampdown came as airlines around the world responded to new rules from the US Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) in the wake of the Detroit bombing attempt.

The restrictions imposed for the final hour are similar to anti-hijacking rules already in place on flights to Israel.

“Once you are within 200 miles of Israeli airspace, passengers have to sit down,” one pilot said.

“The idea is that it makes it possible to scramble fighter jets and escort the plane in.

“If you do try to move in the last hour, it does draw attention to you.”
Since Israel is obviously the top target for terrorists, and one whose security posture is always at the level that the US was in December 2009, the 30-minute requirement of staying in one's seats does not seem so absurd anymore.

But don't tell that to Alaa Tartir. He isn't interested in the truth. His point is to get everyone to be upset that Israeli "occupation" affects even people who aren't Palestinian Arab.