A pro-Palestinian group has described a new airline route between Israel and Scotland due to launch in June as Israel’s “apartheid system pushing a tendril down into Scottish soil”.
The new route between Tel Aviv and Edinburgh run by Israir, is due to start on 13 June. But the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) is calling for the airline’s authorisation to be suspended because most Palestinians are banned from using Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.
The SPSC says this is discriminatory on grounds of “national origin” adding that Palestinians studying, working or living in Scotland, will be barred from the route.
Scots married to Palestinians are also barred from travelling to Israel via Ben Gurion Airport even though UK citizens are normally permitted entry to Israel without visas.
Any Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza must fly from Scotland to Jordan and enter the West Bank via an Israeli-controlled checkpoint, where people can be kept waiting for up to 12 hours.
The only Palestinians who can use Ben Gurion Airport are those resident in Israel with Israeli citizenship.
As with apartheid South Africa, the Israeli military occupation authority operates a system of identity cards that divides Palestinians into categories which determine where they can and cannot go. Palestine Solidarity Campaign Scotland
SPSC called on the Scottish Government to suspend authorisation for Israir to fly the Edinburgh – Tel Aviv route while it “discriminates on racial, ethnic or national grounds against Palestinians who live in Scotland”.
The group added: “Travel restrictions imposed by Israel on Palestinians are at the heart of the current conflict. As with apartheid South Africa, the Israeli military occupation authority operates a system of identity cards that divides Palestinians into categories which determine where they can and cannot go. That apartheid system is pushing a tendril down into Scottish soil.”
The SPSC continued: “Many Scots have visited the West Bank and have seen the apartheid system there that reserves many roads for the exclusive use of Jewish settlers and bans Palestinian residents from driving or even walking on them.
“Jewish illegal settlers will soon be able to fly in to Edinburgh, enjoy the Edinburgh Festival and return conveniently and relatively inexpensively. Palestinians studying, working or living in Scotland will be barred from this route when returning to Bethlehem, twinned with Glasgow, or Nablus, twinned with Dundee.
“Israeli Jews and Palestinians will fly from Edinburgh to Bethlehem by different routes, one much more expensive and time-consuming than the other.”
A Palestinian living in Glasgow called Mohammed Arzaq, who has a Scottish wife, told The Ferret he is prevented from travelling to the West Bank via Tel Aviv.
Azraq, who was brought up in Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem before moving to Scotland in 2014, said: “I have to fly from here to Jordan and then across the border into Palestine, which Israel controls.
“My wife, before we were married, was allowed to fly to Tel Aviv as a British citizen. But since we’ve been married she’s not allowed to use Tel Aviv because she’s married to a Palestinian.”
He added: “So she has to come the same way as I do. Usually, British citizens are allowed to travel around Israel. But if you’re married to a Palestinian you get what’s called West Bank visa only.
“No Palestinians in West Bank or Gaza are allowed to use it (Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv). Only Palestinians who remained in Israel after 1948 with Israeli citizenship are allowed to use Tel Aviv airport.
“We’re not allowed to go to Jerusalem. We’re not allowed to go to 91 per cent of Palestine.”
However, Edward Sutherland, secretary of the Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland (COFIS), welcomed the new route and said that while Israel is “far from perfect” on “every objective index of human freedom it scores far higher than any of its neighbours”.
He added: “Bethlehem is not Bishopbriggs, and we must look at each issue in a Middle Eastern context. Israeli Arabs have equality with Jews and have attained high status in politics, business, culture and the law.”
Sutherland said that Ben Gurion Airport has the tightest security in the world “by necessity”.
He added that as long as the Palestinian Authority “makes clear that (Jewish) Israelis would not be welcome in an independent Palestine, we are a long way from the freedom of movement between Israel and the West Bank that we would like to see”.
“Even more remote is freedom of travel between Gaza and Israel, due to Hamas’ commitment to Israel’s destruction,” he continued.
The dilemma for the majority is choosing between the benefits in being part of Israel and their commitment, which we completely respect and support, to seeking Palestinian self-determination. Edward Sutherland, Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland
He also said there is no such thing as a “Jewish-only road anywhere”, adding that while there are security restrictions, “religion has no part of them”
“Let us not encourage bigots by using careless language,” Sutherland said. “For many years, Palestinians in East Jerusalem have had the right to apply for Israeli citizenship, but few have done so due to the stigma of being seen as traitors.
“The dilemma for the majority is choosing between the benefits in being part of Israel and their commitment, which we completely respect and support, to seeking Palestinian self-determination.
He continued: “The distinction with South Africa, where people were discriminated against within their own country should be obvious. Still on discrimination, there are direct flights from Edinburgh to Abu Dhabi and Qatar, both of which are forbidden to Israelis. The world is not perfect.
“Neither we nor the SPSC will solve the problems of the Middle East. However, COFIS believes in bringing people together and promoting dialogue and understanding, always remembering that there cannot be peace for just one side. Bonding beats boycotting.”
In reply to SPSC’s comments, the Scottish Government said it had no authority to suspend Israir’s route.
“Decisions on which airlines can operate in the UK are currently reserved to Westminster,” said a Transport Scotland spokesman.
At time of writing, the UK Government had not commented.
A spokesman for Edinburgh Airport said: “Edinburgh Airport is open to any airline that complies with applicable UK laws. Border control is a sovereign issue controlled on a country by country basis.”
Both Israir and the Israeli Embassy in London did not reply to our requests for a comment.
The Scottish Human Rights Commission, Equality and Human Rights Commission (in Scotland) and Amnesty International, all declined to comment.