Irish Embassy in Israel complains over treatment of flotilla activists


THE IRISH Embassy in Tel Aviv yesterday lodged two “firm protests” with the Israeli authorities over the treatment of Irish activists who missed two planned flights due to what the Israelis claimed were security procedures.

According to Irish officials and the Israeli embassy in Dublin, seven of the 14 Irish citizens detained after they tried to breach Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza over a week ago were due to be deported from Ben Gurion airport yesterday morning.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore, who had met Israeli ambassador Boaz Modai on Wednesday evening to press for the early release of those detained, had instructed the Irish Embassy in Tel Aviv to “reinforce with the Israeli authorities” his demand for the activists’ earliest possible departure.

However, none of the seven made the British Airways flight they were scheduled to travel on.

The Israeli embassy claimed the airline took a decision not to allow all seven on board.

“The reasons for this decision are unknown to us, and must be sought from British Airways,” a statement from the embassy said. A spokesman for British Airways, however, said the airline was due to carry only two deportees at the request of the Israeli authorities. He said those two arrived at the aircraft too late to make the flight. The spokesman added that the airline has a limit on the number of deportees it will take on a flight but he declined to give further details.

Arrangements were then made for all seven to travel on a Lufthansa flight later yesterday afternoon.

Irish diplomats present at the airport, including Ambassador Breifne O’Reilly, made repeated requests to be allowed to accompany the activists to the aircraft but these were declined by the Israeli authorities. In the end, all but two of the seven activists, campaign co-ordinator Fintan Lane and university lecturer Zoe Lawlor, were allowed to board the Lufthansa aircraft.

The Israeli embassy refused to provide an explanation as to why Mr Lane and Ms Lawlor were prevented from boarding the flight, saying it could not refer to “the events which took place at Ben Gurion airport this afternoon because it has to do with security matters”. It also blamed the activists for their predicament.

“Since the whole [flotilla] episode was a mere provocation, then it is obviously in the interest of the participants – and certainly not in the interest of Israel – to prolong it as much as they can,” the embassy said in a statement.

“We can only express our earnest hope that these people leave Israeli soil as quickly as possible.”

The Irish Ship to Gaza campaign branded what transpired at the airport “bizarre and cruel” and Irish diplomats privately expressed frustration.

Mr Lane and Ms Lawlor eventually succeeded in boarding a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul yesterday evening and are expected home later today. The remaining seven activists, including Socialist MEP Paul Murphy, are due to fly out of Israel on an El Al flight today. Irish Embassy staff will be at Ben Gurion airport this morning to ensure the seven leave as planned.