Four British Muslims travelers recount their ordeals in Israel, which prevented them from visiting the al-Aqsa Mosque and forced them back home after keeping them in custody for days.
The four, including an aid worker and a father along with his 10-year-old son, had planned to visit the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, one of Islam’s holiest sites, in the final days of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, the Middle East Eye reported.
The passengers said that after landing at the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv on different flights last week, they were all denied entry into the occupied territories, subjected to hours of questioning and sent to the airport’s detention center without explanation.
Israeli authorities also confiscated the Britons’ personal items, prohibiting them from making any phone calls except to the UK consulate in Tel Aviv.
The aid worker, the longest-held passenger, said he was held in solitary confinement for five days.
Later, Israeli authorities put the four on a Monarch Airlines flight back to London. However, they were removed from the flight before it could take off. They were initially told by the cabin crew that the captain wanted to speak to them, but there was no such a case.
“It was only when we were escorted back to the tarmac, which was full of armed Israeli security guards, that we realized the captain wasn’t going to speak to us,” one of the passengers said, adding that they were “demanding answers from the Israelis on why we were kicked off the flight because up until now no one was giving us an answer.”
The four were then returned in a prison truck to the detention center, where they were told that they made other passengers feel “uncomfortable.”
The Monarch Airlines confirmed in a statement that the British nationals had been taken off the flight, but refused to elaborate on further details regarding the incident.
One of the four passengers said he felt “deceived” and “let down” by Monarch’s cabin crew.
The father travelling with his son also complained that the boy was emotionally traumatized by the experience.
“My son is still asking me and his mom: ‘Why did they stop us out of 27 people? Why did we not go to al-Aqsa? Why did we spend so many days in a small room with bars?” he said.
Two of the UK citizens, however, returned home the next day on Monarch, and the other two travelled back on a different airline.
Earlier this year, two Palestinians were also expelled from an Aegean Airlines flight destined for Tel Aviv before it took off from the Greek capital, Athens.
Palestinian officials demanded that the Greek government take action, saying such a move was “reminiscent of apartheid.”
The occupied Palestinian territories have been the scene of heightened tensions since early October 2015, when Israel imposed restrictions on the entry of Palestinian worshipers into the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East al-Quds (Jerusalem).
Palestinians are angry at increasing violence by Israeli settlers at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, saying the Tel Aviv regime seeks to change the status quo of the sacred site.
Nearly 220 Palestinians have lost their lives at the hands of Israeli forces since the beginning of last October.
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