Air France fined for offloading non Jewish passengers
By Elham Asaad Buaras
A French court has found Air France guilty of discrimination for removing a pro-Palestinian activist from a flight to Israel because she was not Jewish.
The incident happened during the ‘flytilla’ campaign in April 2012 – when hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists sought to fly to Israel and then make their way to the occupied West Bank.
The court also ordered the airline to pay 13,000 euros (£11,000) in fines and damages.
Horia Ankour, 30, was taken off the plane in Nice after an Air France employee asked whether she had an Israeli passport and if she was Jewish.
When Ankour answered “no” again she was escorted from the flight.
The tribunal court in Bobigny, Seine-Saint-Denis also ordered the French flagship carrier to pay 3,000 Euros in damages to the passenger and her legal fees.
Ankour, a nursing student from Carcassonne had attempted to fly to Tel Aviv from France on April 15, 2012 to take part in the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign, which saw hundreds of activists seek access to Palestine in a bid to travel to the West Bank.
“Our plan was to go to Bethlehem to build a large international school, but also to repair damaged wells, planting fruit trees and meet families in difficulty” said Horia Ankour.
French prosecutors had backed her in the case, saying it was a clear case of discrimination.
Air France had said her name was on a list of undesirables provided by Israeli authorities and it was certain she would not be allowed into the country.
“It was maybe a minute before the doors were about to close,” Ankour told the court.
She said a stewardess walked up to her seat and asked “if my passport was Israeli. I said no, it is French.”
“She then told me she had another question, but she wanted a bit of privacy. We walked to the front [of the plane] near the gateway. I heard her colleague on the Walkie-In talkie on the ground telling her to ask me if I was Jewish. She turned to me and asked the question. I said no, she said ‘My colleague is communicating with Israel, they want this information’”.
Israel has barred Palestinians from the country since it first dispossessed hundreds of thousands of them in 1948 to make way for a state. Roughly seven million people of Palestinian descent are barred from returning to their ancestral homeland, and scores of activists have been denied entry.
Palestinians with Western passports are often subjected to extensive questioning at Israeli airports and sometimes turned back.
Air France denied they were discriminating against Ankour on the grounds of religion or race.
The airline’s lawyer Fabrice Pradon had argued that they were “respecting international law, French law and its contractual obligations”, when it followed orders by the Israeli authorities to “prohibited Ankour from entering its territory”.
Ankour’s lawyer Patrick Baudouin dismissed Air France’s explanation insiting the airline had acted unlawfully.
“During this operation, a number of passengers were not able to board because they were on the list” of names denied entry by Israeli authorities he said. “But what distinguished Horia Ankour case is that she was not included in the list when she boarded,” he said. “In addition there is a difference between Israel and being Jewish, it is quite unhealthy.”