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6 Jul, 2016

Four UK Muslims detained for days in Israel for trying to visit Al-Aqsa mosque

Jerusalem, (IINA), Sunday 03 Jul 2016 – Four British Muslims including a 10-year-old boy who planned to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque were detained and deported from Israel, Middle East Eye (MEE) reported.

The Muslims who were held for several days in an Israeli detention centre were earlier this week removed from a Monarch Airlines flight back to the UK when passengers complained they felt uncomfortable.

The four individuals, who included a British aid worker and a father with his 10-year-old son, had planned to spend the final days of Ramadan at Islam’s third holiest site, the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem.

Image from Middle East Eye

The father and son and the two others, who were not travelling together, landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport on different Monarch flights last week.All four were denied entry into the country, subjected to hours of questioning by Israeli authorities and sent to the airport’s detention centre without explanation, according to two of the men, who spoke to MEE.

The two men were held in solitary confinement, while the father and son were detained together. All four had their personal items confiscated, including their phones. They were not allowed to make any calls except to the British consulate in Tel-Aviv, they said.

The aid worker, who was the first to arrive and was held longest, said he was alone in a cell for five days.

On Sunday, Israeli authorities put all four on a Monarch flight headed back to London, but before it could take off, passengers complained that the group was making them “uncomfortable,” the men said.

All four British nationals told MEE that after they were boarded last by the Israeli authorities, they were stared at by the other passengers.

“We were sat down for a good hour waiting for the flight to leave, but before we could depart, a member of the cabin crew came and asked us to leave our seats with our luggage because the captain wanted to speak to us,” said one of the two men travelling alone.

At this point, the passenger, who wished to remain anonymous, said that other passengers began filming them with their phones, which made them feel as though they could not make a scene aboard the plane even though they were frustrated by the situation.

“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,” he said.

“Me and the other passengers who were kicked off then began giving the Israelis a hard time, 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 cabin crew had said the captain wanted to speak to us personally, but the captain was nowhere to be seen.”

The four were then returned in a prison truck to the detention centre, where Israeli security officials told them they had been removed from the flight because their presence made other passengers “uncomfortable”.

In a statement, UK-based Monarch Airlines confirmed that four passengers had been taken off the flight but declined to comment any further or explain why the passengers were ejected.

Earlier this year, two Palestinian citizens of Israel were expelled from an Aegean Airlines flight bound for Tel Aviv before it took off from Athens.

Palestinian officials at the time demanded that the Greek government take action, saying the decision to expel the pair was “reminiscent of apartheid”.

The man, who has travelled to Jerusalem for Ramadan for the last two years, said he felt “deceived” and “let down” by Monarch’s cabin crew.

The father travelling with his son, who also wished to remain anonymous, said the boy was emotionally traumatized by the experience.

“My son is still asking me and his mum: ‘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.

“For him to understand this is definitely not easy and, as a parent, you want to do everything possible to shelter them from any harm.”

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth office said in a statement: “We were in touch with local authorities and provided assistance to four British nationals following their detention at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel”.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

The Friends of Al-Aqsa blog said two of the passengers returned home the next day on Monarch, and the other two travelled back on a different airline.