Israel blocks fly-in by activists at airport

Mon, Apr 16, 2012, 01:00

ISRAELI OFFICIALS have expressed satisfaction after preventing the arrival of the vast majority of pro-Palestinian foreign activists who had planned to participate in yesterday’s Welcome to Palestine fly-in.

Some 1,200 people had planned to take part in the campaign, dubbed the flytilla, now in its third year, but only a handful managed to reach the West Bank.

Most potential participants were prevented from boarding Israel-bound flights from European airports after Israel warned airline companies that they would be forced to foot the bill to put the activists on the next available return flight.

Lufthansa, Air France, Swiss Air and Jet2.comwere among the carriers that prevented passengers identified by Israel from flying to Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport. Those who did succeed in reaching Israel were met with a massive security clampdown as some 650 police, most of them plainclothed, deployed at the airport, with the aim of preventing the activists from leaving the arrivals terminal.

The protesters, more than a third of them from France, were either deported or put in a special detention facility awaiting flights home. The day chosen for the protest coincided with one of the busiest days of the year for the airport as some 50,000 Jewish and Christian pilgrims flew home after spending the Passover and Easter holidays in the Holy Land.

Israel accused the activists, whom officials dubbed “anarchists” and “provocateurs”, of planning to disturb the peace at the airport and hold anti-Israel protests. Those who arrived were handed a sarcastic government letter, thanking them for choosing Israel as the object of their humanitarian concerns, rather than Syria, where thousands have been killed, Iran or Gaza. It concluded: “We suggest you solve first the real problems of the region, and then come back and share with us your experience. Have a nice flight.”

The organisers denied planning to disrupt activity at the airport and stressed that their aim was to visit a school in Bethlehem and conduct solidarity trips around the West Bank, highlighting Israel’s restriction of Palestinian freedom of movement.