World Bulletin/News Desk
Dozens of pro-Palestinian activists were prevented from boarding Israel-bound flights on Friday, due to the fact that their names appeared on a blacklist distributed by the Israeli government to a number of European airlines, Israeli paper Haaretz reported.
The flights of passengers from the Airflotilla2, or flytilla, the campaign in which activists challenge Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories by flying into Tel Aviv and announcing to customs their intent to travel to the West Bank. The campaign started last year with a similar “Welcome to Palestine” fly-in, where some were also refused entry onto their purchased departure flights, at the behest of Israeli security.
In the letter, which was obtained by Haaretz, Amnon Shmueli of the Interior Ministry's Population and Immigration Authority writes, "In light of statements by radical pro-Palestinian activists indicating that they intend to arrive on commercial flights from abroad, in order to disturb the peace and confront security forces at Ben Gurion International Airport and at other points of friction, it has been decided to forbid their entrance, in accordance with my authority according to the Law of Entry to Israel."
Referring to a list of names of known pro-Palestinian activists whom Israel suspects will attempt to enter the country over the weekend, which was included in the letter, Shmueli writes, "In light of the above, you are requested not to board them onto Israel-bound flights.
The letter then goes on to threaten punitive steps if the airlines fail to comply with Israeli demands. "A failure to uphold this directive is liable to lead to leveling of sanctions against the airlines."
"Paranoid and hysterical"
After receiving the letter, a number of European airlines, including the German airline Lufthansa, contacted activists whose names appeared on the list and notified them that their tickets had been cancelled and would be refunded. Israeli papers reported that the Israeli Police expect that between 500 and 1,000 activists will attempt to enter Israel from European countries as part of the action, called “Welcome to Palestine.” Police are planning to intercept them at the airport and prevent their entry into the country. Hundreds of police officers are expected to be stationed at the airport ahead of their arrival, most of them unarmed and clothed in civilian dress.
One of the organisers of the Welcome to Palestine programme and a university professor in Bethlehem Mazin Qumsiyeh said Israel's response was "paranoid and hysterical" to Guardian newspaper. "They simply don't want the world to know what's going on in Palestine," he said
The activists say they will be open about their intention to travel directly in special buses from the airport to Bethlehem. Israel controls all entry points to the West Bank.
A similar "flytilla" last July resulted in the detention and deportation of scores of activists. In May 2010, a flotilla of boats attempting to reach Gaza ended in Israeli forces shooting dead nine activists.