Sabine Haddad, a spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry, said 130 activists — including Dutch, Spanish, Belgian, French, German, Bulgarian and U.S. nationals — who landed at Ben Gurion airport have been refused entry to Israel. Six of them were flown back to their home countries and 124 were moved to detention facilities, he said.
The organizers of the “Welcome to Palestine” event said in a press release that the detained were “forcefully handcuffed and dragged” into vehicles and transferred to the Ramle detention facility.
In a letter to airlines, the Israeli Immigration Authority cited “statements by pro-Palestinian radicals” indicating their intent to arrive in Israel on commercial flights “to disrupt order and confront security forces at friction points” as grounds for its request to the airlines to refuse to allow particular individuals on Tel Aviv-bound flights.
The airlines were warned in the letter that “failure to comply with this directive would result in a delay on the flight and their return on the same flight.”
Activists have denied any intent to disrupt order in the airport and said their plan was to visit the Israeli-occupied West Bank after being invited by Palestinian groups.
According to the activists, Air France, Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa, Malev and Easy Jet prevented people from boarding flights Friday.
Cynthia Beatt, 62, a British filmmaker who had planned to fly to Israel from Berlin with Lufthansa to attend the Welcome to Palestine event, said the airline called and told her that Israel would refuse her entry.
“I am a peaceful, normal person and I am against violence of any kind,” she said by phone from Berlin. “This is ridiculous. I find it disturbing, as I have been defamed and vilified by the Israeli government. I do not know what allegations they have against me.”
Protests were held in some European airports Friday against the airlines’ decision to accede to Israel’s request. Officials in Israel expressed satisfaction at the success of efforts to intercept the activists’ arrival, but critics have said the campaign has caused unnecessary damage to the country’s image.
Sockol is a special correspondent.