Pro-Palestinian activists arrested in Israel, delayed in European airports


Israeli police arrest a left-wing activist at the Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv on July 8, 2011 as a small group of protesters gathered to welcome pro-Palestinian activists who flew-in in a mass protest and to visit the West Bank. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/ Getty Images )
July 8, 2011

Israel mobilized extra security forces at its international airport Friday, bracing for the anticipated arrival of hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists even as many of them were being blocked in European airports at the request of Israel’s government.

Thirty-two suspected activists who arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport on Alitalia and EasyJet flights were taken for questioning, police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said. Several Israeli activists who were calling out “Free Palestine” in the arrival hall were arrested.

In Geneva, authorities prevented 50 activists from boarding an EasyJet flight to Israel , delaying the flight for two hours. In some European airports, activists protested the decision not to let them board their flights, accusing the airlines of being complicit with Israeli policies.

Officials in Israel said they were pleased with their success at intercepting the activists, who are trying to participate in an event, dubbed “Welcome to Palestine,” that is designed to highlight conditions in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Activists have used the Tel Aviv facility for years to reach the Palestinian territories, which have no international airport, but have typically kept a low profile, saying if questioned that they were visiting sites in Israel or Israeli friends. This time, the activists said in a news release, they have decided to “simply tell the truth, as required by Israeli law,” regarding their plans.

Critics and human rights groups have long complained about Israeli policy at Ben Gurion airport, saying that Arab passengers are subjected to discrimination there.

Sophia Deeg, a spokeswoman for Welcome to Palestine, said by phone from Germany that both Lufthansa and Swiss, Switzerland’s national airline, have received lists from Israel of passengers barred from entering the country.

Another organizer, Sergio Yahni of the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem, said that demonstrations were planned in France against airlines that have prevented people from boarding Tel Aviv-bound planes. The French Foreign Ministry issued a statement Thursday warning its citizens against taking part in the fly-in, citing concerns about safety risks.

A letter from the Israel’s Immigration Authority to the airlines, provided to The Washington Post by the activists, included a list of passengers that the government had barred from entering Israel and said the airlines were “required not to board” them on Ben Gurion-bound flights.

“Due to statements of pro-Palestinian radicals to arrive on commercial flights from abroad to disrupt the order and confront security forces at friction points, it was decided to refuse their entry in accordance with our authority according to the Law of Entry to Israel 1952,” the letter said.

It added, “In light of the above-mentioned, you are required not to board them on your flights to Israel. ... Failure to comply with this directive would result in a delay on the flight and their return on the same flight.”

Israel has been preoccupied recently with foiling activists’ attempts to travel to the Palestinian territories. This week, it succeeded in preventing a flotilla of aid boats carrying activists from reaching the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the militant Hamas movement.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with public security minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, the chief of police and immigration officials at the airport, instructing them “to act firmly against attempts to create a provocation,” according to a statement from his office.

A day earlier, Aharonovitch, said that the activists would “do well to avoid coming to Israel.”

“We would be happy to host you as tourists, so that you can get to know the wonderful landscapes and people of Israel,” Aharonovitch added. “But not as hooligans and not as law-breakers.”

Mazin Qumsiyeh, a biologist at Bethlehem University and a spokesman for the Welcome to Palestine event, said the activists are committed to nonviolence and accused Israeli authorities of “lying.”

“The activists are coming to show their solidarity with the Palestinian people, who are struggling against occupation and colonialism,” he said. “They will participate in activities such as nonviolent marches, tree planting, tourism and meeting with people.”

Sockol is a special correspondent.

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