Israel tries to ground the Gaza 'flytilla'

July 9, 2011

Many international peace activists from the Welcome to Palestine campaign started to land at the Tel Aviv airport on Friday, as the Gaza Freedom Flotilla appeared to have been largely stalled in Greece under Israel’s intense diplomatic pressure.

Israel on Friday faced an unanticipated attempt by hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists who flew into Israel.
According to AP, scores of activists trying to reach Israel were blocked at airports in Europe and two U.S. activists who arrived in Israel were deported early Friday, Israeli officials said.
Israeli media reported that hundreds of extra police were deployed at Ben Gurion airport to try to halt the influx of protesters, who are part of the Welcome to Palestine campaign.
The hundreds of activists were expected to arrive on an estimated 50 scheduled flights from across Europe, beginning at 1 a.m. on Friday. The campaign has denied that those participating intend to try to reach Gaza or provoke deliberate disruption at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport.
“As stated… we invite international guests, including families, to visit us in Palestine,” Welcome to Palestine said in a statement on Thursday, The Guardian reported. “We hope and expect the Israeli authorities to allow them safe passage in compliance with international law and normal diplomatic relations.
“We also reject the Israeli government threat of mass deportation of peace activists and the attempt to justify this unjustifiable action with rumors that have been spread.”
Israel increased security and asked foreign airlines to prevent blacklisted travelers from boarding Israel-bound flights, as hundreds said they would travel to Israel to protest Israeli policies toward the Palestinians.
On Israel’s call, several airlines barred about 200 would-be protesters from boarding flights to Israel from Europe, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
“The companies did not allow them on the airplanes because we told them clearly they wouldn’t be able to enter Israel,” Rosenfeld said.
One of the organizers, French activist Olivia Zemor, said her group planned only nonviolent activities. Welcome to Palestine issued a statement Friday calling the moves to prevent activists from reaching Israel “provocative, blackmailing and illegal.”
At Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, several would-be protesters were turned away from check-in counters on Friday morning.
A list viewed at the airport by The Associated Press read: “Attached is a list of passengers who will be refused entry to Israel.”
Protesters subsequently gathered in the terminal and shouted “Boycott Israel” as French police stood by.
Cynthia Beatt, a British citizen living in Germany, told the AP she had been barred from boarding a Lufthansa plane Friday morning in Berlin. She had planned to take part in the protest.
“Lufthansa called me last night and said I would not be allowed to board their plane because Israel denied me entry,” Beatt said.
The detailed lists showed that Israel had been tracking the activists. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, police and intelligence units had followed social networks used by the groups organizing the protest.
Organizers of the protest said a total of about 600 people were scheduled to take part, and Israeli officials said they expected more to land later in the day.
Two activists arrived in Israel from Greece overnight and were deported, said Israeli Foreign Ministry official Oded Ben-Hur. He identified them as U.S. citizens who had initially planned to join a protest flotilla that had intended to sail to the Gaza Strip but was foiled by the Greek government.
Ben-Hur also said an unspecified number of activists had been allowed through the terminal without incident. Israel has not publicized its criteria for denying entry, but has said peaceful visitors will not be deported.
The activists have placed Israel in an awkward position.