Paris ‘flytilla’ activists grounded

Pro-Palestinian activists barred from flights after Israel releases names of blacklisted passengers to carriers.

France police stops activists
A pro-Palestine activist in Paris holds a sign that reads: “Hinderance to free movement. On what grounds?” [Reuters]

Nearly 100 French activists en route to Israel have been stopped from boarding their flights by French authorities in Paris.

Stranded at Charles De Gaulle Airport, the activists have staged a protest denouncing the French authorities’ action.

“They have staged a noisy protests at the airport, shouting ‘Collaborators, collaborators!’ to condemn the French authorities for their action,” our correspondent said on Friday.

The Welcome to Palestine campaign planned to send an estimated 600 people to the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Around half of the activists involved are reportedly French nationals.

Al Jazeera’s Cal Perry, reporting from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion international airport, said: “Across airports in Europe, we understand that a blacklist of passengers has been released. The Israelis are asking airlines to stop people from boarding planes. But the Israelis are saying those people will be deported anyway.”

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Israel has deployed 600 additional police officers at the already heavily guarded Ben Gurion airport and asked European airlines to bar “potential troublemakers” from Tel Aviv-bound flights.

Following the warnings, airlines had “already refused to take on board around 200 of these passengers”, Sabine Hadad, an Israeli immigration spokeswoman, told the AFP news agency.

Two US activists who had arrived overnight were sent back to the US, she said.

Eight activists were blocked from boarding a Malev Airlines flight in Paris on Thursday.

Philippe Arnaud, one of those turned away, has led calls to boycott Israeli products in France.

He said Malev, a Hungarian airline, showed him a list provided by Israeli authorities of some 329 people being barred from Israel, which holds complete control over who can enter and exit the West Bank.

Organisers of the “Welcome to Palestine” movement, which some describe as a “flytilla” in reference to a parallel maritime protest flotilla, say they hope to spend a week visiting Palestinian families.

Expected to arrive in Israel late on Thursday and on Friday, the activists say they are on a peaceful mission to draw attention to the plight of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

Cautious measures

Israel has been wary of entanglement with foreign activists since its naval commandos attacked passengers aboard an international Gaza-bound flotilla last year, killing nine people.

Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman, said officers deployed at Ben Gurion airport have been prepared to deal with scenarios such as airport officials being attacked or activists settings themselves on fire.

Our correspondent in Tel Aviv said Israel had prepared to deal with an estimated 600-900 activists attempting to enter the country.

Israel is known for its strict airline security, beginning with check-ins on incoming flights and officials claim they have sophisticated intelligence procedures in place to identify potential threats.

It remains unclear how many activists would be denied entry after landing at the airport.

Israel said it would not stop people because of their political beliefs but that it would bar people who planned to carry out illegal or violent acts.

Rosenfeld said airport facilities could hold as many as 80 detainees, and that any overflow would be sent to a prison in southern Israel.

European activists

The airborne activists have denied any direct connection with the latest attempt to breach the Gaza blockade, which appears to have largely fizzled out after flotilla ships were held up by mysterious malfunctions and refusal by Greek authorities to let the vessels set sail from its ports.

Organisers of the flights to Tel Aviv say their people will tour the West Bank in solidarity with the Palestinians.

Some, the organisers said, would take part in routine Friday protests against Israel in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In Europe, German federal police said as long as passengers had valid tickets and passports, they had no grounds to stop any activists at airports there.

But German authorities also said that German citizens of Palestinian descent would not be allowed into Israel.

The vast majority of Palestinians are barred from using Israel’s airport.

Two German airlines, flagship carrier Lufthansa and Air Berlin, said on Thursday they received lists of people from Israel who are not allowed into the country.

“[Lufthansa] is obliged not to transport any passengers who do not hold valid entry permits or whose entry into the respective state has been denied by local authorities beforehand as in this case,” Patrick Meschenmoser, a company spokesman, said on Thursday.

Yigal Palmor, spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry, confirmed that the list had been made available to carriers, who are liable to repatriate at their own expense passengers refused entry at their destination.

“The organisers did not come with any intention of demonstrating at the airport or doing anything like that,” Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Palestinian-American professor, said.

“Israeli authorities made the mistake of mobilising security on people who are obviously not a security threat.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies