Israel prepares for 'fly-in' activists

Several hundred extra security forces ready for expected Friday arrival of West Bank-bound pro-Palestinian Europeans.

    Israeli police said they would deal with activists trying to set themselves on fire or to attack airport officials [Reuters]

    Israel has deployed hundreds of extra police at its already heavily guarded international airport and asked European airlines to bar potential troublemakers from Tel Aviv-bound flights in anticipation of the arrival of hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists.

    The "Welcome to Palestine" movement includes an estimated 600 people and around half of the activists destined for the West Bank town of Bethlehem are reportedly French nationals.

    Organisers of the campaign, 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.

    In Paris, eight activists were blocked from boarding a Malev Airlines flight 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.

    Cautious measures

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

    Israeli concerns were further heightened by deadly clashes in recent weeks with pro-Palestinian activists along its frontiers with Lebanon and Syria.

    Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said officers deployed at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion International Airport have been prepared to deal with scenarios such as airport officials being attacked or activists settings themselves on fire.

    Al Jazeera's Cal Perry, reporting from Jerusalem, said that Israel aims to counter the activists with an equivalent number of additional airport police.

    "600-900 people is generally the number people think are going to come in. [Israeli authorities] say they have the names of half," our correspondent said.

    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 says it will not stop people because of their political beliefs and that it will bar people who plan 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, meanwhile, have denied any direct connection with the latest attempt to breach the Gaza blockade, which appears to have largely fizzled out this week after flotilla ships were held up by mysterious malfunctions and refusal by Greek authorities to let the vessels set sail from its ports.

    View Al Jazeera's in depth coverage

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

    Some, the organisers added, 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."

    Tight security policies

    The Israeli public security minister claimed some of the potential arrivals were "hooligans", and Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, made a show of reviewing security agencies' plans at the airport before flying to Romania on Wednesday.

    Some Israeli critics have accused officials of appearing unnecessarily hysterical and painting the country as a police state.

    But Israel's tourism ministry, anticipating possible inconveniences or delays at the airport, said it would greet incoming visitors over the weekend with flowers.

    Israel says it has the right to determine who passes through its borders and routinely denies entry to people of Palestinian origin and their foreign supporters, including high-profile academics like Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein.

    The only way to get to the West Bank is through Israel-controlled crossings - either by arriving at Ben Gurion Airport and driving to the West Bank, or from Jordan, by passing through the Israeli-controlled crossing on the Jordan-West Bank border.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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