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Israel blocks pro-Palestinian activists at Ben-Gurion airport (ISRAEL HAYOM) Shlomi Diaz, Itsik Saban, Shlomo Cesana, Nitzi Yakov, Yori Yalon, Ilan Gattegno, Israel Hayom Staff and News Agencies 04/15/12)Source: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=3945 Israel Hayom Israel Hayom Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Hundreds of police officers deploy at Israel´s international airport to thwart "flightilla" • Israel says only 150 activists will actually arrive, while protest organizers put number at around 1,000 • PMO to greet activists with letter "thanking" them for choosing Israel over Syria, Gaza and others as the object of their humanitarian concern.

Israel Police completed preparations over the weekend in anticipation of the pro-Palestinian demonstration expected Sunday at Ben-Gurion International Airport, in which activists – mainly from Europe and the U.S. – were set to arrive in Israel and try to reach Judea and Samaria to show solidarity with the Palestinians.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said hundreds of protesters were expected to land at the airport in the course of the day, as part of a campaign called "Welcome to Palestine."

The police contingent at the airport was reinforced to deal with possible unrest or disruptions there, Rosenfeld said.

By midday Sunday, nine pro-Palestinian activists arrived in Israel. Two - a Portuguese national who flew from Amman and a Canadian citizen who flew from the U.S. - were deported after being questioned at the airport.

A woman, described as a one of the leaders of the fly-in, was stopped along with three other activists who came on a flight from Switzerland. The protesters, all French nationals, were taken in for questioning and expected to be deported.

Earlier Sunday morning, three activists arrived on a flight from Paris and were stopped for questioning, before being allowed entry into the country.

Some 650 police officers, under the authority of Central District Commander Maj. Gen. Bentzi Sao, began deploying at the airport´s terminals on Saturday ahead of the protest, dubbed the "flightilla," which coincides with one of the busiest days at Ben-Gurion airport as about 50,000 Israelis return home after the Passover holiday. Most of the officers will be wearing civilian clothes and will not be armed, as an effort to better blend in with the crowd and decrease tensions – and to minimize the damage to Israel´s image among tourists.

Officers in the Interior Ministry´s Oz unit, which deals with enforcing immigration policies, have decided to halt their labor sanctions and take part in the law enforcement effort ahead of the flightilla.

The greatest number of Israeli forces will be deployed in Terminal 1, where flights carrying activists are to be diverted. Passengers considered problematic will either be kept on board their flights or will be transferred to holding facilities. "The goal is to expel them from the country within 24 hours," said a Central District police officer.

The blacklist of passenger names includes about 1,200 activists, who were identified by intelligence sources using posts to Twitter and Facebook. Passengers on that list who arrive in Israel will be questioned and be asked to sign a declaration stating they do not intend to enter Judea and Samaria without approval from an officer with the rank of colonel.

Police Commissioner Insp. Gen. Yohanan Danino said Saturday, "We will prevent any damage to the operation of Israel´s international airport." Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch added that anyone who disturbs the peace at the airport would be arrested.

Haddad said Israel had sent a list of suspected activists to international airlines, asking the carriers to block them from boarding Israel-bound flights. It warned the airlines they would have to cover the cost of the activists´ return flights, and threatened unspecified sanctions on airlines if they did not comply, she said.

Some airlines, including Lufthansa, EasyJet and Air France canceled the tickets of some 400 activists and made official announcements about their actions. Other airlines did not make such announcements but indicated they would also honor Israel´s request.

Leehee Rothschild, a "Welcome to Palestine" member, said that dozens of activists had since been informed by airlines that their tickets to Tel Aviv had been canceled.

"Israel´s willingness to detain people who have not committed any crime and have done nothing but say they came to visit Palestine is a hysterical reaction," Rothschild said.

The Public Security Ministry, Foreign Ministry and the National Information Directorate established a joint headquarters to deal with the flightilla, and by Saturday officials there surmised only about 150 activists would actually arrive in Israel. Campaign organizer Amira Musallam said she still expected hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters from around the world to come.

The National Information Directorate at the Prime Minister´s Office also intends to "greet" the activists with a sarcastic letter reading:

"Dear activist, We appreciate your choosing to make Israel the object of your humanitarian concerns. We know there were many other worthy choices. You could have chosen to protest the Syrian regime´s daily savagery against its own people, which has claimed thousands of lives. You could have chosen to protest the Iranian regime´s brutal crackdown on dissent and support of terrorism throughout the world. You could have chosen to protest Hamas rule in Gaza, where terror organizations commit a double war crime by firing rockets at civilians and hiding behind civilians.

But instead you chose to protest against Israel, the Middle East´s sole democracy, where women are equal, the press criticizes the government, human rights organizations can operate freely, religious freedom is protected for all and minorities do not live in fear. We therefore suggest that you first solve the real problems of the region, and the come back and share with us your experience. Have a nice flight.”

Last July, Israel blocked a similar fly-in effort by preventing dozens from boarding Tel Aviv-bound flights in Europe and denying entry to 69 people.

The protest is meant to draw attention to how Israel controls access into Palestinian areas. Travelers headed for Palestinian-controlled areas often report being detained and questioned, sometimes for hours, by Israeli border authorities.

Israel limits access to the border crossing to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers.

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