Israel nabs fly-in activists at airport (AP) Associated Press) By JOSEF FEDERMAN JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 04/15/12 4:26 pm ET)
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JERUSALEM – Israel detained dozens of international activists as they
landed at its main airport on Sunday, preventing them from entering
the country to participate in a planned solidarity mission with
Palestinians in the West Bank.
Israel said the activists, part of an umbrella group called "Welcome
to Palestine," were provocateurs who posed a security threat. But
organizers said the event, meant to draw attention to Israeli travel
restrictions on Palestinians, was nonviolent, and they accused Israel
of using heavy-handed tactics to stamp out legitimate protest.
Israel is jittery about the prospect of a large influx of foreign
protesters arriving because of deadly confrontations with pro-
Palestinian activists in the past. In the worst instance, Israeli
naval commandos clashed with activists on board a flotilla trying to
break Israel´s blockade of the Gaza Strip in May 2010, killing nine
By early evening, the Interior Ministry said a total of 49 people had
been stopped at the airport, most on flights from France, but also
from Spain, Switzerland, Canada, Italy and Portugal. At least 12 were
placed on flights back home, while arrangements were being made to
expel the others.
Hundreds of police were deployed in and around the airport. Police
spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said nine Israeli sympathizers were
questioned at the airport after causing "public disturbances," such
as unfurling pro-Palestinian banners. No other unrest was reported.
Asked why Israeli authorities consider this particular group of
activists a threat, Rosenfeld replied that they have "security
backgrounds" or were "involved previously in different activities,"
including "security issues concerning Israel."
He would not elaborate.
Hundreds of additional activists were expected to arrive on flights
Amira Musallam, one of the coordinators for "Welcome to Palestine,"
said she was aware of only two activists making it through the
airport. She said participants had been told not to lie if questioned
at the airport, and that the weeklong program was now in doubt. The
program included a project to renovate a school, give participants
tours, plant trees and "get to know the Palestinian territories."
"The aim of ´Welcome to Palestine´ is when we have guests coming to
Palestine — to Ramallah, Hebron, to Bethlehem, they should be able to
say we are going to Palestine and not to lie. They (Israel) forbids
people to visit, they are controlling all the borders," she said.
Israel took action over the weekend to prevent the fly-in from ever
taking place by pressing airlines not to allow at least 100, maybe
more, known activists, to board their flights.
Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said Israel had sent a
list of suspected activists who would not be allowed into the
country. 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.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the Israeli police for
foiling the activists´ plans and called the activists misguided.
"If they want to come check human rights, have them go to Syria.
Maybe they can stop the massacre of thousands of innocents. Have them
go to Iran and stop the stoning of women. Have them go to Gaza and
stop the practice of using children as a human shield for terrorists
who fire rockets on our citizens," he said.
The protest is meant to draw attention to how Israel controls access
into Palestinian areas. The Palestinians claim the West Bank, east
Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, all captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast
war, for their future state.
Visitors can only reach the West Bank through Israeli-controlled land
crossings or Israeli airports, though at any given time, hundreds of
foreigners, including activists, are in the territory, which Israel
captured in 1967.
Travelers headed for Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank
often report being detained and questioned, sometimes for hours, by
Israeli border authorities.
In a related development, Israeli TV channels broadcast footage
Sunday of a senior military officer assaulting an unarmed activist
who was protesting near the West Bank city of Jericho. In the video,
the Lt. Col. is seen striking the activist in the mouth with the butt
of his rifle´s magazine.
In response, the military said it viewed the incident seriously, and
it was being investigated.
Israel restricts access to the border crossing with the Hamas-
controlled Gaza Strip to foreign journalists, diplomats and aid
workers. Some 1.6 million Palestinians live there.
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.
Some Israelis accused the government of overreacting to the
"Instead of waiting to present the crackpot activists with flowers,
putting them on buses and leading them directly to their destination
in Bethlehem, the heads of the defense establishment and security
forces have once again lost their minds," columnist Eitan Haber wrote
in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper. (© 2012 The Associated Press
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