Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh and Palestinian activists urged Israel on
Tuesday to allow some 2,000 pro-Palestinian foreigners to enter the country en
masse on Sunday.
The protest event, formally called “Welcome to
Palestine,” has been dubbed the “fly-in” or the “flytilla.”
A group of 20
grassroots associations organized the event to protest Israel’s practice of
banning foreign activists at Ben-Gurion Airport, who Israel believes are likely
to endanger public order.
Israel has already stated that it plans to bar
the activists from entering the country either by alerting airlines not to allow
them onto the plane or by deporting them once they arrive.
At a press
conference about the event in Bethlehem, the mayor urged Israel to change its
“These people are coming to talk about peace, they are not coming
to wage war against Israel,” he said. “They are coming to visit the Palestinian
people who are under occupation and to talk to them and to help them because
these people are isolated.”
He continued, “We are asking our neighbors
the Israeli government to make it easy for these people to enter the Palestinian
National Authority, so that we can have this message of peace starting from this
holy city of Bethlehem.”
Batarseh added that “having peace in this part of the world benefits Israelis
He called on Europe and the United States to support
the protest. People who speak out about Israel’s policies are called
“anti-Semitic,” he said, but urged the US and Europe not to fear this
Activists who make it into the area will then spend a week
learning about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and working on Palestinian
projects such as the renovation of a kindergarten, building a museum on the
history of Palestinian refugees and planting trees.
Mazin Qumsiyeh, a
Palestinian activist and professor at Bethlehem University, said that the
foreign visitors were from 15 countries, mostly Central Europe, but that some
were also from the US and Canada.
“These are not hooligans. The
people who are coming are normal, average Europeans who want to learn and visit
people under occupation,” he said.
He added that there were media offices
in Paris, Rome and Berlin publicizing the event, and that people were also
working to support it in Ramallah and Israel.
One Israeli activist at the
press conference, who did not want to be named, said that the police had
questioned seven Israeli activists about the upcoming flytilla.
a similar event last July, the country sent airlines a list of 342 activists who
it believed planned to participate and asked that they be kept from boarding
planes. It deported 124 activists who landed at Ben-Gurion for the
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that the country had
alerted airlines this year as well. Its list included activists from last July’s
fly-in, as well as those who had publicized their intended participation this
Palmor noted that it was standard practice for airlines not to
board passengers who could not disembark once they reached their
He said many pro-Palestinian foreigners entered Israel
through Ben-Gurion all the time; the only ones who were barred were those Israel
believed would create a public disturbance.
Just last week, all but one
participant of the Chile Palestine Friendship group was granted entry through
Ben- Gurion, he said, explaining that the participant who had been stopped had
justified terrorism and incited against Jews in Chile.
If these activists
wanted to, they could enter Israel without creating a scene, he said.
they wanted to go to Bethlehem, they would have gone and no one would have
stopped them,” he said. “But these people want to create a provocation at the
airport; they want to occupy Ben- Gurion.”