Israeli authorities blocked hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists from flying
into Israel on Sunday as part of a planned “flytilla” initiative.
Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told reporters at the airport, “As you
can see, things are working normally at Ben-Gurion.”
As he spoke a police
presence made up of both uniformed, unarmed officers and plainclothes policemen
secured the airport. The minister praised them for enabling the airport to
function smoothly, and thanked European countries and airlines for refusing to
allow hundreds of activists to board aircraft bound for
Aharonovitch said that his main aim was to prevent disturbances
from breaking out at the airport.
The majority of the activists were
stopped from boarding their Israel-bound flights at European airports, after
Israel transferred a list of 500 blacklisted people to foreign
Frustrated flytilla activists held protests in European
airports including Manchester, Brussels and Paris.
Throughout the day and
evening, planes believed to be carrying activists who managed to board aircraft
were diverted to Terminal 1, where the Interior Ministry’s Immigration Authority
questioned dozens of suspected activists.
Over 60 activists were barred
entry by press time.
Ordinary passengers on the same planes who passed
through the stringent security were given roses by Foreign Ministry officials
and a letter welcoming them to Israel.
At least 30 activists were taken
to the Givon prison facility in Ramle pending their return flights, and
activists from Portugal, Canada, Switzerland and France have already been flown
out of the country, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
added that a Portuguese pro-Palestinian activist “caused disruptions” on board a
flight from Jordan to Israel, and was denied entry into the country. A
delegation of eight British activists was denied entry on Sunday
Nine Israeli Left-wing activists who came to Ben- Gurion’s
Terminal 3 from outside of the airport caused sporadic waves of commotion in an otherwise busy but routine day.
The activists came in pairs,
brandishing “Welcome to Palestine” signs every few hours. They were instantly
spotted by police and whisked away on each occasion, trailed by a handful of
pro- Israel activists who waved the national flag and shouted: “Why don’t you go
to Syria, hypocrites!” Organizers of the “Welcome to Palestine” event, also
dubbed “the fly-in,” estimated that several hundred activists from 15 countries,
most of them European, had been barred from boarding flights, but did not have
the exact numbers.
Belgian activists said that Lufthansa and Swiss Air
airlines refused to board their entire 60-member delegation.
people were stopped in Paris. An additional 50 members of that delegation tried
to fly Turkish Airlines and were stopped in Istanbul, where they remained as of
About 15 British citizens were stopped from boarding in
Some 12 activists managed to slip pass police at Ben-Gurion
Airport. They joined an additional 15-20 activists who arrived in Bethlehem over
the past few days.
Police have said that the flytilla participants plan
to create disturbances, though activists claimed they have peaceful intentions
to volunteer and learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
one of the busiest days of the year in Ben-Gurion Airport, as over 45,000
passengers passed through in the aftermath of the Passover and Easter
Still, only the presence of police and journalists, as well as
a scattered number of Right and Left-wing activists, alerted passengers to the
One passenger from Paris was startled to learn of
the event as she watched pro-Israeli activists dance with the flag and sing,
“the Jewish people live.”
“Pro-Palestinian activists here, really?” she
said, after learning of the cause for the presence of the pro-Israel activists.
Her eyes went wide and she pushed her cart in her husband’s direction to tell
One of the pro-Israel activists, Yoni Klein of Ramat Gan, said, “We
have to show our Zionism and provide better hasbara [public diplomacy]. The
world does not see this enough.”
Ze’ev Ben-Yosef, 24, who arrived in
Israel from Vancouver, Canada, three months ago and will soon enlist in the IDF
as a lone soldier, was also among the pro-Israel activists at the
“I’m here to show my solidarity with the State of Israel,”
Ben-Yosef said, adding that the flytilla activists were “coming with bad
intentions; they want to cause disruption at the airport. We’re here as
patriots that are loyal to the State of Israel and to show that with every act
of hatred we become stronger.”
Ben-Yosef described the activists as
National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari was also
present to protest the fly-in along with right-wing activist Baruch
In the late afternoon, Palestinian organizers of the event held a
press conference in Bethlehem, in which they said that the event had drawn a lot
of press even if it had not brought them the desired 2,000 activists, which they
anticipated would arrive.
“It was a success in terms of the media. We
have managed to show that Israel is not a democracy,” said Palestinian activist
Abed Abu Srour.
Palestinian activist Mazin Qumsiyeh said that the Israeli
government had lied when it called the protesters provocateurs. These people, he
said, have come to peacefully support the Palestinians.
He and activist
Amira Musallam took issue with Israel’s call on the activists – including
through a written letter – to spend their energies protesting the violence in
Mazin recalled that during the battle against apartheid
people would make the same comments about the neighboring African
“It is a diversionary tactic,” he said.
“This is just
a very funny, ridiculous letter that they have to reconsider,” Musallam said she
held it up for reporters to see. “People are not that stupid,” she
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, prior to a meeting with visiting
US Senator Joe Lieberman, asked of the fly-in activists: “What are they even
doing here? Why did they come to Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle
Echoing a sarcastic letter his office prepared for distributing to
the activists upon their arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport, Netanyahu said that if
they really wanted to check out the human rights situation in the region they
should go to Syria, and “perhaps help stop the slaughter of thousands of
“They should go to Iran and stop the stoning of
women, they should go to Gaza and stop the use of children as human shields for
terrorists who are firing rockets at our citizens,” Netanyahu said.
they do that “study tour,” he added, the activists should then come here and
“talk to us about what they learned, about the Middle East as it
Netanyahu thanked Aharonovitch and the officers and commanders of
the Israel Police for their “determined and successful operation” in foiling the
activists’ efforts, a statement sent by the Prime Minister’s Office late Sunday