By accident Tanya slipped passed 650 police officers at Ben-Gurion Airport –
determined to bar her entry to Israel – and made it to the West Bank Palestinian
city of Bethlehem.
The young petite woman, with her brown hair pulled
back in a ponytail, seemed surprised to be standing there, let alone talking
with a room full of reporters.
“I do not know why I am here, but I am
here,” said Tanya. Although she is a French citizen, she spoke in English and
did not give her last name.
She was one of an estimated 12 members of the
“Welcome to Palestine” event who actually made it to Bethlehem. Close to 2,000
activists were expected to try to fly into Ben-Gurion and announce that they had
come to visit Palestine.
On Sunday, as of press time, only
participated, and many of them were barred from boarding flights in
their home countries after Israel sent the airlines a blacklist with 500
names. Some 60
activists were detained upon arrival.
Tanya, who wore a blue shirt and a
gray sweatshirt, described how she had been part of a group of 25 pro-
Palestinian French activists who flew from Geneva to Tel Aviv.
“I was one
of the last to get off the plane. There were a lot of police officers. I
saw a lot of people who were on the flight and who I am friends with,” she
After that, she explained, it was very confusing. People spoke with
her in Hebrew, but she didn’t understand them. They kept wanting her to move
from one place to another and she never was able to explain to them why she had
“They said, ‘follow this man.’ Then they said, ‘follow this
woman.’ So I followed. I ended up outside the building. There were
two buses and a lot of people. They were staring at me. Someone said I
had to be on a particular bus,” she said.
So she got on that bus and
before she knew it, she was outside Terminal 3.
“It is important to be
here because we should all have the right to come to Palestine and to meet
Palestinian people. We should fight for what we believe is right,” she
Tanya was among the lucky activists. Palestinian organizer
Mazin Qumsiyeh said that the dozen who made it to Bethlehem did not tell
passport control why they arrived.
In Istanbul, another group of 50
French citizens were not as lucky. They flew Turkish Airlines believing it would
not cede to a request by Israel not to board passengers participating in the
event, which has been dubbed the fly-in or the flytilla.
tactic appeared to work, as they easily left Paris.
But according to
French pro-Palestinian activist Olivia Zemore, 63, who heads the delegation,
they were stopped in Istanbul, when they tried to board a 12:40 p.m. flight for
She spoke with The Jerusalem Post from her cellphone, close to
press time, while she was still in the airport, but was hopeful that she had a
seat on a flight back to Paris on Monday.
“We have been squatting here to
protest and to get our money back. We wanted a piece of paper stating
that we were denied boarding, and we finally got it,” she said. “Now we are
asking Turkish Airlines to pay our return ticket.” It appeared, she added, that
the airline had agreed to do this.
“I think the Israeli government is
just crazy because it would have been easy to let us go to Bethlehem,” she said,
and explained that among the activities they planned to participate in was to
build a school.
Zemor, who heads the Euro Palestine group and who is a
member of the BDS movement, had been vocal before the trip about her intention
to participate in the flytilla.
She had been hopeful that she would be
allowed to enter Israel, even though she attempted to participate in the same
event last July and was barred from boarding a plane at the airport in
Last year Belgian citizen Myriam De Ly, 60, flew to Israel in the
July Welcome to Palestine event.
When she landed, she was stopped at
passport control, taken to a nearby prison and deported after four
On Saturday, the airline and the Belgian Foreign Ministry informed
her that her ticket to Israel had been canceled.
Still, she was among 60
Belgian citizens who went to the airport with their luggage at 5:30 a.m. in
hopes that they would still be able to board their flights on Lufthansa and
“One by one they said we could not check in,” she said. None
of the group was allowed to board, she explained.
When they refused to
leave the airport and protested the police were called.
violently, and they tried to take us out, one by one,” she said.
everyone on a list of 500 names blacklisted by Israel were
Among those kept from boarding was former banker Jules
Troxler, 62, who described himself as pro-Israel. He left his home in
Zurich at 6:30 a.m. only to discover that he could not fly to visit an ailing
friend because he was blacklisted.
He was startled, he said, but not
totally surprised, because his friend had warned him that there might be trouble
because of the flytilla.
But the airline never explained to him why his
ticket was canceled. Additionally, all of his attempts to reason with
Swiss Air, he said, failed. The trip, Troxler said, had been planned for
“We were going to go to the Dead Sea for two days. I
especially wanted to come at this time of year because it is not so hot,” he
“I guess I booked the wrong day,” he added.
contributed to this report.