Israeli authorities blocked hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists from flying into Israel on Sunday as part of a planned “flytilla” initiative.Public 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 Israel.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 airlines.
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.Rosenfeld 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 evening.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.Some 100 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 press time.About 15 British citizens were stopped from boarding in Manchester.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.Sunday was 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 holidays.Still, only the presence of police and journalists, as well as a scattered number of Right and Left-wing activists, alerted passengers to the flytilla’s presence.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 him.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 airport.“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 “Jew-hating anarchists.”National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari was also present to protest the fly-in along with right-wing activist Baruch Marzel.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 Syria instead.Mazin recalled that during the battle against apartheid people would make the same comments about the neighboring African governments.“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 said.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 East.”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 innocent civilians.”
“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.After 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 is.”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 night said.