Police detain 'flytilla' activists; hundreds more expected

12 activists from Portugal, Canada, Switzerland, France being returned to ports of origin; 31 others being held in custody until return flight; pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian activists scuffle at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Activists hold up welcome to Palestine signs at airport  370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Activists hold up welcome to Palestine signs at airport 370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Police detained a few dozen pro-Palestinian activists who flew to Israel as part of the "flytilla" protest on Sunday. The activists want to draw attention to Israel’s practice of barring foreigners it believes could cause trouble by engaging in pro-Palestinian activities during their visit.
So far, 43 activists have been banned from entry, 31 have been taken to the Givon prison facility in Ramle and 12 activists from Portugal, Canada, Switzerland, and France have already been flown out of the country. Nine left-wing activists who came to terminal three from outside of the airport were detained as well.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told reporters at the airport said the attempts by pro-Palestinian activists to enter Israel were still at their peak and praised police for enabling the airport to function normally on one of its busiest days.
"As you can see, things are working normally at Ben-Gurion," the minister said. He also praised 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 and that this goal has so far been met.
Hundreds of unarmed police officers were guarding the airport on Sunday, with Israel preparing to bar entry to some 2,000 activists total from at least 15 different countries, mostly in Europe, either by preventing them from boarding their flights or by deporting them once they arrive. Police estimated that anywhere from 500 to 1,000 activists would actually succeed in boarding flights and arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport.
Central police district chief Cmdr. Bentsi Sao said Sunday that the bulk of flights carrying fly-in activists are expected to land between the hours of 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sunday. Flights known to be carrying activists were being diverted to Terminal 1, while all other traffic was being directed in and out of Terminal 3.
Most of the activists who intended on coming to Israel as part of the fly-in protest were denied boarding by airlines, he said.
Police said a Portuguese pro-Palestinian activist "caused disruptions" on board a flight from Jordan to Israel. The man was denied entry along with dozens of other activists.
Police sent a list of 500 activists to foreign airlines saying they would be denied entry to Israel and most of those on the list were not allowed to board their flights, Sao said.
A small number of pro-Israel activists with Israeli flags were also present, awaiting the arrival of pro-Palestinian activists. 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."
Canadian lone soldier Ze'ev Ben-Yosef, 24, who arrived in Israel from Vancouver three months ago 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."
National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari was also present to protest the fly-in along with right-wing activist Baruch Marzel.
Two Israeli pro-Palestinian activists brandished signs reading "welcome to Palestine" at the end of a police briefing given to reporters about the fly-in.
The activists were whisked away immediately by police and were pursued by a number of right wing activists who shouted at them, "go to Syria, hypocrites, what are you looking for in a democracy."
Police later carted off another two left-wing activists for holding "Welcome to Palestine" signs.
Minor scuffles between the pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel activists broke out before the pair were whisked away by police. The scene repeated itself several hours later when two additional pro-Palestinian activists brandished signs, clashing with pro-Israel activists before being taken away by police. One pro-Israeli activist on the scene, Yossi Davidoff said the flytilla activists should be "shown how Hamas in Gaza hangs collaborators while Israel provides medical treatment to Palestinians injured in traffic accidents."
Dozens of pro-Palestinian activists demonstrated at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and Brussels national airport Sunday morning after several airlines prevented people attempting to fly to Israel as part of the protest from boarding airplanes.
The Foreign Ministry has over the past few weeks been in discussions with its counterparts in capitals around the world, explaining Israel’s position regarding the fly-in and making clear that those coming to engage in provocative actions would not be given an entry visa.
One official explained that if someone flies into a country without the necessary visa or is not given that visa when he or she lands, the responsibility – and expense – for flying the person back falls on the airline.
Already on Wednesday, Amnon Shmueli, who heads the Immigration Authority at Ben-Gurion Airport, sent a letter to all airlines with a list of names of the people it believed were planning on participating in the fly-in, according to a document posted on its website.
The document said, “Due to statements of pro-Palestinian radicals to arrive on commercial flights from abroad to disrupt order and confront security forces at friction points, it was decided to deny their entry.”
“Attached is a list of passengers that are denied entry to Israel. In light of the above mentioned, you are ordered not to board them on your flights,” the letter states.
“Failure to comply with this directive will result in sanctions against the airlines.”
According to the website, already as early as Tuesday a foreign visitor from Sweden who entered Israel from Eilat was asked to sign a pledge not to be a member of a pro-Palestinian organization, not to be in contact with any pro-Palestinian organizations and not to participate in pro-Palestinian activities.
Aharonovitch confirmed Saturday night that Israel had asked airlines not to board fly-in passengers.
“They acted pretty much accordingly,” he said.
Those identified by Israel as provocateurs who manage to circumvent the no-fly lists and land in Israel will be “isolated from the central airport,” Aharonovitch said.
Activists who get past all of Israel’s measures “will be arrested if they cause disturbances,” he added.
Two European airlines, Jet2.com and Lufthansa, told passengers on Friday that they planned to comply with Israel’s demands, according to the Welcome to Palestine website.
Herb Keinon and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.