Preparations for 'flytilla' prevent airport chaos

Reporter's Notebook: Security services maintain order despite protest, media jungle on one of busiest flying days.

Police (illustrative) (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Police (illustrative)
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
There were more cameramen and reporters at Ben-Gurion Airport than activists on Sunday, as nearly 50,000 passengers passed through on one of the busiest travel days in the year.
Many Israelis returned home from Passover trips abroad, tourists started their own visits in Israel, and thousands of people boarded outgoing flights.
Despite the apparent routine scene, as Terminal 3 bustled with people, suitcases, and the buzz of international travel, Israeli authorities were quietly preventing hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists from entering the country. This was no spontaneous operational success, but rather, the result of painstaking prior planning.
The first part of the plan began to fall into place months ago, when the intelligence services were ordered to begin gathering names of prominent foreign activists who would try to enter the country on the “flytilla.”
According to assessments, the activists were seeking to join potentially violent demonstrations in east Jerusalem and the security fence if they managed to enter the country.
Hundreds of names were assembled, and sent to foreign airlines. The airlines had a clear incentive to ban the activists from boarding, for it is the airlines that have to shoulder the cost of a return ticket for those barred from entering a country.
As the day came closer, police and the Public Security Ministry chose to repeat last year’s mode of action, and bring all passenger aircraft carrying activists to the smaller Terminal 1, thereby keeping any activists away from Israel’s main artery of air travel at Terminal 3.
The few occasions when the peace was disturbed occurred when pro-Palestinian Israeli activists snuck into the airport, held up signs and were surrounded by heckling pro-Israel activists. Police officers acted according to instructions when they swiftly whisked the sign-holders out of sight.
For passengers coming out of customs and witnessing the bizarre spectacle, the most noticeable aspect was probably the trail of dozens of cameramen and journalists rushing around the detained Israeli activists as they were walked out of the airport by police.
On occasions such as this, the term “media spectacle” takes on a new meaning.