Saturday July 09, 2011 14:51 by Saed Bannoura – IMEMC News
Hundreds of supporters of Palestinian equal rights arrived in Bethlehem Saturday to begin a program organized by 40 international and Palestinian civil society organizations meant to raise awareness about what life is like for Palestinians in the West Bank and inside Israel.
Israeli officials have used a variety of tactics over the last week to try to stop the “Welcome to Palestine” event, including a media blitz on Monday July 4th declaring that they expected the airport to be ‘overrun with hooligans and lawbreakers’ on Friday, then beefing up security at the airport and bringing in military personnel to stop any participants in the tour from entering.
The Israeli government also issued orders to international airline companies telling them to prevent ticketed passengers on an Israeli-issued ‘blacklist’ from boarding their flights, and many airlines complied with the order.
Israeli radio Reshet Bet reported Saturday that Israel intends to deport at least 120 people suspected of being Palestine solidarity activists. Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said that 120 people were prevented from entering the country, and will be deported within 24-48 hours
On Friday night, 35 activists landed in Tel Aviv on a Lufthansa flight, and were detained by Israeli forces upon arrival.
Israeli activists went to the airport and began chanting ‘Free Palestine’, and faced shouts and jeers from Israelis in the airport before being attacked and arrested by Israeli police.
According to the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign, “The initiative will take participants (Palestinians and Internationals) to different parts of Palestine from the north to the Negev and highlight the power of nonviolence and peace building efforts. Visitors will be accommodated locally and will enjoy Palestinian hospitality and a program of networking, fellowship, and volunteer peace work in Palestinian towns and villages together with hundreds of local activists.
“The week of activities starts on July 9 because that is the anniversary of the International Court of Justice ruling about the illegality of the Settlements and the apartheid wall in the occupied Palestinian Territories and the anniversary of the Palestinian Civil Society Call to Action: July 9 Ramallah area, July 10 Bethlehem area, July 11 North, July 12 Hebron and Jordan Valley, July 13 Neqab, July 14-15 Jerusalem.”
People who wish to visit Palestine may only do so through Israeli-controlled borders and airports, and over the last five years, the Israeli government has stepped up deportations and exclusions of international visitors suspected of having sympathy for Palestinian equal rights.