A leading activist on Tuesday blasted Israel’s “crazy” reaction to a fly-in campaign of hundreds expected to arrive at Tel Aviv airport this Sunday in solidarity with occupied Palestinians.
Israeli security forces said earlier on Tuesday that they had begun preparations for roughly 2,500 activists flying in primarily from Europe and North America, dubbing the ‘Welcome to Palestine’ campaign as “hostile.”
“We have made arrangements and are prepared for this operation, which is expected to begin from Sunday,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, without giving further details.
Mick Napier, UK coordinator for Welcome to Palestine 2012, said the Israeli government was “whipping up a frenzy” and that the campaign is simply to highlight the right to travel to the occupied West Bank without hindrance.
“The aim is very clear, modest and minimal, it’s to highlight the fact that Israel has turned the West Bank into prison and is not allowing the prisoners to receive visitors,” he said.
Visitors can access the West Bank, but must lie to Israeli custom officials at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport in order to do so.
“I have been to the West Bank successfully, but in order to do that, I had to lie. When I told them the truth last July, I was hand shackled and taken away.”
Napier was part of roughly 100 activists who took part in a similar campaign last summer, and was detained for a number of days without charge.
The UK coordinator said he expected much of the same treatment this time.
“You can be sure that many hundreds will arrive in Tel Aviv. If the signs are anything to go by, the Israelis will imprison them,” he said.
Airlines cooperated with Israel last year and prevented hundreds from boarding their flights to Tel Aviv.
Napier said it will be difficult for Israel to repeat the same measures, revealing that the Jewish state had access to a list of names last year that will not be available this time around.
“They [Israel] had a lucky break last time, they managed to get a hold of a list of 322 names on it, they won’t have that again. They’ll have to put a lot more effort into it,” he said.
Napier also warned that campaigners will pursue legal action against airlines if they repeated their actions of last year.
“We’ll be putting legal pressure on airlines for breaking contracts and cancelling holidays at the last minute, and that for us will be a domestic forum for us to raise issues of Palestinian human rights.”
Israel’s public security minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch on Monday supervised a meeting of the security forces that will be in charge of the operation at Ben Gurion, including airport authorities, immigration officials and police.
“No provocation will be tolerated,” Israeli media quoted him telling his forces. “As any other country would do, Israel will stop hostile elements from entering its territory.”
Israel maintains a military occupation of the West Bank, and controls all entry points to the territory.
Within the West Bank, indigenous Palestinians are routinely humiliated and harassed at Israeli military checkpoints, which stifle Palestinian movement in their own land.
Campaigners would prefer not to go to Tel Aviv in order to reach the West Bank, Napier said, adding that their sole ambition was to be able to travel to the occupied territory peacefully and freely.
“Because Israel destroyed the Palestinian airport, the only way into the West Bank is through Israeli-controlled checkpoints. We have to go through Tel Aviv [to get to the West Bank], but we don’t want to go through Tel Aviv,” he said.
The Welcome to Palestine campaign, otherwise known on social media as the ‘flytilla’, has received the high-profile endorsement of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, author Noam Chomsky, journalist John Pilger and the Palestinian ambassador to the UK.