Ramallah – Palestine is awaiting visitors. Over 1,000 are expected on Sunday, mainly from Europe and the US. They will land at Lydda airport, renamed Ben-Gurion airport by the occupation, and inform Israeli authorities that they have come to visit “Palestine.” Most have already bought their tickets and are braced for a hostile Israeli reception at the airport, as part of the 2012 “Welcome to Palestine” campaign.
The campaign, mounted by a group of over 25 Palestinian non-governmental organizations, aims to challenge Israel’s policy of siege and isolation of the occupied Palestinian territories and its claim to allow freedom of access and movement. This initiative was launched in 2010 in response to Israel’s deportation of hundreds of foreign volunteers, solidarity activists, and NGO workers and its attempts to bar them from the West Bank. Last year’s campaign resulted in Israel preventing the entry of hundreds of would-be visitors to Palestine in July 2011.
The organizers affirm that this year’s guests have no intention of causing any disruption at the airport, a claim they say Israel has been making as a pretext to bar them entry. They will simply refuse to lie by claiming to be tourists or pilgrims, and declare that they have been invited to visit Palestine.
If the visitors are allowed in, they will take part in a program of tours, encounters, and activities that has been arranged for them in the West Bank. These include helping to build a new school in Bethlehem, and working with farmers whose land adjoins Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank and is threatened with confiscation.”We proceeded with our preparations despite the fact that several volunteers were harassed by Israeli occupation authorities,” the organizers said in a message of invitation to visitors. Israeli forces raided the home of one peace activist involved in the project and took his computer and his cell phone. Others were delayed or questioned for hours as they exited or entered the country.
“The international community recognizes the basic human right of Palestinians to receive visitors from abroad and supports the right of their own citizens to travel to Palestine without harassment. We reject all attempts to isolate and silence us,” the letter said.
“Where Israel works to isolate us, we invite all to join us openly and proudly,” it added. “With the help of the international community and local volunteers, we will achieve our goal of peace and freedom and thus restore the values and principles that we share as human beings.”
The letter was co-signed by a range of religious, political, and intellectual figures from around the world, including South Africa’s Desmond Tutu and the American academic Noam Chomsky.
Organizers are meanwhile waiting to see how many of the over 3,000 people who have registered with the campaign will be able to make it into Israel.
The Israelis have declared war on them, with the police announcing preparations to deal with the anticipated arrival of hundreds of “pro-Palestinian provocateurs” at the airport. Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich, who was given charge of the matter by the government, has said activists will be dealt with firmly, prevented from staging protests at the airport, and denied entry for onward travel to the West Bank.Israeli security agencies, assisted by European governments and airlines, have obtained the names of some participants in this year’s campaign and sought to ensure they do not leave their home countries by instructing airlines to prevent them from boarding Israel-bound aircraft or cancelling their reservations. Those who do manage to catch flights will be detained on arrival and deported.
The French foreign ministry meanwhile lent a helping hand by posting a travel advisory on its website warning French citizens not to travel to the Palestinian territories on 15 April because of the risk of being arrested by Israeli authorities.
Ahead of last year’s Welcome to Palestine campaign, the Israelis managed to obtain – probably by hacking – a list of 342 participants, aged between nine and 83. Airlines were ordered not to allow them to board their flights. The Israeli military also deployed in force at the airport. More than 127 arriving passengers were detained and imprisoned for several days as they insisted on their right to visit Palestinian associations and families.
The Israeli media have for the most part gone along with the government line demonizing the campaign and the visitors, although some outlets have run interviews with organizers in Europe stressing their peaceful intentions. Nevertheless, a major airport security alert has been ordered between Saturday and Monday, when the visits are due to arrive. Those who make it can also expect to be under close security scrutiny during their week-long stay.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
#Airflotilla2 | Mission “Welcome to Palestine”: The detailed program