MARK WEISS in Jerusalem
BETHLEHEM’S MAYOR has urged Israel to allow hundreds of international activists, expected to arrive this weekend as part of the Welcome to Palestine solidarity campaign, to travel freely to the West Bank.
Israel views the fly-in as a “provocation” and has vowed to arrest known activists who land at Ben Gurion international airport. However, Bethlehem mayor Victor Batarseh has called on Israel not to “humiliate” the foreign visitors.
“We demand our international friends have access to Bethlehem,” he said. “It is our right to welcome visitors.”
Israel believes up to 1,000 activists will try to reach the West Bank, which is occupied by Israel, on flights from Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Israeli officials have contacted airlines with lists of activists in the hopes that they will not be allowed to board flights to Ben Gurion. Known pro-Palestinians who land in Israel will be held at the airport in a special detention facility and deported home.
Some 650 police, mainly plain-clothed and unarmed, will be deployed at the airport in an operation dubbed Safe Sphere Two.
Police are also on alert to prevent radical Israeli sympathisers or right-wing protesters from creating disturbances at the airport.
Organisers say there is no plan to protest at the airport. Activists have been instructed to tell Israeli officials the purpose of their trip is “to visit Palestine”, which can only be accessed via Ben Gurion airport or the Israeli-controlled Allenby land crossing between the West Bank and Jordan.
Palestinian organisations have arranged a week-long programme for activists who manage to avoid the Israeli security clampdown, including a stone-setting ceremony for a Bethlehem school and day trips to West Bank sites.