Israel is denying entry to activists trying to enter the West Bank from Tel Aviv to bring solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Up to 2,000 people, mainly from Europe, will attempt to board planes in what has been nicknamed a “flytilla” – referring to previous attempts to breach the blockade of Gaza by flotillas of boats.
But the Israeli authorities have warned they will not permit entry to “hostile elements” and “provocateurs” and have been pressurising airlines to comply – not least by telling them they will be fined if they carry passengers whom Israel has already denied entry, as well as being responsible for the costs of returning them home.
The pressure seems to be working. The German carrier Lufthansa cancelled the tickets of dozens of activists on Thursday, saying it was obliged to comply with Israel’s request not to fly certain passengers to Tel Aviv.
This afternoon, three passengers due to fly from Manchester received an email from their carrier Jet2.com telling them that their places on the flight had been cancelled (and that they wouldn’t get their money back). Other groups from York and Glasgow have had similar messages.
Hundreds of police will be deployed to Ben Gurion airport In Tel Aviv from Saturday night, and airlines have been issued with “no-fly” lists of known activists along with requests that they be prevented from boarding planes.
“The provocateurs will be dealt with in a determined and quick way,” Israel’s public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, said this week. “If they arrive in Israel they will be identified, removed from the plane, their entry into Israel will be prevented and they will be moved to a detention facility until they are flown out of Israel.”
Israel’s response is “paranoid and hysterical”, said Mazin Qumsiyeh, one of the organisers of the Welcome to Palestine programme and a university professor in Bethlehem. “They simply don’t want the world to know what’s going on in Palestine,” he said.
The activists say they will be open about their intention to travel directly in special buses from the airport to Bethlehem. Israel controls all entry points to the West Bank. They hope to help with building a desperately needed school in Bethlehem.
The mayor of Bethlehem, Victor Batarseh, told a press conference this week: “These people are coming to talk about peace, they are not coming to wage war against Israel. They are coming to visit the Palestinian people who are under occupation and to talk to them and to help them because these people are isolated.”
Norma Turner, a retired nurse who is one of the three activists from Manchester barred by the Israeli government and by Jet2.com told The Morning Star earlier this week
: “The Israeli state denies Palestinian people all of their basic human rights including in many cases access to water, food, jobs, justice through the courts, good health care and medicines.”
She emphasied that the Palestinian people were “prisoners in their own land and cannot freely receive visitors from abroad. The continued collective punishment of the indigenous population of Palestine is enforced through military might and support of America and Europe, including the British government.”
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