Welcome to Palestine visitors travel to Israel | #Airflotilla2

Maan News Agency | April 15, 2012

Israeli policemen walk in the arrivals hall at Ben Gurion International Airport
near Tel Aviv April 15, 2012. . Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Visitors on a tour of Palestine began to arrive in Israel on Sunday, as demonstrations were held in European airports to protest the barring of dozens of tourists as part of the ‘Welcome to Palestine’ initiative.

Organizer Mazin Qumsiyeh said he expected participants to land on Sunday. Israeli news site Ynet reported several passengers from Paris had been allowed to enter after questioning in Ben Gurion airport, and one was denied entry.

Earlier, organizers told Israeli daily Haaretz that more than 60 percent of the expected 1,500 had flights canceled by airlines, after Israel circulated a blacklist of passengers and warned it would fine carriers.

An Interior Ministry spokeswoman said the Immigration Authority had on Wednesday given airlines the names of some 1,200 activists whose entrance to Israel has been barred.

On Saturday, Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israeli police, said that hundreds of police officers had been deployed in and around Ben Gurion airport.

“We are expecting hundreds of activists throughout Sunday. Some will be sent back to their countries. As part of normal procedure, they will be questioned and each case will be decided upon individually,” Rosenfeld said.

Meanwhile, protests were held in Brussels, Paris, Geneva and Rome airports to support the initiative, Qumsiyeh said.

Some 25 organizations have invited internationals to visit Palestine from April 15-21 as part of the Welcome to Palestine week. Israel has denounced participants as provocateurs intent on confrontation with Israeli security forces.

On Saturday, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a letter it hoped to hand the activists upon their arrival.

“You could have chosen to protest the Syrian regime’s daily savagery against its own people, which has claimed thousands of lives,” the letter read. “You could have chosen to protest the Iranian regime’s brutal crackdown on dissent and support of terrorism throughout the world.”

“But instead you chose to protest against Israel, the Middle East’s sole democracy … We therefore suggest that you first solve the real problems of the region, and then come back and share with us your experience. Have a nice flight.”

Palestinian organizations have arranged a week-long program, starting Sunday, which includes helping to build a school in Bethlehem and day trips to Hebron, the Jordan Valley, Ramallah and Jerusalem.

All visitors to the West Bank must first pass Israeli border control and many arriving in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport do not tell Israeli security if they will be visiting Palestinian areas as this leads to interrogation and often deportation.

But the campaign has asked its guests to be open about their plans to visit the West Bank.

Reuters contributed to this report

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