Allegedly "non-violent" activists fly to Israel to stone soldiers and destroy the security fence.
More than 120 foreign pro-Palestinian activists were detained at Israel's Ben Gurion airport on Friday and Saturday in connection with a long-planned "Welcome to Palestine" fly-in to protest the government's policies toward the West Bank. The demonstration, sponsored by 15 Western Palestinian civil society organizations, was a bit of political theater designed to "expose Israel's racist policies," according to Welcome to Palestine spokesperson Dr. Mazim Qumsiyeh. The protest was also meant to build worldwide sympathy for the Palestinians in the lead up to a vote on statehood that will probably take place at the United Nations this fall.
Among the groups behind the "flytilla" is the California-based Free Palestine Movement whose mission statement says, in part, that they will "defend and advocate for the human rights of all Palestinians…by defying barriers imposed by Israeli and international authorities upon travel and trade to, from and within Palestine." One of the co-founders of the group, Dr. Paul Larudee, helped come up with the idea for the fly-in, planning and organizing for months. The date was set to coincide with the 7th anniversary of the International Criminal Court's advisory opinion on the legality of the Israeli security fence, which declared the fence illegal. It was also loosely timed to take place at the same time as the Gaza Flotilla that was recently prevented from leaving port by the Greek government.
Another prominent group taking part in the Welcome to Palestine protest was the London-based propaganda organization Palestinian Return Centre (PRC), which is affiliated with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and denies Israel's right to exist. Also, the radical, Palestinian-led International Solidarity Movement was involved in the planning and execution of the protest. There were some Israeli leftist organizations who supported the fly-in but did not participate in the airport demonstration.
Originally, more than 600 anti-Israeli demonstrators planned to fly into the airport and announce their intention to visit the West Bank, thus forcing Israeli security to arrest and deport them. But Western airlines, responding to an Israeli "blacklist" of activists circulated last week and compiled from various social media sites, prevented most of them from boarding. Nearly 100 were denied access to Israeli flights from Paris alone, while other nations and airlines cooperated and kept hundreds more from making the journey.
Israel deployed more than 600 police and security personnel at the airport -- most of them in plainclothes -- in order to deal with the expected crush of protestors. As it turned out, one of their main responsibilities was protecting the pro-Palestinian activists from angry Israeli citizens who "punched, curse, and spat at them," according to IPS News. The Israeli government had also beefed up security on the flights in order to keep the protestors and Israeli citizens apart on the planes.
Despite all precautions, around 100 fly-in protestors managed to evade security and filtered into the West Bank this weekend. The demonstrators promptly went to the separation fence and tried to cut through the wire while others threw rocks at soldiers. Three protestors were arrested.
Following the arrests at Ben Gurion airport, authorities began the process of deporting, or "repatriating" the activists, as the Israeli government calls it. So far, 36 of the protestors have been sent home, according to the Israeli Interior Ministry. The rest will depart in the next 2 or 3 days depending on airline schedules and availability. Some of the activists claim that the Israeli government has banned them from entering the country for 10 years -- a common punishment for those who enter Israel with the expressed purpose of joining Palestinian protests that often turn violent. The government recently threatened journalists with a 10 year ban if they traveled with the now-canceled Gaza Flotilla.
While Western airlines cooperated with the Israeli government in denying travel to the more than 300 activists on the blacklist, several companies protested what they felt was an attempt to tie them to Israel's political position on the fly-in. Some executives complained that simply because they followed standard procedure in not allowing flyers to board foreign flights if they were not going to be allowed entrance to the country of destination, that Israel was making it appear that it was their diplomacy that stopped the activists.
A Lufthansa representative said that they had received information from Israel that certain passengers would not be allowed to enter the country and that they were only following the "immigration rules and regulations of the countries we fly to."
But another European carrier was less understanding. "The fact that we prevented the activists from boarding the planes is no evidence of our supporting the State of Israel against the activists, or the opposite," said a spokesman for one Israeli-based European carrier. He added, "It's a shame that there are government officials that are exploiting this incident for political points on the backs of the airlines."
The left-wing press in Israel has universally condemned the security operation at the airport, with Haaretz calling it a "hysterical and disproportionate response" to the activists. Haaretz writer Amos Harel complains that while the government is usually ill-prepared to deal with these Palestinian guerrilla theatrics, this time they were overly prepared. "The fly-in, despite the mountains of words written about it over the past week, does not really pose a security threat to Israel," writes Harel. In this, he is probably correct. What Harel fails to mention is the critical principle involved in denying the activists the opportunity to join their deadly enemies in trying to garner international support for their cause by violently provoking the security forces into a reaction that would give the anti-Israel press more grist for the mill.
There is also the universal right of any nation to deny entrance to anyone for any reason. In the case of the fly-in activists, that would include the reasonable assumption that they were entering the country with the purpose of breaking the law. It is not illegal to protest in Israel. It is illegal to go to checkpoints and try and cut through fences and throw rocks at soldiers.
The campaign to delegitimize the state of Israel through these kinds of provocative tactics will only intensify the closer we get to the UN vote on Palestinian statehood. More flotillas and flytillas will be forthcoming, as anti-Israeli groups worldwide have been heartened by what they see as a friend in the White House. Barack Obama giving Israel the back of his hand, while ceaselessly pressuring the Israeli government to grant ever more dangerous concessions to the Palestinians, has emboldened activists to think there is a chance they can succeed.
Israel's response to the fly-in should disabuse them of any such notion.