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.