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Israel plans to block 'flytilla' of pro-Palestinian activists

Staff Reporter

Israel has warned it will deny entry to "provocateurs" as up to 2000 pro-Palestinian activists prepare to fly in, en route to the West Bank.

Israel is expected to deny entry to hundreds of international pro-Palestinian activists due to arrive at Tel Aviv airport on Sunday en route to the West Bank for a week of educational and cultural activities.

Up to 2000 Palestinian sympathisers, mainly from Europe, will attempt to board planes in what has been dubbed a “flytilla” in reference 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”. Hundreds of police will be deployed to Ben Gurion airport 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.”

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.

Airline representatives were reportedly warned that they would be expected to bear the costs of flying activists back to their point of departure. Flights carrying activists will be diverted to a smaller terminal, where security forces and immigration officials will check and question passengers.

Detentions, deportations and deaths
Israel’s response was “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.

A similar “flytilla” last July resulted in the detention and deportation of scores of activists. In May 2010, a flotilla of boats attempting to reach Gaza ended in Israeli forces shooting dead nine activists.

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 will board a flight from Manchester on Sunday, said the intention was “peaceful solidarity action which does not pose any threat to Israel”. In the event of detention and deportation, the activists would peacefully comply with the Israeli authorities, she added.

“All we want to do is visit the Palestinians,” she said. “We have no intention to disrupt the workings of Israel.”—guardian.co.uk Guardian News and Media 2012

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