Israel braces for mass fly-in of pro-Palestinian activists

Israel braces for mass fly-in of pro-Palestinian activists

Israel, bracing itself for a "fly-in" of pro-Palestinian activists, said Thursday it would not allow entry to any foreigners declaring their intention to take part in political activity against Israel, DPA reported.

Hundreds of international activists were expected to land Friday at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on some 50 flights, many of them from across Europe.

The "Welcome to Palestine" campaign is a response to a call from West Bank Palestinian civil society organizations.

A statement from the campaign said close to 600 men, women and children - French, Belgian, British, German, Italian and American - would, after landing Friday, be participating in a week of "totally peaceful" activities in the West Bank, starting Saturday.

These included cultural events, but also non-violent resistance against the Israeli occupation, including "vigils."

Israel expects activists to take part in demonstrations, including those against its controversial West Bank barrier. Such demonstrations are held every Friday in the Palestinian villages of Bil'in and Nil'in, north-west of Jerusalem near the "green line" separating Israel from the West Bank.

The fly-in is expected just as a flotilla of ships with pro-Palestinian activists who want to break Israel's blockade of Gaza are stranded in Greece.

Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor said that visitors declaring their intention to participate in cultural activities would be allowed in, but those intending to join anti-Israeli demonstrations or vigils would not, even if deemed non-violent.

"The policy is very simple. People who come in peace can come in peace. People who have declared their intention to cause disturbances of any sort will not be allowed, as is customary in any country," he told the German Press Agency dpa.

"They are entitled to hold whatever views they want. The only question is are they going to cause disturbances or not," he said.

"It doesn't matter whether they use the word peaceful. What matters is what they are actually going to do."

He said Israel had no plans to jail any of the activists unless they used violence. Those denied entry would be sent to an airport security waiting room "for the first airplane to take them back. No prison. No jail."

Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said that, from Thursday night, several hundred policemen would be deployed in the airport "in order to prevent any disturbances or any provocation by unusual people or extremists."

The fly-in is designed to draw attention to the fact that Israel controls all entry points into the occupied West Bank.

It allegedly discriminates between tourists visiting Israel and Palestinian-controlled territories and activists or Palestinians who openly declare their destination to be the West Bank.

The organizers say those doing so are subjected to lengthy questioning and even risk deportation.

West Bank visitors, therefore, often lie about their true destination. However, the organizers have asked all activists arriving Friday to defiantly state the truth.

"We hope the Israeli government will have the honesty and the decency to let these people through, because they are coming to do peaceful activities and not violate anybody or anything and are non-violent people," Palestinian academic Mazein Qumsiyeh, one of the main organizers, told a recent news conference in Berlin.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted Thursday "Every country has the right to prevent the entry of provocateurs into its borders."

Organizers have insisted they plan no disruption at the airport and have accused Israel of making ludicrous charges. Israel has said it is merely preparing for a host of scenarios.

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