Israel Blockades New Gaza 'Flytilla'World | April 15, 2012, Sunday // 19:46| views
Hundreds of Israeli police officers fanned out at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Sunday as Israel moved to block hundreds of pro-Palestinian campaigners from entering the country.
Organizers of the pro-Palestinian campaign - in what the Israelis dubbed the "flytilla" - a reference to the flotillas of boats that have challenged Israel's naval blockade of Gaza - said that more than 1500 foreigners from at least 15 countries had planned to travel to Bethlehem in the West Bank for what they described as a week of peaceful activities in solidarity with the Palestinians, as cited by the NYT.
But in an almost exact replay of a similar attempt by foreign activists to reach Bethlehem last July, most appeared to have been stopped at their points of departure after Israel instructed foreign airlines not to allow them to board their flights.
Israel had provided the airlines with the names of hundreds of people whom the government said would face immediate deportation. Once notified, the airlines would bear the responsibility and cost of flying the passengers back to their point of departure.
By early Sunday afternoon, 17 suspected activists had been refused entry, the Interior Ministry said, among them 15 French nationals, a Portuguese and a Canadian.
Israeli officials have branded the activists as provocateurs, and the police said they were prepared to prevent possible disturbances at the airport. Some visitors were being asked by the immigration authorities to sign pledges that they would not contact members of pro-Palestinian organizations or participate in any pro-Palestinian activities or protests at traditional Israeli-Palestinian friction points.
But the organizers of the campaign, Welcome to Palestine 2012, said they had no plans to stage demonstrations. A volunteer coordinator, Abdel Fattah Abu Srour, said that the planned activities included laying the foundations for a school, mural painting in refugee camps, helping Palestinian villagers plant trees, and attending cultural and artistic workshops.
Meanwhile, a letter was distributed by the Israeli prime minister's office, a copy of which was to be handed to any activists who managed to land in Israel. The letter was unsigned but bore the official emblem of the state of Israel.
"We appreciate your choosing to make Israel the object of your humanitarian concerns," it began sardonically. "We know there were many other worthy choices."
The letter went on to suggest that the activists could have chosen "to protest the Syrian regime's daily savagery against its own people," or "the Iranian regime's brutal crackdown on dissent and support of terrorism" or Hamas rule in Gaza.
"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," it concluded.
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