Security forces were on high alert at Ben Gurion International Airport Friday afternoon, ahead of the potentially volatile second wave of Gaza fly-in arrivals.
A relatively quiet morning was noted at the airport, as many foreign airlines implemented Israel's blacklisted passengers memo, which was distributed on Thursday, and barred pro-Palestinian activists from boarding Israel-bound flights.
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Friday afternoon saw security forces fan out across the Arrivals Terminal at the airport, following reports that dozens of pro-Palestinian activists were set to arrive in Israel despite the foreign airlines' efforts.
Incoming flight believed to be carrying suspected provocateurs have been diverted to Terminal 1, where the passengers will be screened.
The police said that those found to be associated with the fly-in will be questioned and transferred to the airport's holding facility, ahead of their possible deportation.
Twelve passengers who arrived aboard an EasyJet flight from Geneva and 20 passengers who flew in from Rome with Alitalia have been detained for questioning by security forces. Later on Friday, 30 additional passengers were taken in for questioning.
So far, a total of 25 activists from Belgium, France, Spain, Germany, Holland and the United States were denied entry into Israel and will be deported back to their countries on the earliest flight available.
Israeli passengers onboard thee flights were transferred back to Terminal 3.
Security forces waiting for EasyJet flight (Photo: Ben Kelmer)
Israeli passengers returning home from Europe recalled their encounter with "flytilla" passengers before boarding the aircraft.
Regine Weiner, an Israeli passenger who arrived on a flight from Paris to Ben-Gurion Airport said "it was very chaotic. They protested near the gate of a Lufthansa flight and yelled "collaborators" at the French and called us 'Nazis.'
"They yelled until the police dispersed them and blocked other passengers from entering the gate," she said.
Orly Shapira, who was onboard the flight from Zurich, saw passengers from the Alitalia flight being brought into questioning. "When we landed it was clear what was going on. There was a group of police officers who watched us and tried to identify the suspects," she said.
"When I arrived at the passport control, I saw a group of some 20 people who stood on the side and did not go through. They were of all ages, and some were wearing robes. They stood there quietly and were treated well," Shapira noted.
'Firm hand against provocateurs'
During the early morning hours, two American activists, who arrived in Israel from Athens overnight as part of the fly-in, were refused entry by Ben Gurion Airport authorities.
Border control officers who interviewed them, as they do every individual entering Israel through the airport, determined that "their expressed purpose was to disrupt public order and cause provocation." They did not resist the proceeding and are set to be deported later Friday. Six people have been deported so far.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai said that Israel "will take a firm hand against anyone disregarding its laws, and like any other sovereign state we will use any means at our disposal to prevent people intent on breaking the law from entering the country."
Preemptive strategy (Photo: Yaron Brener)
Earlier, a police spokesman told Ynet that, "So far, foreign airlines have stopped about 200 activists from boarding flights. We are in constant contact with the airlines and we explained to them the reasons for the security measures taken against the fly-in. They understand that they will be responsible for flying activists who arrive and are refused entry, at their expense."
The police, he added, "Originally estimated that 500-800 activists would arrive in Israel. Yes, 200 have been banned, but several hundreds might still fly in during the day. We have both regular and plainclothes forces deployed and so far everything is normal. Nevertheless, we are prepared to deal with things as they happen, especially since this is an international airport. We will be deployed for as long as necessary."
Israel's preparations for the fly-in were criticized as "near-hysterical," but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the notion saying that, "There is no hysteria, just reserved determination to deal with any provocations or public disturbance. Every nation has the right to stop provocateurs from stepping onto its soil – and that is how we will act."
Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino held a situation assessment at the airport Friday, and they too rejected the criticism pointed at the security forces' deployment, crediting the operational strategy with preventing the arrival of hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists, who were stopped at by foreign airlines.
The massive police presence also contributed greatly to the deterrence factor, which impeded local protesters from disrupting the airport's operations. a police source said.
Anti-fly-in protesters (Photo: Dudu Azulai)
Foreign airlines cooperating
About 50 passengers at the Lufthansa terminal at Paris's Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport were turned back Friday morning, after French authorities discovered their names were included on Israel's list of "undesirables".
"Roissy-Charles de Gaulle is under Israeli occupation. We are peaceful people who have no intention of creating disorder in Ben Gurion Airport," group organizer Olivia Zemor protested. She later released a statement calling the moves to prevent activists from reaching Israel "provocative, blackmailing and illegal."
A Hungarian airline also stopped dozens of French activistsfrom boarding its plane in Paris. "The activists who were supposed to embark on the Malev flight were denied boarding because their names are on a black list compiled by Israel's Interior Ministry," Frederic Stella, who was part of the departing group, said.
In Brussels, three Frenchmen were denied boarding a Swiss airline flight heading to Israel. "The company has provided us with a document that says it has received instructions from Israeli authorities that we will not be allowed in," Farid Houssa, one of the three, said.
Authorities at the Geneva International Airport prevented 50 passengers from boarding a flight to Israel. The group caused a small ruckus and tried to barge through the airport's security gate, prompting airport authorities to temporarily block the points of embarkation.
Yair Altman, Eli Senyor, Yoav Zitun, Ronen Medzini Omri Efraim and AFP contributed to this report
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