Israel vowed Tuesday to prevent the entry of hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists from Europe and North America expected to arrive in the country this weekend, calling them provocateurs who are intent on disturbing public order.
The activists are set to board flights to Israel with the aim of participating in demonstrations against Israeli policy in the West Bank. Although organizers say all protests will be peaceful, Israeli officials said the activists would be deported.
“The provocateurs will be dealt with in a determined and quick way,” said Israel’s public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch.
“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.”
Last July, Israel blocked a similar effort by preventing scores of activists from boarding Tel Aviv-bound flights in Europe, questioning dozens more upon arrival at the airport and denying entry to 69.
Israel had tracked the activists on social media sites, compiled a blacklist of more than 300 names and asked airlines to keep those on the list off flights to Israel. Officials say Israel will use similar tactics this time as well.
'Friends in need.' Press conference in Bethlehem (Photo: Elior Levy)
During a press conference in Bethlehem Tuesday, Mayor Victor Batarseh said the West Bank city will "welcome the 1,500 ambassadors to our land."
Addressing the activists, he said, "You are friends in need, and our goal is to build walls of hope, not walls of separation." The mayor urged Israel to allow the activists to enter without "humiliating" them.
Abdelfattah Abusrour, a local organizer, said, “They have the right to enter Palestine. It’s not up to Israel to forbid anybody from coming into Palestine."
He claimed the activists were coming to Bethlehem to take part in cultural activities and other activities aimed at helping the city. "Last year some activists were prevented from boarding planes in their home countries," Abusrour claimed.
Another organizer said, "If Israel prevents the activists from entering, the entire world will see that it does not allow us to host visitors from around the world. Israel can't tell activists where to go and where not go, just as European countries don't tell Israelis where they can or cannot visit."
The organizers said most of the 1,200 to 2,000 activists are expected to arrive from Central Europe, adding that other pro-Palestinian activists will be arriving from New Zealand, Australia, Turkey and the US.
Mazen Quneisa, one of the local organizers, said, "Minister Aharonovitch called us hooligans, but we aren't. This is not the flotilla to Gaza, and those who will be arriving are normative, not radical people. I hope Israel will do the right thing and allow them to enter."
Israel has been jittery about large influxes of foreign activists since a naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in May 2010 turned deadly. The Israeli navy and the activists have each accused each other of sparking the bloodshed in which nine Turkish activists were killed.
Organizers say this week’s mission, sponsored by an umbrella group called “Welcome to Palestine,” seeks to draw attention toward Israeli travel restriction on Palestinians.
According to the itinerary, a special welcome ceremony will be held for the activists in Bethlehem on Sunday. On Monday they are scheduled to tour the Jordan Valley, on Tuesday they will travel to Hebron and visit Ramallah the following day. The activists are scheduled to visit Jerusalem on Thursday, and on Friday they are set to attend a seminar in Bethlehem titled "How can we end the occupation?"
You can contact Elior Levy, Ynet's Palestinian Affairs Correspondent, at: email@example.com