Friday, April 13, 2012

Israel prepares for pro-Palestinian activists at airport

Kareem Khadder

Israeli security forces are preparing to deport hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists expected to arrive at the country's main international airport beginning Sunday to protest Israel's policies in the occupied West Bank.

"Israeli Police will be implementing measures inside and around Ben Gurion airport from the weekend in order to deal with the arrival of activists into the country," Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told CNN .

Activists for "Welcome to Palestine 2012 " one of the pro-Palestinian groups organizing what has been dubbed a "fly-in" event, said some 1500 to 2000 activists mainly from Europe, the United States, and Canada would board civilian flights for Israel in order to make their way to various events in Bethlehem and other West Bank cities.

Organizers say they are trying to draw attention to what they claim are prejudicial Israeli border policies that force many international visitors coming to Palestinian areas to lie about their destinations.

"We believe, like prisoners in prisons, we are entitled to receive visitors and Palestinians under Israeli occupation are also entitled to receive visitors," said event coordinator Mazin Qumsiyeh. "So we are entitled to get international visitors to come and visit and show solidarity with us to learn about the situation, but Israel chooses to prevent these people from coming,"

Last year organizers staged a similar event and Israel authorities detained and deported dozens of activists who entered the country.

On Tuesday Israel's public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch called activists "provocateurs" and told Israeli news portal Ynet they would "be dealt with in a determined and quick way," adding that "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."

To that end Israeli officials have been in touch with airlines and provided them with lists of people who are forbidden from entering the country.

"Usually airlines don't allow these people to embark, because then they have to cover the expense of the return flight" said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.

"What we did last year is we had a list of number of people who have been banned from entering the country in the past, and others who will be banned now because they have openly declared that they will come here to disturb public order in one way or another," Palmor told CNN

Palmor said passengers landing who are denied an entrance visa have the right to appeal but could face three days in detention before their hearing.

Qumsiyeh insists the event is entirely peaceful in nature and suggested that Israeli authorities were over-reacting.

"The Israeli internal security is paranoid and is turning the airport into a military camp. They want to arrest the activists and are calling us provocateurs and demonstrators as they always do" Qumsiyeh said. "The activists are coming peacefully and will visit the West Bank and help us build a community school and then they will go home with no problems, Israel is creating the problems and not us."

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