OFFICIALS AT ISRAEL’S international airport have deported two pro-Palestinian activists as police remain on alert for hundreds of others who were supposed to come to protest travel restrictions on Palestinians.
Israeli authorities say more activists are expected to arrive later today.
Yesterday 200 activists were blocked at European airports after Israel asked foreign airlines to prevent blacklisted travelers from boarding Israel-bound flights.
Israeli Foreign Ministry official Oded Ben-Hur says only two activists landed overnight and were promptly deported. He says they were Americans who flew in from Greece.
Israel say any peaceful visitors will be allowed in but “provocateurs” will be blocked.
Roughly 600 activists are expected to arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport over the weekend. They say they are on a weeklong mission to express solidarity with the Palestinians and draw attention to life under Israeli occupation, including travel restrictions. French activist Olivia Zemor said about half of the activists are French, ranging in age from nine to 85. Others are expected to fly to Tel Aviv from other cities, including Geneva, London, Brussels and Istanbul.
Visitors can only reach the West Bank through Israeli-controlled crossings, either through international airports or the land border with Jordan. At any given time, hundreds of foreigners, including activists and aid workers, are in the West Bank.
Most Palestinians are barred from entering Israel or using its airport, forced to travel to neighboring Jordan to fly out.
Travel restrictions in the blockaded Gaza Strip, run by the militant Hamas group, are even stricter. Israel allows few people to cross its border with Gaza. And with few exceptions, Gazans can only travel abroad by crossing into Egypt through their shared border. A separate flotilla of foreign activists that had hoped to sail to Gaza this week fizzled after being thwarted by Greece.
“We are trying to show that there are two blockades in fact, in Gaza and the West Bank,” said Zemor, the French activist.
Some in Israel ere critical of the government, saying officials created unnecessary hysteria.
“The State of Israel has lost its senses,” columnist Eitan Haber — a former top official — wrote in Thursday’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper. “We are playing right into the hands of a few bands of troublemakers who are successfully trying to make Israel look bad around the world.”
Heavily guarded airport
But authorities were taking no chances. Several hundred extra police, including undercover officers, were deployed at the already heavily guarded airport. Authorities also forwarded to European airlines a list of several hundred people, considered by Israel as troublemakers, who should not be allowed to fly.
Organizers said several people who had booked flights were sent letters from airlines canceling their reservations, based on an Israeli request.
Israel, a frequent target of attacks by militants, is known for its strict airline security.
The measures begin with check-ins on incoming flights, where some passengers face detailed interrogations on their travels, intentions and possessions. Officials also say they have sophisticated intelligence procedures in place to identify problematic travelers — but critics charge authorities engage in crude profiling, particularly against Arabs, but also targeting their supporters as well as foreign journalists.
In Paris, eight Tel Aviv-bound activists were blocked from boarding Malev Airlines flights destined to Budapest en route to Tel Aviv.
One of those turned away, Philippe Arnaud, said Malev showed him a list provided by Israeli authorities of nearly 400 people being barred from Israel. German carriers Lufthansa and Air Berlin said they also received lists.
Arnaud said he has been investigated in France for his efforts to boycott Israeli products and was once arrested by Israel for organizing a demonstration in the West Bank. But he said some of the others who were stopped had never been to Israel. ”That worries us. How could they have files on these people?” he asked. Malev had no comment.
The French Foreign Ministry said it held talks with activists and “warned against the risks inherent in this operation.”
In Germany, Lufthansa said it would comply with the Israeli blacklist as well. Lufthansa “is obliged not to transport any passengers who do not hold valid entry permits or whose entry into the respective state has been denied by local authorities beforehand as in this case,” airline spokesman Patrick Meschenmoser said Thursday.