Israel bars nearly 80 pro-Palestinian activists

AFP and AP, Monday 16 Apr 2012

78 activists, mostly Europeans, have been banned entry into Israel on their way to the West Bank as part of the Welcome to Palestine solidarity campaign

An Israeli left-wing activists is detained by police at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, (Photo: AP).

Israel has barred nearly 80 foreigners from flying into the country on grounds they were linked to a pro-Palestinian campaign, police said on Monday, with 60 of them still awaiting deportation.

As of midnight, police at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv had detained 78 people, more than two-thirds of them French nationals, spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

Among those detained were 51 French nationals, 11 Britons, six Italians, five Canadians, two Spanish nationals and three others from Switzerland, Portugal and the United States.

Officials had already sent 18 people back to their port of origin, while another 60 had refused to leave voluntarily and had been taken to two facilities near Tel Aviv, she said.

Hundreds of Israeli police had been deployed at the airport from Saturday night in a bid to prevent the arrival of a wave of foreigners taking part in the "Welcome to Palestine" fly-in campaign, also known as the "flytilla."

Organisers of the campaign, now in its third year, had been expecting to welcome up to 1,500 people, but Israel vowed to prevent them from entry, warning airlines they would be forced to foot the bill for the activists' immediate return home.

Most of Europe's main airlines quickly fell in line, cancelling the tickets of at least 300 Tel Aviv-bound passengers, and sparking angry protests in several European capitals.

Police at the airport also arrested nine Israeli activists who had come to support the visitors.

Last year, around 800 people tried to join the campaign, with many blocked from flying by airlines. Another 120 were denied entry by Israel and deported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the Israeli police for foiling the activists' plans and called the activists misguided.

"If they want to come check human rights, have them go to Syria. Maybe they can stop the massacre of thousands of innocents. Have them go to Iran and stop the stoning of women. Have them go to Gaza and stop the practice of using children as a human shield for terrorists who fire rockets on our citizens," he said.

Some Israelis accused the government of overreacting to the activists' campaign.

"Instead of waiting to present the crackpot activists with flowers, putting them on buses and leading them directly to their destination in Bethlehem, the heads of the defense establishment and security forces have once again lost their minds," columnist Eitan Haber wrote in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper.

Short link: