‘Welcome to Palestine' was to highlight occupation

Israel deployed hundreds of police on Sunday at its main airport to detain activists flying in to protest the country's occupation of Palestinian areas in defiance of vigorous Israeli government efforts to block their arrival. At mid-afternoon, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a total of 27 activists had landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport. All were denied entry and were to be placed on return flights, he said. Hundreds more were expected throughout the day.

Four Israeli supporters of the fly-in were arrested for causing a disturbance at the main airport terminal after unfurling a banner bearing the protest's theme, “Welcome to Palestine”, said Mr. Rosenfeld.

Israel is jittery about the prospect of large numbers of protesters arriving because of deadly confrontations with pro-Palestinian activists in the past, notably a naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in May 2010. The activists participating in the fly-in say all planned activities, such as planting trees in the West Bank, are non-violent and accuse Israel of being unnecessarily heavy-handed.

The effect of the protest was diluted by airlines that cancelled the reservations of at least 100 known activists, and perhaps hundreds more, under pressure from Israel.

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said Israel had sent a list of suspected activists to international airlines, asking the carriers to block them from boarding Israel-bound flights. It warned the airlines they would have to cover the cost of the activists' return flights, and threatened unspecified sanctions on airlines if they did not comply, she said.

One of the organisers, Amira Mussalam, said that as of midday, no activists had managed to get out of the airport and make their way to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai said the government “will make sure that everyone who wants to provoke is returned home and the rest will be allowed to enter Israel.”

Activists who had been barred from flying to Tel Aviv from airports in Paris and Brussels staged impromptu protests, and Israel Radio reported that activists in Geneva had their passports confiscated.

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