Activists plan to land in TLV airport, hundreds of flights already canceled

I’m writing this from somewhere in Europe. Sunday morning, I will board a plane* bound for Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport. Organizers of the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign tell me that more than half the passengers on my flight will be international activists.

UPDATE: According to reports in international and Israeli media, hundreds of flights scheduled to land in Israel Sunday have already been cancelled. According to Haaretz, 60 percent of the 1,500 activists who planned to fly to via Lufthansa, Jet2 and Air France have received notice from the airlines of their flights being cancelled. Hundreds are still expected to try and board planes.

When they arrive in Ben Gurion Airport on Sunday, the activists will openly declare their intent to visit Palestine, more specifically, the West Bank city of Bethlehem, which is in Palestinian Authority-controlled Area A.

While thousands upon thousands of tourists make their way from Israel to Bethlehem every year without a problem, Israeli authorities have made it clear that the activists, who number over 1,500, will not be allowed to pass. They will be detained and deported.

The activists have been invited by 25 Palestinian civil society organizations to spend next week in the Bethlehem area building an elementary school, planting trees, and repairing village wells that Palestinians say have been damaged by Israeli settlers.

Israeli authorities say the fly-in is a provocation and an attempt to de-legitimize Israel.

On Sunday, hundreds of undercover policemen and Special Forces will be deployed in Ben Gurion Airport in an attempt to stop the activists–who the Israeli authorities call “hostile elements”– from reaching Bethlehem. Israel has also reportedly sent no-fly lists to foreign airlines and has warned the companies that if they do not comply with the state’s demands to prohibit the activists from boarding, the airlines will have to eat the deportation costs.

German airline Lufthansa and British airline Jet2 have canceled the tickets of passengers who appear on Israel’s blacklists. Activists report that Air France has also canceled a “Welcome to Palestine” participants’ ticket.

Last year’s “Welcome to Palestine” initiative saw more than 300 internationals attempt to land in Israel. Israel blacklisted most of them, including a nine-year-old child and an 83-year-old activist. Many were prevented from boarding their planes in Europe; more than a hundred were arrested upon arrival in Ben Gurion Airport.

According to Haaretz, two activists fought the deportation in 2011. Their lawyer, Omer Shatz, explained that an Israeli court accepted their appeal on the grounds that the Interior Ministry “cannot refuse entry to anyone who declares on arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport that they intend to travel to the West Bank, because the area is under miltary [SIC] control…”

Shatz added that the Interior Ministry’s exercise of control over who enters the West Bank is akin to annexing the occupied Palestinan territories.

Still, the Interior Ministry is involved in preventing activists’ entry again this year.

The Interior Ministry’s spokeswoman, Sabine Haddad, has not responded to an email asking why the international activists will not be allowed to pass and proceed to the West Bank.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Occupied Territories and the Israeli army has not answered requests for comment either.

*Full disclosure: Organizers invited me to join the fly-in as an embedded journalist and covered my airfare. All other expenses are mine and mine alone and the organizers are fully aware that my participation is strictly as a reporter.

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