Israel moves to thwart pro-Palestinian fly-in

By Maayan Lubell Updated at 2012-04-15 02:23:52 +0000


JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel moved to block an influx of pro-Palestinian activists planning to visit the occupied West Bank, drafting a letter from the Prime Minister's Office suggesting they focus instead on "real problems" in the Middle East, officials said on Saturday.

Some 1,200 Palestinian supporters throughout Europe have bought plane tickets for an April 15 visit to the West Bank as part of a campaign called "Welcome to Palestine".

Organizers said the aim was to help open an international school and a museum, but Israel has denounced the activists as provocateurs and said it would deny entry to anyone who threatened public order.

On Saturday, Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israeli police, said that hundreds of police officers had been deployed in and around Ben Gurion airport, Israel's main gateway to the world.

"We are expecting hundreds of activists throughout Sunday. Some will be sent back to their countries. As part of normal procedure, they will be questioned and each case will be decided upon individually," Rosenfeld said.

An Interior Ministry spokeswoman said the Immigration Authority had on Wednesday given airlines the names of some 1,200 activists whose entrance to Israel has been barred.

Leehee Rothschild, a "Welcome to Palestine" member, said that dozens of activists had since been informed by airlines that their tickets to Tel Aviv have been cancelled.

"Israel's willingness to detain people who have not committed any crime and have done nothing but say they came to visit Palestine is a hysterical reaction," Rothschild said.

Palestinians hope to establish a state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, areas which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War.

A similar, though smaller operation last year led to a few hundred activists being blocked at European airports and more than 100 others being deported from Israel after their entry was denied.

"It's very unfortunate that we are once again facing the kind of provocation coming from extremists from different countries," Israel's Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, Yuli Edelstein, told Reuters last Wednesday.

On Saturday, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a letter it hoped to hand the activists upon their arrival.

"You could have chosen to protest the Syrian regime's daily savagery against its own people, which has claimed thousands of lives," the letter read. "You could have chosen to protest the Iranian regime's brutal crackdown on dissent and support of terrorism throughout the world."

"But instead you chose to protest against Israel, the Middle East's sole democracy ... We therefore suggest that you first solve the real problems of the region, and then come back and share with us your experience. Have a nice flight."

(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Andrew Osborn)