Sunday, April 15, 2012

Israel frightened of peaceful "invaders"!

WELCOME committee greets those who made it at Ben Gurion airport.
Security and plain-clothes police soon moved in and made arrests.

SRAELI airport security and police arrested people who had come to welcome visitors heading for Occupied Palestine territory yesterday, and visitors whom the Israeli government does not want were held and prevented from entering the country.

For the second year running solidarity activists were demonstrating the way Israel controls access to Palestine as surely as it interferes with shipping to Gaza. This time they also exposed international collusion with the occupation, and Israel's extension of its "security" requirements to other countries, as many people were prevented from even boarding planes today for flights which that they had booked.

In Palestine itself, on Saturday, Israeli forces broke up a cycle tour in the Jordan Valley, assaulting the cyclists and arresting a number of them. The soldiers stopped the 250 participants at road number 60 in the West Bank village of al-Ouja and refused to allow them to start the bicycle tour, which would have taken them on a 25 kilometer tour of the Jordan Valley.

When the participants in the event sponsored by the youth group, Sharek, with the participation of water officials from the Water and Environmental Development Center of Al-Ouja Environmental Center, refused to obey orders not to cycle along the highway, the soldiers used force to disperse them. A number of the participants were injured and taken to hospital in Jericho while others were arrested, including international participants.

The tour was then canceled without the participants being able to complete their environment awareness tour in the Jordan Valley and Jericho area. The event was intended to also draw attention to the water problems facing the Palestinian village in the Jordan Valley, which is gradually being taken over by Israeli settlers.

Early on Sunday morning Swiss police prevented about a hundred Swiss and French pro-Palestinian activists flying to Tel Aviv from Basel, Geneva and Zurich. Their names were on a blacklist maintained by Israel. A spokesman for Geneva's cantonal police told the Swiss News Agency that 28 passengers with easyJet tickets were unable to board the plane to Tel Aviv as they had no entry permits for Israel.

The rejected passengers held a peaceful sit-in protest at the airline counter; police questioned one individual, but did not arrest him. According to “Welcome to Palestine” spokesman Anas Muhamed, 20 activists proceeded to Tel Aviv as planned.

A spokeswoman for Basel airport said that 21 people were prevented from boarding their plane, but that the small protest was without incident. Passengers were also turned away in Zurich; most were informed beforehand. A Swiss International Air Lines spokeswoman declined to say how many people were affected.

On Sunday, some 20 flights from Europe were scheduled to carry hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to Israel. As Israeli national radio reported, about 650 police officers were waiting at Ben Gurion airport.

Four French women who flew to Tel Aviv from Switzerland on Sunday were arrested upon arrival. The Israeli authorities have said that they will be deported along with five other activists who landed there without permission.

"The information we have obtained from activists is that there is a high presence of police there and the police are trying to prevent them from boarding," Anas Mohammed, a campaign spokesman, said."Besides that there has been the confiscation of a passport of one of the activists."

The Swiss and French activists had bought their tickets in advance and were due to fly on a 6:30am local time (04:30 GMT) flight to Tel Aviv, Mohammed said. "They are going to visit Palestinians who are under occupation, they are going to visit the West Bank."

At least 120 pro-Palestinian activists protested at Brussels airport on Sunday after a number of them were barred from flying to Tel Aviv. Three people were under "administrative arrest" for disturbing the peace after between 120 and 150 people protested, Kaatje Natens, a federal police spokeswoman, said. Activists said at least 60 Belgian and 40 French citizens taking part in the "Welcome to Palestine" campaign were unable to fly despite holding airlines tickets.

Around 80 of them had made reservations with Brussels Airlines while the rest were supposed to travel with Lufthansa and Swiss Air, said Jan Dreezen of Palestine Solidarity, according to Belga news agency. "We demanded that these people be able to travel but they were obviously not authorised. Israel has clearly put pressure on these airlines and the Belgian government has regrettably cooperated in this intimidation," Dreezen said.

Brussels Airlines spokeswoman Wencke Lemmes-Pireaux confirmed that a number of passengers were forbidden from flying at the request of Israeli authorities but she said it was against company policy to say how many. "Several airlines have received from Israeli authorities a list of people who are not allowed to go to Israel," Lemmes-Pireaux said. "We are forced to follow the law so we could not take them aboard."

The British airline and the French carrier Air France said on Saturday they were cancelling seats on flights to Tel Aviv. The Guardian reported that had contacted three women passengers late on Friday to inform them that their seats had been cancelled on a flight to Tel Aviv scheduled to leave Manchester, at 09:00 GMT on Sunday. the airline said tickets were not refundable.

From Manchester today a local campaigner said an Israeli checkpoint inside Manchester airport had stopped three travellers, ripped up their boarding passes, and turned them away. Pro-Palestinian campaigners including trades unionists from Manchester Mental Health UNISON Branch who were there with their banners were "outraged". They may take up the issue with Manchester Labour councillors, one of whom chairs the airport authority.

Israeli police said early today that hundreds of officers were deployed at Israel's main airport to detain activists flying in. "Four activists have been detained after arriving on an El Al flight from Paris and are being questioned at the airport," police spokesman Micky 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 would be barred.

It was reported later that Israeli police had arrested 40 pro-Palestinian activists from the “Welcome to Palestine 2012” campaign at Ben Gurion Airport. Some 33 French nationals, two Spanish activists, two Italians, one Swiss, one Canadian and one Portuguese were arrested.

What is striking about all these people being banned is that unlike those intercepted with the flotilla to Gaza, there is not even a pretence that any might be carrying weapons or other goods likely to endanger the Israeli state. They are simply persona non grata because of their political sympathies.

One woman entering Israel from Egypt was asked to sign a form undertaking not to engage in any pro-Palestinian campaigning. The Netanyahu government issued a letter suggesting those coming would be better engaged in protesting repression in Syria or the Hamas regime in Gaza. That is very kind of the Israeli occupier, ignoring such facts as Western governments imposing sanctions on Syria and Iran whereas Israel only has to face an amateur boycott.

It is also ignoring the point which the protesters are making, that Israel "the only democracy in the Middle East" is ruling over another people who have no place in that democracy, and exercising control over who can enter or leave - or even move between one place and another within the occupied territory - just like any jailor.

Crying like any delinquent that you should pick on someone else whose crime is allegedly worse is hardly a dignified posture for any government. Nor are people who have followed events likely to be impressed by the pretence that poor little Israel is victim of unprovoked aggression from Gaza, where Hamas has tried to maintain a ceasefire and indicated its willingness to endorse peace talks.

But the panicky reaction of Israeli authorities to this peaceful "invasion", of people who simply want to visit next door, following on the reaction to an octagenarian poet, is making an undignified spectacle of Israel abroad, and causing thinking Israelis to question whether their government is fit to rule.

It might be too much to for EU nationals to ask our MPs and governments by what right Israel maintains blacklists of citizens whom it will bar from entering Palestinian territory which it does not own. But if it is true that airline tickets can not be refunded we must surely demand that the lists be made public and airlines consider if they should serve Tel Aviv.

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