Some 85 activists, members of the Welcome to Palestine campaign, marched Sunday toward the West Bank from Jordan in an effort to challenge Israel’s border controls and restrictions on the movement of Palestinians.
Initial reports suggested Israel denied 50 of the activists entry into the West Bank.
As the evening proceeded, the activists confirmed that they were forced to turn back by Jordanian and Israeli border officials.
One activist accused Jordan of doing Israel’s “dirty work” and another said the group was escorted back to Amman by the Jordanian army.
The march was promoted as the third air flotilla or “flytilla” effort — based on the precedent of the 2010 flotilla to Gaza which resulted in the death of nine Turkish activists — and the group comprises activists from France, Belgium, Turkey, and the United States.
The advocacy campaign was referred to as a flytilla because it involved activists flying in from around the world to Jordan to begin the march.
Participants ranged in age from young children to people in their 80s, all trying to enter the Palestinian territory via the Allenby bridge.
The activists chanted “Free Palestine” as they approached the border crossing. The twitter-sphere was replete with questions over whether Israel would allow them to enter or force them to turn back.
The activists were invited by the governor of Bethlehem, Abdel-Fattah Hamaiel, and several civil society organizations in the city, a press release issued by the movement stated.
“They carry with them over one ton of stationery to give to Palestinian children who are about to go back to school these days, and, with their eyes and cameras, they are ready to document life under occupation and apartheid, during a weeklong series of encounters with the population,” the statement continued.
“We are a group of peaceful people and we are quite sure we will pass this time,” said French activist Olivia Zamor. “We are supporting Palestinian rights and if Israel says no to us, it cannot call itself a democratic country.”
Zamor told Israel Hayom earlier Sunday that some 80 percent the activists in the group have never been to the West Bank. She said that the focus of the visit will be education, with the group primarily visiting families and schools.
“We are coming in peace, not violence — What’s so bad about that?” tweeted one of the activists.
Another tweet from a young French girl said she has a message for her Palestinian friend:
The Allenby Bridge Crossing, also known as the King Hussein Bridge, is located approximately 5 kilometers (3 miles) east of the West Bank city of Jericho. It is jointly operated by Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority and serves as the primary passenger and cargo terminal in the West Bank.
In previous flytilla attempts, in July 2011 and in April 2012, activists planned a mass fly-in protest to Ben Gurion Airport.
In both attempts, Israel denied entry visas to the activists, and while a handful did manage to enter the country, the majority were detained at the airport, briefly imprisoned and sent back to their home countries. Nonetheless, activists deemed the events public relations successes because they brought attention to Palestinian issues.
Zamor, the French activist, said Israel had no reason to prevent their entry. “In previous times, they said we were a security threat to Tel Aviv. We accepted what they said when they told us to go through Allenby or Rafah crossings,” she told AFP.
Palestinians have also marched on Israel in yearly commemorations of key events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Nakba Day (May 15, “The Catastrophe” that refers to Palestinian displacement associated with the creation of the State of Israel), Naksa Day (June 5, a day that laments Palestinian displacement caused by Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six Day War), and Land Day (March 30, the date that Israel announced a plan to appropriate Palestinian land in the West Bank).
Asher Zeiger contributed to this report.