Israel warns airlines, deploys forces ahead of Sunday ‘Flytilla’ protest

Israel warns airlines, deploys forces ahead of Sunday ‘Flytilla’ protest

Hundreds of law enforcement and border officials set to face-off against hordes of activists

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Police and Border Guard officers deployed at Ben Gurion International Airport before a 2011 fly-in protest (Meir Partush/Flash90)
Illustrative: Police and Border Guard officers deployed at Ben Gurion International Airport before a 2011 fly-in protest (Meir Partush/Flash90)

Hundreds of police and security officers are preparing to converge on Ben Gurion Airport on Sunday to try and block the planned arrival of hundreds of activists aiming to visit the Palestinian Authority on a solidarity mission.

The ‘Welcome to Palestine 2012’ fly-in protest has all branches of Israel’s security establishment on alert and ready to turn back activists at the airport.

Authorities are expecting between 500 to 1,000 protesters to arrive on flights from around the world, with the majority from Eastern Europe. Protest organizers claim that 1,500 activists will take part.

More than 600 officials, mostly in plain clothes, drawn from the police force, the prison service, the Ministry of Public Security, military intelligence, the immigration authority, the Israel Aviation Authority and the ministries of Defense and Interior, will take up positions in and around Ben Gurion airport, Ynet reported on Thursday.

In what has been dubbed operation “Safe Sphere 2,” the participating forces are aiming to contain the fly-in and prevent a public relations success for its organizers. Some of the undercover agents will man passport control counters in an attempt to identify and intercept protesters as quickly as possible.

Israel Radio reported that Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino has instructed police commanders to prevent disruptions of the airport’s regular operations. Danino directed officers to show restraint so as to not play into the hands of those seeking confrontation in order to damage Israel’s international image.

As a first line of defense, Israeli authorities have distributed a blacklist of undesirables to various airlines with a request that the listed activists be prevented from boarding flights to Israel. To further back up the request Israeli authorities have warned airlines that any activists who make it to the country will be deported at the airline carrier’s expense.

However organizers say that unlike last year, many airlines will ignore the request. Last summer about 200 activists tried to reach Israel but most were prevented from boarding flights in their departure countries.The rest were apprehended at Ben Gurion airport and returned home.

Officials intercepting activists will move them into an old terminal building that will be converted into a ‘sterile zone.’ Those who cannot be placed on flights out of the country immediately, will be detained in special holding areas at the airport.

The Airports Authority explained that activists will be refused entry “based on intelligence information, in keeping with Israeli law. The identified activists will be interviewed before their return to their country of origin at the expense of the airlines.”

In response organizers of the event said that Israel has nothing to worry about, Ynet reported.

“The Israelis don’t need to be worried as I don’t see how women, children, old people, and those who are wheel-chair bound can threaten them,” said Olivia Zamor, who intends to take part in the fly-in. “For most of us it will be our first time in Palestine and therefore we are no threat to Israeli security.”

“Is it a provocation to say ‘I want to visit my Palestinian friends?’ I want to go there, I want to see how they live. I want to spend a week with them. I want to build a school, to show solidarity. If that is a provocation then what isn’t a provocation?” she said.

Haaretz reported that police sources say they know of local anarchists who are planning to meet the activists as well as stage demonstrations at the terminal, at roadblocks, and in Jerusalem.

A group of Israeli protesters who gathered to welcome the previous 2011'Pro-Palestinian Fly-In' activists at Ben Gurion airport (photo credit: Flash90)
A group of Israeli protesters who gathered to welcome the 2011 'Pro-Palestinian Fly-In' activists at Ben Gurion airport (photo credit: Flash90)

In a further complication right-wing groups are planning counter demonstrations against the arriving activists and their local supporters.

Leading the charge is MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Unity) who intends to use his parliamentary immunity to enter the off-limits terminal. Meanwhile right-wing groups have applied for permission to demonstrate at Ben Gurion airport, Walla reported on Thursday.

“We will give the haters of Israel a suitable reception,” the right-wing protesters told Walla.

The legality of stopping the protesters at the airport has been called into question. Entry into the Palestinian Authority areas is administered by the military and decided at checkpoints leading to PA areas, and not at Ben Gurion airport.

Haaretz also reported that internal security service Shin Bet has interviewed four left-wing activists in connection with the flytilla. The anarchists, Against the Wall members, were questioned over the past two to three weeks. Two were questioned when they returned from a trip abroad and two were summoned to an interview at the Dizengoff Street police station in Tel Aviv.

The activists, who refused to cooperate with investigators, reported the threatening nature of the meetings, which they were told were not interrogations, but just ‘conversations,’ despite being denied the right to leave at their will.

The activists’ attorney Gaby Lasky said the Shin Bet activities were illegal and aimed at preventing people from engaging in activities on behalf of the Palestinians.


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