Israel pulls out all the stops to block activists flying to Israel
This posting comprises two reports of the effect of the Israeli government’s actions to prevent people flying in to join the Welcome to Palestine campaign and an account, through documents and reports, of some of those actions.
Diplomats remain divided over whether success in preventing pro-Palestinian fly-in serves Israel’s PR interests
Aviel Magnezi, Ynet news
Israel’s efforts to stop the pro-Palestinian ‘flytilla’ have been ruled successful, but there is still a difference of opinion among Israeli officials as to whether the “stopgap solution” was effective, or did it actually do Israeli PR more harm than good, in the long-run.
Israel’s diplomatic efforts vis-à-vis the European Union were largely successful, as most European airlines refused to allow pro-Palestinian activist to board their flights.
Despite organizers’ prediction that over 1,500 people will arrive in Israel, only about 100 arrived and authorities refused the entry of 78 people; the majority of whom were detained and are now awaiting deportation.
Only a handful of activists eventually arrived in Bethlehem.
Former Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Liel believes the mass security forces deployment at Ben Gurion International Airport shamed Israel, while Zvi Mazael, former Israeli ambassador to Sweden, said that refusing to allow the activists entry to Israel further impeded the anti-Israeli bloc’s efforts to seek legitimization.
Liel cautioned that Israel’s reaction to what he called “a bunch of students and elderly ladies from Europe, who only wanted to hoist a sign in favor of a Palestinian state,” was disproportionate.
“I don’t understand what’s the big deal. Why are we so afraid of these people?”
In the time that has passed since the first Gaza flotilla, Liel noted, Israel has become exceptionally proficient at dealing with such events. “But I want us to be different than the countries where you can’t protest at the airport.
“This raving logistic success doesn’t make me happy… Trampling over the right to say ‘I support Palestine’ is exaggerated and undemocratic.”
Mazael, however, disagrees. The former ambassador said he believes there is great difference between pro-Palestinian acts and anti-Israel ones.
“Israel did well in preparing as it did and making sure that the activists were refused entry.
“It’s important to understand that these were not peace activists but provocateurs who only wish to see Israel isolated even further.”
Mazael says the “flytilla” was the brainchild of Palestinian elements, who “joined forces with European and American radical-Left activists and are operating alongside innocent students, many of whom don’t really understand the core of the conflict, Islam or why they were dragged here.
“Israel prevented a potential PR catastrophe,” he asserted, adding that one of Jerusalem’s greatest achievements vis-à-vis the fly-in was minimizing the global media’s interest in the move.
“The fact that nothing happened made it uninteresting to the media. Any riot would have made headlines and have fueled the Arab deceit, which is already backed by the European Left and naïveté. That’s a very dangerous combination for Israel,” he concluded.
Waiting for Godot at Ben Gurion International
When the dust settled, what was left of Sunday’s pro-Palestinian protest ‘flytilla’?
By Matti Friedman, Times of Israel
Someone with nothing to go on but radio bulletins might have been forgiven for thinking something close to a war for national survival was under way at Israel’s international airport Sunday, the day of a scheduled protest fly-in by pro-Palestinian activists.
“We are going to defend the borders in every possible way,” Israel’s transportation minister, Yisrael Katz, told Israel Radio. The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the planned protest a provocation “conceived by extremist Islamic and anti-Israel organizations who object to peace and call for Israel’s destruction.”
Organizers had promised a mass fly-in to Ben Gurion Airport to protest against Israel. According to some reports, as many as 2,500 activists would take part in a major disruption of service at the country’s international airport.
But by mid-morning, nothing much was happening. Nothing had been happening for quite some time, reported an Associated Press TV cameraman in the arrivals hall who had replaced another cameraman who had watched nothing happen for most of the night.
A flight arrived from Toronto, then one from Stockholm. A sandy-haired girl emerged into the hall and embraced a man in cargo shorts. Yesterday’s withered welcome balloons clung to the ceiling like brightly colored raisins. A sweet-voiced woman on the PA system advised passengers to mind their luggage. Planes landed from Odessa and Berlin.
There were no fewer than 13 TV cameras and about 30 journalists around the terminal, bored and standing around in clumps. Anyone expecting Tahrir Square was presented instead with “Waiting for Godot.”
In a demonstration of the way Israel and its media-savvy enemies often feed off each other, Israeli politicians had answered the activists’ provocation in the days leading up to the protest by being provoked, verbally playing up the event and turning a little news story into a bigger one.
Environment Minister Gilad Erdan called the participants “anti-Semites.” Police mobilized very publicly, and Israel’s Information Directorate released a sarcastic letter that it said would be given to the activists before they were deported.
“You could have chosen to protest the Syrian regime’s daily acts of savagery against its own people,” or the Islamists of Hamas in Gaza, or the government of Iran, read the letter. “But instead you chose to protest against Israel, the Middle East’s sole democracy.
“We therefore suggest you solve the real problems of the region, and then come back and share with us your experience. Have a nice flight,” read the letter.
Yarden Vatikay, who coordinates the country’s media policy, confirmed the letter had indeed been circulated by Israel’s official media HQ. It was, he said, a sardonic attempt to “pop the balloon” of the activists’ rhetoric.
“The agenda of human rights has been hijacked and is being used for purely political purposes,” Vatikay said. Peace activists were regularly allowed into Israel, he said, but the country could not allow the airport to be targeted or disrupted.
The news being otherwise slow, local and international media turned out in force Sunday.
It was acknowledged among the journalists that any action would almost certainly take place at the airport’s old terminal, number 1, where planes identified as carrying activists had been routed and where police would be carrying out arrests. But press didn’t have access to the relevant parts of that terminal. At the airport’s main terminal, number 3, on the other hand, nothing of importance was expected to happen, but it was open to the press and there was a café. It was decided that being in a place where one could watch nothing happen was preferable to being in a place where something was happening but one could not watch. Reporters congregated in Terminal 3.
There were also several dozen policemen around the arrivals hall, part of a reinforced contingent around the airport that a police spokesman said had been upped from the usual 200 officers to 500. The officers’ job was to “prevent pro-Palestinian activists from creating disturbances,” said the spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld. By midday, a Canadian national had been detained coming in on an American flight, a Frenchwoman on El Al, and a Portuguese national coming from Jordan, he said.
Also in the hall were a few Israeli activists with blue-and-white flags who hoped to counter the anti-Israel protesters, as well as two practitioners of political theater from the hazy margins of the Israeli right, Baruch Marzel and lawmaker Michael Ben-Ari, who tend to show up anywhere there are Jewish-Arab tensions and TV cameras. Ben-Ari told a few reporters that the fly-in represented “anti-Semitism in modern garb,” suggested that the activists set up a Palestinian state in France, and left.
Not long afterwards there was a sudden commotion. Actual activists, it seemed, had made it through passport control and were in the arrivals hall. Two men unfurled signs reading “Welcome to Palestine” and were quickly surrounded and hustled away by a crowd of blue-shirted police, followed by a dozen news photographers desperate for the day’s only worthwhile shot. The whole thing was over in a few seconds, and the hall went back immediately to its routine of waiting punctuated by loudspeaker announcements and the happy shouts of embracing families, and more waiting.
Now, however, the passengers filing through the hall with their luggage carts seemed to possess a certain mystique: Was the pudgy man in the baseball hat a disguised activist? Was that a Palestinian flag in his fanny pack? What about the tired-looking woman in jogging pants? The bearded man in the black hat?
Then another commotion: This time, a woman in a pink top who had been seen waiting innocuously for some time in the arrivals hall turned out to be an activist, pulling out a small piece of paper with something written on it. There was a burst of excitement as police hustled her away before most of those present could read what the sign said. From a pedestal near the airport’s entrance, a bust of David Ben-Gurion observed the proceedings, his bronze forehead gleaming.
By evening a total of around 40 people had been arrested, most of them French nationals. Most were slated to be deported by nightfall.
At no point was service at the airport disrupted, police said.
Actions taken to stop people flying
Jet2.com emailed some passengers for Ben Gurion airport informing them
Jet2.com is required by the Israeli authorities to provide Advance Passenger Information in relation to all passengers that it carries on flights to Israel. Advance Passenger Information includes a passenger’s name, date of birth, passport number and nationality.
In accordance with Article 7 of its Terms and Conditions, Jet2.com has provided Advance Passenger Information in respect of your flight from Manchester to Israel. As a result of providing that Information, Jet2.com has been informed by the Israeli authorities that you will not be not permitted to enter Israel. Consequently, if Jet2.com carries you to Israel, you will be refused entry and Jet2.com will be liable for both a fine and your return to Manchester.
As a result, and in accordance with Article 24 of its Terms and Conditions, Jet2.com: “may refuse to carry you where such action is necessary for reasons of safety and/or security and/or to comply with any applicable laws, regulations or orders of any country to be flown from, into or over including laws or regulations relating to Advance Passenger Information requirements.” We regret that, in light of the decision taken by the Israeli authorities, we are unable to accept you for carriage to Israel on this occasion and your booking with Jet2.com has been cancelled.
In accordance with Article 26.3 of its Terms and Conditions, Jet2.com is a non-refundable airline and we will therefore be unable to offer any refund, with the exception of a refund of the applicable taxes paid, as a result of the decision taken by the Israeli authorities.
Jet2.com would like to apologise for the inconvenience caused by the cancellation of your booking, which we hope you will appreciate is totally beyond our control.
Yours sincerely, Jet2.com Customer Care Team
Ministry of Interior
Population,Immigration and Border Authority
Ben Gurion airport unit
11th April 2012
To all airlines
Subject: Denied Entry
Due to statements of pro-Palestinian radicals to arrive on commercial flights from abroad to disrupt the order and confront security forces at friction points it was decided to deny their entry in accordance with our authority according to the Law of entry to Israel 1952.
2. Attached is a list of passengers that are denied entry to Israel. In light of the above mentioned you are ordered not to board them on your flights to Israel.
3. Failure to comply with this directive will result in sanctions against the airlines.
4. This list is partial and at a later stage you will be advised of additional names. Most likely there will be additional activists, that their names we will not be able to advice of in advance, that their entry to Israel will be denied.
Chief of Israel Immigration Authority
Ben Gurion Int’l Airport
Exclusive: ‘Political contract’ required to enter Israel?
A Swedish tourist trying to enter Israel was made to sign a “contract” promising she won’t get in touch with “pro-Palestinian” organisations, and acknowledging she’ll get deported if she “gets caught doing even one of these things.” Meanwhile, Prime Minister’s Office released a letter that will be handed to deported Flytilla activists: Go to Syria.
Dimi Reider, +972
Check this out. This is a “contract” that a Swedish citizen was required to sign upon entering Israel via the Eilat land crossing:
Please, stop snickering at the “nine-tens,” the “passpot,” and the bizarre grammatical construct in the first sentence. This is quite serious. The person in question told +972:
I’ve been in East Jerusalem on and off for six months now, visiting friends. Since I am here on a tourist visa, I have to leave the country every three months and renew my visa at the border. No problem, until this time when me and a friend made an Easter trip to Jordan and planned to get a new visa stamp in my passport on our way back. I’ll go back to Sweden next week again, so I just need a visa for my last days here.
When we got to the Israeli section of the border crossing – that one between Aqaba and Eilat – we were asked to sit down and wait a moment while they kept my passport. Then I was invited into an office and was questioned about my religion, if I had contact with any religious organizations here, what I do during the day, how much money I have got to spend and where I got it, what I do in Sweden and so on. Then we had to wait again, not knowing what would happen. After 4 hours and 20 minutes, I was asked to sign this contract and got back my passport with visa stamp in which the expiration date (normally three months later) was corrected to April 19, which is when I have my plane ticket home. Then we could finally enter Israel again.
They retained the original “contract” at the border control, and mine is only a copy. I don’t know what consequences I could expect if I would break it. Personally, I am pleased that I was let in and can spend one last week in Jerusalem. I am five months pregnant and hardly look like any security risk. As far as I know, I haven’t done anything illegal during my stay here.”
When reached for comment by my colleague Haggai Matar, Population and Immigration Authority spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said : “The purpose behind the document was to make sure the lady doesn’t visit friction areas. Nevertheless, we intend to check the issue and the document itself.”
Considering the inane phrasing, spelling errors and the fact the entire letter was custom-printed for the woman personally (as opposed to a form where her departure date would have been written in), I’ll go on to venture a highly charitable guess this is the local initiative of staff at this particular crossing, rather than a policy. The initiative might actually belong to the very same “Meital Yahud”, who appears as the other signatory to the contract and might be anxious to have an alibi (a rather weak one, mind you) in case the person she let in goes on to do something as dangerous, as, um, speak the word “Palestine”, or something. It’s still morbidly fascinating to see the Flytilla getting our authorities to make themselves look like complete buffoons even before a single activist actually boarded a plane.
Update 18:30 And as if to vindicate that last sentence, Netanyahu’s spokesman Ofir Gendelman tweeted the official letter Flytilla activists will be handed on arrival. The grammar is a little better. The content – judge for yourselves.
Going back to the political “contract” document, immigration and human rights lawyer Yadin Elam told +972:
“This is the first time I have seen such a form but as someone who deals with the Ministry Of Interior on a daily basis, nothing can surprise me anymore. Legally, she is very fortunate that it is written so badly. If she “cannot” be a member of a pro-Palestinian organization then I guess she is not”
As for the question of responsibility, Elam suggests:
“…it does seems like a private initiative of a low-level clerk at the Ministry of the Interior but one should be worried why a low-level clerk has the powers to make such decisions. We all remember that Israel blamed immigration officials for the decision to deny entry to Noam Chomsky nearly two years ago. Would it be too much to hope that after such a mistake, the ministry would make sure that private initiatives would not take place? and if the didn’t, can we still call it a private initiative?”
Anyway, at least they didn’t summarily execute the visitor’s laptop this time. Things are looking up.
Ahead of Sunday’s planned ‘fly-in,’ Israel’s Interior Minister sends airlines list of names of blacklisted activists, threatens punitive steps if companies allow them to board Israel-bound flights.
By Zohar Blumenkrantz, Haaretz
Dozens of pro-Palestinian activists were prevented from boarding Israel-bound flights on Friday, due to the fact that their names appeared on a blacklist distributed by the Israeli government to a number of European airlines.
The activists were on their way to participate in a fly-in protest against Israeli construction in West Bank settlements, scheduled to take place on Sunday. Last July, a similar “fly-in” took place, with over 300 international activists arriving in Israel, and 120 detained.
In the letter, which was obtained by Haaretz, Amnon Shmueli of the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority writes, “In light of statements by radical pro-Palestinian activists indicating that they intend to arrive on commercial flights from abroad, in order to disturb the peace and confront security forces at Ben Gurion International Airport and at other points of friction, it has been decided to forbid their entrance, in accordance with my authority according to the Law of Entry to Israel.”
Referring to a list of names of known pro-Palestinian activists whom Israel suspects will attempt to enter the country over the weekend, which was included in the letter, Shmueli writes, “In light of the above, you are requested not to board them onto Israel-bound flights.
The letter then goes on to threaten punitive steps if the airlines fail to comply with Israeli demands. “A failure to uphold this directive is liable to lead to leveling of sanctions against the airlines.”
“This is only a partial list, and additional lists will be sent subsequently. There is a high probability that the entry of additional activists will be prevented, whose names we cannot pass on ahead of time,” the letter continues.
After receiving the letter, a number of European airlines, including the German airline Lufthansa, contacted activists whose names appeared on the list and notified them that their tickets had been cancelled and would be refunded.
Police expect between 500 and 1,000 activists will attempt to enter Israel from European countries as part of the action, called “Welcome to Palestine.” Police are planning to intercept them at the airport and prevent their entry into the country. Hundreds of police officers are expected to be stationed at the airport ahead of their arrival, most of them unarmed and clothed in civilian dress.
Mr. Minister, greet them with flowers!
Adam Keller, Gush Shalom
More than a thousand international activists are due to arrive at Ben Gurion Airport on Sunday, including aged persons, parents with their children and handicapped people in wheelchairs. They have no intention to carry out any provocation, and there is no need to mobilize massive police forces. All that is needed is to say the word “welcome” and perhaps also give a flower.
Here follows the full text of our letter to the minister
To Mr. Yitzhak Aharonovitch Minister of Public Security Jerusalem
According to reports published today in the media, Israel’s National Police is preparing a large, complex, semi-military operation as its response to the “Fly-in”, due on Sunday. It was announced that Deputy Commissioner Benzi Sau has drawn up the operational order, providing for Ben Gurion Airport to be flooded by hundreds of police, with the stated goal of creating “a critical mass facing the demonstrators”. Officers are to be drafted for this “operation” from numerous police stations, and also the Special Anti-Riot Unit and other highly trained forces will be deployed. A senior Central District officer was quoted as saying “We will certainly be firm with them. They will not be able to do anything, when faced with the great force which we can bring to bear”.
It is sad to note, Mr. Minister, that you – as well as the commanders of the police force for which you bear responsibility – have learned nothing from the events of the previous “Fly-in”. At that time, more than a hundred international activists managed to make their way to Ben Gurion Airport. Not a single one of them took any provocative or violent act. I would like to reiterate the basic facts – though they have already been published extensively by the people concerned themselves, presented on numerous occasions to the international media and published on various websites – and therefore, you must already be familiar with them.
More than a thousand international activists are planning to arrive at Ben Gurion Airport on Sunday, including aged persons, parents with their children and handicapped people in wheelchairs. Their sole aim is to get in a quiet and orderly way to the passport control, like any visitor. Once there, they intend to declare openly and explicitly that they are coming to visit the West Bank at the invitation of various Palestinian civil society organizations as well as of the Mayor of Bethlehem, Dr. Victor Batarseh. If allowed to go through, they intend to leave the airport with no further ado and proceed to their destination. Their program includes being hosted at the Peace Center in central Bethlehem, participating in laying the foundations of a new elementary school in the city, planting fruit trees, rehabilitate wells at villages in the area, and inaugurating a museum. I would like to repeat this point once again: they had no intention of causing any incident at the airport, and therefore the mighty police mobilization is completely unnecessary and a total waste of the taxpayers’ money. All that is needed is instruct the passport control officials to answer each and every one of the visitors with the word “Welcome”. At a small fraction of the cost of the planned police operation, it would be possible to give each of the visitors a pretty flower on behalf of the State of Israel.
As I wrote to you on the eve of the previous “Fly-in”, this mass arrival of activists is a direct reaction to the consistent policy of the Ben Gurion Airport officials, evidently under governmental instructions. When a traveler shows up at the Ben Gurion Airport and openly declares his or her intention to visit West Bank Palestinians, this frank statement would lead to an immediate deportation from the country. Conversely, by lying and fraud, claiming to be an ordinary tourist to Israel, a traveler can get through without any problems and go from the airport directly to the Palestinian territories. Participants in the “Fly-in” could have easily done that, too – but they decided not to lie or cheat and to explicitly declare their intent. It seems to me that the State of Israel, and Israel’s National Police specifically, should have encouraged rather than discourage a behavior of honesty and truthfulness on the part of persons arriving at Ben Gurion Airport.
Each day there arrive at the airport delegations of people, Jews and non-Jews, who support the government of Israel’s position in the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. As long as the Palestinians do not posses their own international airport, through which those who want to visit them could come directly, it is inevitable that there would arrive at Israel’s airport also people who support the Palestinians and their positions. The State of Israel should respect this fact.
I have no great illusion, Mr. Minister, that this letter will cause you to change your position and cancel the huge, aggressive and completely unnecessary operation which the police intends to carry out at the airport on Sunday. Nevertheless, as an Israeli citizen who cares about this country and its future, I feel duty bound to make this call upon you.
Wishing you and yours a happy Passover
Adam Keller Gush Shalom spokesperson