Welcome to Palestine – if you can get in

July 5, 2011
Sarah Benton

Hundreds of Internationals and Hundreds of Palestinians Gear-up for July 8-16 activities
By George Rishmawi, IMEMC News
Civil Society organizations finalizing preparations for welcoming hundreds of International activists coming to the Palestinian territories in a campaign defined by the organizers as “Welcome to Palestine”. The organizing groups, which mount up to 40 organizations, groups and popular committees and political factions issued a press release on Saturday.

The organizers are concerned that Israeli authorities will not allow estimated 600 – 1000 people to come through Ben Gurion airport on July 8. Israeli media sources reported that the Israeli government is preparing for the July campaign.

“The international community must recognize the basic human right to receive visitors from abroad and support the right of their own citizens to travel to Palestine without harassment. Where Israel works to isolate us, we invite all to join with us openly and proudly. We do not accept the attempts to keep us apart or to force us to speak less than with full honesty,” the press release said.

The planned July activities are part of series of events organized by Palestinian organizations in coordination with International peace groups held in December of 2010 as part of the efforts of the Palestine Justice Network, an advocacy group created following the Israeli war on Gaza in 2008/2009.

“This July initiative comes in a planned series of events and follows similar events carried out in December under the slogan of ‘ending apartheid and ethnic cleansing’.”

The activities will start on July 9, which coincides with the seventh anniversary of the International Court of Justice ruling about the Israeli wall being built in the West Bank. The court ruled the wall illegal.

It also coincides with the sixth anniversary of the Palestinian civil society call to action for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.

According to the press release, the activities will be held in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jordan Valley, Naqab (Negev) and Jerusalem, in addition to some other parts of the West Bank.

It seems that there are no plans to go to Gaza, contrary to what some Israeli media sources mentioned.

The July campaign comes as the Flotilla to break to the siege on Gaza is facing troubles with the Greek Authorities.

We are going to Palestine

Lubna Masarwa, a Palestinian from Israel, is an activist and board member of the “Free Gaza” organization. These past days she was in Berlin to present a new initiative, “Welcome to Palestine,” a call by 15 Palestinian civil society organizations to travel en masse to Palestine on July 8th. Elsa Rassbach spoke with Lubna Masarwa for Neues Deutschland.

Ms. Masarwa, you traveled five times on the Freedom Flotilla ships, most recently on the “Mavi Marmara,” to break the Gaza blockade by sea. You were on the steering committee of Gaza Freedom March, which brought 1400 activists from 42 countries to Cairo to break the blockade at the Egyptian border. Now there will be an attempt via the airport in Tel Aviv. How will this work?

Israel controls all the borders and all access to Palestine, also by air. When you arrive at Ben Gurion airport, if you say you want to go to the West Bank, you will quite probably be denied entry. That’s why many claim that they are only going to visit holy places and the like. On the 8th of July, everyone will say openly, “We are going to Palestine.”

But won’t they simply be deported?
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire, for example, did not simply allow herself to be deported. She spent a week in an Israeli prison and then came to trial. We have experienced attorneys working with us who will contest any possible deportation orders. The international media is prepared. Israel will have to explain why hundreds of foreign visitors should be deported.

In Gaza, Ramallah, Haifa, Jerusalem and elsewhere we will demonstrate for our right to receive visitors. Dozens of Palestinian organizations are backing this call. We very much hope that our guests will be able to come to take part with us in various actions: in Jerusalem, where our houses are being demolished; in Hebron, where we are terrorized daily by aggressive settlers; in the Negev Desert, to help rebuild a village that has already been destroyed by the Israelis twelve times.
Together with our guests we will deliberate regarding the next steps of our nonviolent movement to end the occupation.

But in case the participants in this action aren’t allowed into Palestine after all — won’t the Palestinian hosts be very disappointed?
Donations for schoolbooks and the like are surely well meant, but humanitarian aid does not bring about fundamental change. Why not instead invest in a direct action to throw a spotlight on the blockade of the West Bank and Israel? People bought flight tickets to Cyprus or to Egypt in order to participate in a Flotilla or in Gaza Freedom March without knowing in advance whether they would be able to get into Gaza. When we broke the blockade with our ships, thousands received us enthusiastically. Often, however, we did not succeed: yet these actions were all the more effective, because they brought the brutality of the occupation even more into focus. Israel was put under greater pressure to loosen the blockade. In addition, Gaza Freedom March was like an earthquake for the Egyptian people. We don’t need further statements about the evils of occupation. We need concrete actions like the one on July 8th.

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