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Israeli police arrest fly-in activists
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel deployed hundreds of police Sunday at its main airport to detain activists flying in to protest the country’s occupation of Palestinian areas in defiance of vigorous Israeli government efforts to block their arrival.
At midafternoon, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a total of 27 activists had landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport. All were denied entry and were to be placed on return flights, he said. Hundreds more were expected throughout the day.
Four Israeli supporters of the fly-in were arrested for causing a disturbance at the main airport terminal after unfurling a banner bearing the protest’s theme, “Welcome to Palestine,” Mr. Rosenfeld said.
Israel is jittery about the prospect of large numbers of protesters arriving because of deadly confrontations with pro-Palestinian activists in the past, notably a naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in May 2010. The activists participating in the fly-in say all planned activities, such as planting trees in the West Bank, are nonviolent and accuse Israel of being unnecessarily heavyhanded.
The effect of the protest was diluted by airlines that canceled the reservations of at least 100 known activists, and perhaps hundreds more, under pressure from Israel.
Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said Israel had sent a list of suspected activists to international airlines, asking the carriers to block them from boarding Israel-bound flights. It warned the airlines they would have to cover the cost of the activists’ return flights, and the government threatened unspecified sanctions on airlines if they did not comply, she said.
One of the protest’s organizers, Amira Mussalam, said that as of midday, no activists had managed to get out of the airport and make their way to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Activists who had been barred from flying to Tel Aviv from airports in Paris and Brussels staged impromptu protests, and Israel Radio reported that activists in Geneva had their passports confiscated.
The protest is meant to draw attention to how Israel controls access into Palestinian areas. The Palestinians claim the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, all captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, for their future state.
Visitors can reach the West Bank only through Israeli-controlled land crossings or Israeli airports, though at any given time, hundreds of foreigners, including activists, are in the territory.
Travelers headed for Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank often report being detained and questioned, sometimes for hours, by Israeli border authorities.
As a result, some lie about their intended destination within the West Bank, where 300,000 Jews live in more than 120 settlements alongside 2.4 million Palestinians.
Ms. Mussalam, the organizer, said participants were told not to hide their intentions. “The aim of ‘Welcome to Palestine‘ is when we have guests coming to Palestine — to Ramallah, Hebron, to Bethlehem — they should be able to say we are going to Palestine and not to lie,” Ms. Mussalam said.
Israel restricts access to the border crossing with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers. Some 1.6 million Palestinians live there.
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