Tovah Lazaroff; Herb Keinon; Yaakov Lappin; Jerusalem Post staff
Interior Ministry: Airlines Must Keep Activists off Planes
Every country has the “basic right” to bar “provocateurs,” Netanyahu declares; terror victims say they’ll stage counter-demonstration.
The Jerusalem Post
Netanyahu and Bulgarian PM Borisov in Sophia (Photo: Moshe Milner/GPO)
The Interior Ministry has told foreign airlines they are required under Israeli law to remove “pro-Palestinian radicals” from flights bound for Israel.
It sent the letter in advance of the anticipated “Flightilla,” in which about 700 pro-Palestinian activists, mostly from Europe, were expected to arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport on Friday on routine flights throughout the day.
Already on Thursday, Malev Hungarian Airlines barred around 20 activists from boarding a flight from Paris to Budapest on the first leg of their journey to Tel Aviv, according to French activists involved in the “Welcome to Palestine” event on Friday.
A letter from the Interior Ministry to the airlines provided to The Jerusalem Post by the activists said that “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 refuse their entry in accordance with our authority according to the Law of Entry to Israel 1952 … In light of the above-mentioned, you are required not to board them on your flights to Israel.
Failure to comply with this directive would result in a delay on the flight and their return on the same flight.”
It added that it was providing the airlines with a list of known activists and would be updating the list. There were some names that would not be known in advance and thus some passengers might be denied entry once they landed at Ben-Gurion, the ministry said.
It was signed by Amnon Shmueli, the chief of the Immigration Authority in the Interior Ministry.
A French spokesman for Welcome to Palestine, Nicolas Shahshahani, said that some 20 activists had been barred from boarding a flight from Paris to Budapest.
“When they showed up at the counter a clerk said, ‘We cannot register you by order of the Israeli government, and they showed us the letter,” Shahshahani said.
The French Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Thursday saying it was “very worried” about possible incidents at Ben-Gurion as a result of the planned air flotilla.
“The Israeli authorities, who have exclusive judicial authority concerning entrance and exit from Israeli territory, have declared that they will not allow entrance to people representing a potential threat to public order,” the statement said.
French Foreign Ministry officials met with one of the groups involved in the initiative – EuroPalestine – and warned it about the dangers posed by the operation, including the possibility that those involved would be jailed in Israel if they refused deportation. Travel advisories have been issued by the ministry in Paris.
French Embassy officials in Israel had been mobilized to give assistance if needed to any French citizen, according to the statement. The assistance could be more effective if the French authorities had names of those who were involved in the operation, something the organizers refused to provide, the French ministry said.
The French Foreign Ministry also said that Paris was committed to “freedom of movement into and out of the West Bank,” which it said needed to be accessible to foreign visitors.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rejected criticism on Thursday during a visit to Bulgaria that Israel was overacting in preparation for the expected arrival of airborne protesters.
“Every country has the basic right to prevent the infiltration of provocateurs into its territory,” Netanyahu said during a press conference in Sofia alongside Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.
“Right now there is information of a few hundred people who want to disturb the peace,” he continued. “I don’t know with what level of violence, but we have very reliable information that they want to come and disturb the peace and cause a provocation. We are taking the necessary steps.”
The government came under criticism on Thursday for dispatching hundreds of police to the airport in expectation of the protesters’ arrival.
“If we didn’t take action, we would be asked afterward why we didn’t act,” Netanyahu said. “At the end of the day, it is the government and the relevant authorities who have to prepare. It is okay that all the time we are being questioned and criticized and checked.
In the final analysis, in the running of the country and protecting its borders and the public order, we are operating according to the rules.”
Netanyahu added that there was no “siege” of Gaza, and that if the protesters truly wanted to “free Gaza” they would work to free it of Hamas. There was a “controlled closure” of Gaza to prevent the smuggling of arms and ammunition, the prime minister said.
“It is possible to transfer everything into Gaza, just not arms and ammunition,” he said. “The number of missiles that have been transferred there in the last half year through tunnels can be brought in on one ship, and that can’t be allowed to happen,” Netanyahu said.
Israel was concerned about the level of cooperation between Hamas and Iran, and the international community needed to mobilize to prevent the latter’s support of terrorist organizations, the prime minister said.
Welcome to Palestine spokespeople have consistently rejected any link between their action, which is targeted at helping Palestinians in the West Bank, and that of the Gaza flotilla. They have said that their sole goal is to support Palestinian statehood and to highlight the lack of freedom and movement in and out of the West Bank.
They say theirs is a nonviolent act of resistance. “We are peaceful activists,” one of the activists, an American from New York named Laura Durkay, said.
Durkay was already in England and planned to board a plane for Ben-Gurion on Friday.
She believed she might be barred from boarding the flight, because she has been quite vocal about her planned participation.
“I have been using my name, because I do not have anything to hide. I am hoping that my right to free movement will be allowed by all the countries through which I am traveling,” she said.
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, meanwhile, sent consular representatives on Thursday to the command post the police set up at Ben-Gurion Airport. They will deal with the various consular issues that might arise from the arrest and deportation of foreign nationals.
Israeli activists also plan to be at the airport on Friday, but say they’ll keep a low profile.
Members of the Almagor Terror Victims Association also plan to converge on Ben-Gurion on Friday morning and confront any incoming pro-Palestinian activists with pictures of family members who had been murdered by terrorists.
“We will tell them that Israel lost 1,400 victims to terrorism,” Almagor chief Meir Indor told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. “We will tell them that when Jews are killed they don’t care, but when Israel responds they condemn it. This is the continuance of known European anti-Semitism, disguised as care for Palestinians. We will tell them they are supporting the narrative of terrorism.
“We are a group made up of parents who lost children to terrorism, and people who were wounded in terrorist attacks, like myself,” Indor added. “It is important to create a civilian response to [the pro-Palestinian activists’] media show, and not just let the police spokesman deal with them alone. We need to represent the Israeli public.”
Almagor has not yet received a reply from police after asking for permission to hold a demonstration at the airport, but Indor says the group will go ahead nonetheless.
“We hope several dozen [of our] people will arrive, but we don’t know exactly how many will come. We also hope we are joined by others,” he said.