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Not welcome: Israel to bar entry to pro-Palestinian activists

Published time: April 15, 2012 03:07
Edited time: April 15, 2012 16:22
Pro-Palestinian Israeli activists hold signs during a protest at Ben Gurion International Airport (Reuters / Ronen Zvulun)

Pro-Palestinian Israeli activists hold signs during a protest at Ben Gurion International Airport (Reuters / Ronen Zvulun)

Israel is planning to send back hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists traveling to participate in peaceful events in the West Bank. The Prime Minister’s office issued a letter advising the activists to focus on the “real problems” of the region.

­Around 1,200 Palestinian rights activists worldwide have bought tickets to travel to Israel on April 15. They have been looking forward to participating in a number of peaceful events as part of the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign. The events were set to include the opening of an international school and a museum.

But it appears that Israel deemed these actions to be dangerous.

“It's very unfortunate that we are once again facing the kind of provocation coming from extremists from different countries,” Israel’s Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs told Reuters.

And the office of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has released a letter recommending the activists some “better causes” to fight for.

“You could have chosen to protest the Syrian regime's daily savagery against its own people, which has claimed thousands of lives,” the letter reads. “You could have chosen to protest the Iranian regime's brutal crackdown on dissent and support of terrorism throughout the world. But instead you chose to protest against Israel, the Middle East's sole democracy … We therefore suggest that you first solve the real problems of the region, and then come back and share with us your experience. Have a nice flight.”

But it doesn’t seem the activists will be having a nice flight come Sunday. In fact they will be greeted by hundreds of police officers deployed in and around Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport.

Israel has already taken measures to try to reduce the influx of pro-Palestinian activists. The country’s Interior Ministry said the Immigration Authority sent a letter with the names of banned activists to airlines.

And it seems that Israel has been having its way with the airlines as well. “Welcome to Palestine” participant Leelee Rothschild said dozens of activists had been informed by their airlines that their tickets to Tel Aviv had been cancelled. 

Israel's willingness to detain people who have not committed any crime and have done nothing but say they came to visit Palestine is a hysterical reaction,” Rothschild told Reuters.

Another campaign organizer, Nicolas Shahshahani, said Lufthansa had so far cancelled the flights of 40 people and EasyJet said it had a legal obligation “to refuse carriage of any passenger at the request of the relevant authorities.”

This isn’t the first time that Israel has rounded up and deported activists. Last July an effort similar to “Welcome to Palestine” was thwarted, when 69 activists were denied entry at the airport.

And peaceful pro-Palestinian activists aren’t the only ones that are non grata in Israel. Last week German poet and Nobel prize laureate Gunter Grass was banned from entering the country for writing a poem critical of the Israeli government.

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