Airlines cancel activists’ flights to Israel
2012-04-16 0:00

By Daniel Estrin | YahooNews / AP

A Palestinian activist said Saturday that a number of international airlines canceled flights for at least 100 people scheduled to arrive in Israel’s main airport for a mass fly-in of pro-Palestinian activists, while Israel said those activists who manage to make it to the airport would be deported.

Campaign organizer Amira Musallam said activists from around the world notified her by email that Lufthansa, and Air France canceled their flight reservations.

EasyJet also announced it would refuse to fly passengers which Israel has marked on a no-entry list. Airline spokeswoman Anna Knowles said only a small number of passengers were affected.

Organisers of the campaign had been expecting to welcome up to 1,500 people. (AFP, Jack Guez)

Israeli television reported most airlines would not fly activists to Israel and only a trickle would arrive, though Musallam, the Palestinian organizer, said she still expects hundreds of activists to arrive beginning Saturday evening and continuing through Sunday.

The "Welcome to Palestine" project seeks to raise attention to how Israel controls access into Palestinian areas.

Visitors can only reach the West Bank through Israeli-controlled land crossings or Israeli airports. At any given time, hundreds of foreigners are in the West Bank, including activists, aid workers, volunteers, tourists and religious pilgrims. Israel limits entry through its border crossing to the Gaza Strip to foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers only.

Travelers who wish to visit the Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank often report being detained and questioned, sometimes for hours, by Israeli border authorities — unless they fib about their intended destination.

Israel is nervous about a large influx of pro-Palestinian activists, following a series of deadly run-ins with such activists in recent years.

In 2010, a naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla left nine Turkish activists dead. The Israeli navy and the pro-Palestinian activists have each accused each other of sparking the bloodshed. Last year, Israeli troops battled hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters who tried to burst across Syrian and Lebanese borders into Israeli-held territory, killing dozens. Those clashes drew international criticism.

Last July, Israel blocked a similar fly-in effort by preventing scores of activists from boarding Tel Aviv-bound flights in Europe, questioning dozens more upon arrival at the airport and denying entry to 69.

In seeking to prevent this weekend’s pro-Palestinian fly-in, Israel seems keen on avoiding further confrontations. Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri said hundreds of additional police officers, both plainclothes and uniformed, would patrol the airport beginning Sunday to prevent disruptions.

A spokeswoman for Israel’s Interior Ministry, Sabine Hadad, said Israel had sent a list of suspected activists to international airlines, asking the airlines to deny boarding them on Israel-bound flights — They warned the airlines they’d have to cover the cost of their return flights, and threatened unspecified sanctions on airlines if they do not comply.

"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," the letter read.

Sofiah MacLeod, a British campaign coordinator, said the Israeli allegations against activists in the campaign "is just complete rubbish."

"The only thing participants will be doing will be to declare honestly that their destination is Bethlehem and Palestine. That’s it," she said.


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