Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport is famous for having some of the tightest airport security in the world [GALLO/GETTY]
July 6, 2011
Despite threats from Israeli security, hundreds of Palestinian solidarity activists plan to fly into Tel Aviv's airport.
This Friday, July 8, hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists are planning to fly to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport in a display of solidarity with Palestinians living in the occupied territories.
According to organisers, at least 500 people have already scheduled flights to Israel, including Palestinians that will fly from Europe, North and South America, Asia, and Africa.
The "fly in", as organisers are referring to the action, will bring protesters to Tel Aviv where they will all arrive within a two-hour period. At least fifteen organisations are involved in the event which is timed to coincide with peaceful demonstrations and actions within the occupied territories that have been set up by Palestinians. The travellers plan to travel from the airport to the West Bank, a move that would challenge the long-standing Israeli government policy that has forbidden such movement.
"The goal is very clear, we are all fed up with being obliged to lie when we arrive in Allenby [bridge] or Ben Gurion [Airport] when visiting our Palestinian friends," Mireille Rumeau, an organiser with the International Solidarity Movement in Paris told Al Jazeera.
"We are fed up with lying about being tourists, or coming for a pilgrimage. Now, they are all going to say: 'we are coming to visit our Palestinian friends that have invited us.' If they get through, there are events planned for Palestinian groups for us to take part in, as we were invited by them six months ago, and we are answering their call."
Rumeau said that approximately 350 of the participants that already have their tickets are from France, and others are flying from Italy, Belgium, and Germany. She also hopes the action will bring attention to the lack of Palestinians' ability to move freely, and that, as the sea flotilla aimed to bring attention to the Israeli naval blockade, this action will highlight how Israel also bars air access to the occupied Palestinian territories.
The 'hooligans' are coming
Mazin Qumsiyeh is the international media spokesperson for the Welcome to Palestine Campaign in the West Bank. He spoke with Al Jazeera about the upcoming "fly in" and how it was connected to events his group is coordinating in the occupied territories.
"The purpose is to bring internationals to join us and show solidarity in actions we're doing anyway," Qumsiyeh told Al Jazeera. "We ask internationals to come, the only difference from previous actions of solidarity is that these people have decided among themselves to come all on the same day to the airport and they are not going to tell the Israelis they are tourists, but they are coming in solidarity with the Palestinian people."
On July 5, Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch called the activists "hooligans" and said they would be barred entry.
"These hooligans who try to break our laws will not be allowed into the country and will be returned immediately to their home countries," he said.
In his first interview as Chief of Staff of the Israeli army, Yohanan Denino said that his forces "will use all the legal means in our hands, and we have many", to stop the activists from proceeding with their plan to protest at Ben Gurion airport or to travel to the West Bank.
Israeli media has reported that flights landing on July 8 from Europe will be taken to a separate terminal and all of the passengers carefully screened.
Rumeau, whose group has been active in organising weekly protests against the West Bank security fence at Bil'in, as well as being involved with the Free Gaza Movement behind the flotillas of 2010 and 2011, said she does not know what Israeli security officials will do with the hundreds of activists who arrive at the airport.
"We don't know what we will do, as we don't expect them [Israeli security] to let people leave the tarmac," she said. "They cannot allow 500 people to enter the small airport at Tel Aviv. We suppose they might stop the people from leaving the planes, and checking at that time who is going to Palestine and who is not. The other scenario is they put people in buses and take them to detention."
Qumsiyeh also does not know what the activists might expect from Israeli security forces.
"We can't predict what the Israeli authorities will do, but what they've done to individuals who have been honest about their goal of visiting Palestine is they have been interrogated for many hours, and possibly deported," he said.
Qumsiyeh hopes that Israeli authorities will "do the right and legal thing and let these people through".
"British citizens arriving at Ben-Gurion should be treated as Israelis are treated at Heathrow," he added. "They should not be interrogated and deported, just like if Israelis who are going to visit minorities in London would not be interrogated and deported. It's the right and legal course of action."
A small risk
Should those on board the flights be allowed access into the occupied territories, they will join Palestinians in peaceful solidarity actions and other events that Qumsiyeh's group is helping organise.
The move comes as a flotilla of international activists who planned to try to breach Israel's sea blockade of Gaza has largely failed to get permission to set sail from Greece, as a result of Israeli diplomatic pressure on the country in the throes of economic chaos.
Organisers chose July 8 for the "fly in" as it is the date in 2004 that the UN's International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion that Israel's West Bank "security fence" stood contrary to international law.
Laura Durkay, a US activist from New York, will be one of only a few US citizens participating in the action. She told Al Jazeera the reason she is taking part in the "fly in" is because, having travelled to Gaza and the West Bank, "I saw the conditions and saw what the Israeli security apparatus looks like. I was interrogated at the Allenby Bridge, and saw how that apparatus and control of borders is part of the occupation. We want to highlight that the West Bank is also under siege, and one of the ways they enforce that siege is by keeping people from going in and out of the West Bank."
Durkay understands that Israeli security forces will likely turn them away at the airport and not allow the travellers to enter the West Bank.
"We understand there is a good chance the Israeli government will prevent us from doing this, and that would show the world how this so-called democracy treats those of us who simply want to visit Palestinians and express our solidarity with them," she said.
Durkay said she understands that there is a possibility of the activists being treated badly by Israeli security, but added: "As internationals, we know the risk for us is much less the risk faced by Palestinians on a daily basis. It's a small risk compared to what Palestinians have to deal with all the time and don't have a choice about."