TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Aided by Facebook, Israel on Friday prevented scores of pro-Palestinian activists from boarding Tel Aviv-bound flights in Europe, questioned dozens more upon arrival at its main airport and denied entry to 69, disrupting their attempts to reach the West Bank on a solidarity mission with the Palestinians.
had tracked the activists on social media sites, compiled a blacklist of
more than 300 names and asked airlines to keep those on the list off
flights to Israel. On Friday, 310 of the activists who managed to land
in Tel Aviv were detained for questioning, said Interior Ministry
spokeswoman Sabine Hadad. Of those, four were immediately put on return
flights and 65 were being held until flights home could be arranged for
them, she said. The rest were permitted entry, she said.
point during the operation, two planes from Geneva and Rome were
diverted to a secluded area of the airport upon landing and boarded by
Organizers of the "Welcome to Palestine" campaign
accused Israel of overreacting to what they said is a peaceful mission
to draw attention to life under Israeli occupation, including travel
restrictions. Israel controls all access to the West Bank.
was never about demonstrations at airports. We are on a fact-finding
mission. We want to understand what's going on," said Pippa Bartolotti, a
57-year-old British activist from Wales.
She said she was the
only member of a 40-member group on a flight from Britain who managed to
enter Israel. "Unfortunately everybody else is in a holding bay and
expected to be deported," she said. "There are people from Belgium,
France and the U.K."
Israel has been jittery about the arrival of
foreign activists since a deadly naval raid on an international flotilla
that tried to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip last year. The
incident, in which nine Turkish activists died in clashes with naval
commandos, drew heavy international criticism and forced Israel to ease
Israel took a series of measures to prevent clashes
this time, most notably by barring protesters from the country
altogether. Hundreds of police were also deployed at the already heavily
fortified Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Authorities forwarded a blacklist to foreign airlines, preventing scores from boarding their flights.
Palmor, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, said the list was
compiled by following organizers' preparations on social networks and
websites. In all, about 300 people were identified as planning to create
"provocations" upon arrival, he said.
"These people announced on
their Internet sites that they planned to come here and cause
disruptions, and told their friends. We were able to contact other
foreign ministries and simply give them links," Palmor said. Barring
entrance in such cases is "accepted practice in any country," he added.
anti-Israel protests, including deadly clashes along the frontiers with
Lebanon and Syria as well as another attempted flotilla last week, were
organized on Facebook and other sites. Defense officials say Israel now
closely follows organizer activities online.
Activists, meanwhile, were sending updates on their progress through Israeli border controls on Twitter.
police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said some 200 people were prevented
from boarding their flights at airports throughout Europe. "The
companies did not allow them on the airplanes because we told them
clearly they wouldn't be able to enter Israel," Rosenfeld said.
More arrivals were expected Saturday.
De Palma, 44, a Portuguese citizen, said she passed border controls
without problems, apparently because she didn't identify herself as an
activist. "I said I was coming to visit. That was it," she said. "I am
not a conspicuous person and we don't have to be conspicuous about it."
am going to participate in the mission on the call of civilian
Palestinian society. To participate in specific demonstrations. To help
the Palestinian people. To make a stand," she said.
One of the
organizers, French activist Olivia Zemor, said her group planned only
nonviolent activities. "Welcome to Palestine" released a statement
Friday calling the moves to prevent activists from reaching Israel
"provocative, blackmailing and illegal."
At Charles de Gaulle
Airport in Paris, several would-be protesters were turned away from
check-in counters, and protesters subsequently gathered in the terminal,
shouting "Boycott Israel," as French police stood by.
Beatt, a British citizen living in Germany, told The Associated Press
that she had been barred from boarding a Lufthansa plane Friday morning
in Berlin. "Lufthansa called me last night and said I would not be
allowed to board their plane because Israel denied me entry," Beatt
In Geneva, dozens of activists were barred from boarding an
EasyJet flight to Tel Aviv. Aline Yazgi, a spokeswoman for Switzerland's
second biggest airport, said the passengers tried to pass through
security without a boarding card and were turned back, closing part of
the airport for about 40 minutes as a result.
An EasyJet spokesman
in Geneva, Adrian Fuhrer, said 40 people were prevented from boarding
the plane at the request of Israeli authorities. "It was compulsory for
EasyJet not to let these people on board," Fuhrer said.
not publicized its criteria for denying entry, but has said peaceful
visitors will not be deported. The large numbers of people who were
blocked indicated that Israel was giving few activists the benefit of
The activists have placed Israel in an awkward
position. Authorities are determined to keep out people they consider
hostile agitators, but critics in Israel have said the government's
high-profile reaction has only drawn attention to the activists' attempt
to gain publicity.
Visitors can reach the West Bank only through
Israeli-controlled crossings, either through international airports or
the land border with Jordan. Citing security concerns, Israel bars most
Palestinians from entering Israel or using its airport, meaning they
must travel to neighboring Jordan to fly out.
At any given time, hundreds of foreigners, including activists and aid workers, are in the West Bank.
restrictions in the Gaza Strip, ruled by the militant Hamas group, are
even more rigorous. Israel allows few people to cross its border with
Gaza, and most Gazans can travel abroad only by crossing into Egypt
through their shared border.
Associated Press writers Angela Charlton in Paris, Kirsten
Grieshaber in Berlin, and Frank Jordans in London contributed to this