Last updated: 10 April, 2012

Israeli forces gear up for pro-Palestinian “flytilla”

Israeli security forces said on Tuesday they had begun preparations for a “fly-in” of hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists expected to arrive at Ben Gurion airport this weekend.

“We have made arrangements and are prepared for this operation, which is expected to begin from Sunday,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, without giving further details.

Hundreds of activists mainly from European countries are expected to try to fly into Ben Gurion airport, near Tel Aviv, with the goal of travelling to the Palestinian West Bank.

The so-called “Welcome to Palestine” campaign, which has been dubbed a “flytilla,” is taking place for the third year.

In 2010, organisers said around 100 activists were able to arrive without incident and travel to the West Bank, access to which is controlled by Israel.

But last year, Israel worked with airlines to prevent hundreds of activists from boarding planes bound for Ben Gurion, and detained and later deported others who managed to arrive.

Israel’s public security minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch on Monday supervised a meeting of the security forces that will be in charge of the operation at Ben Gurion, including airport authorities, immigration officials and police.

“No provocation will be tolerated,” he said in statements relayed by his office. “As any other country would do, Israel will stop hostile elements from entering its territory.”

Israel has reportedly already contacted various airlines to request that they block activists from boarding flights.

Those who arrive are expected to be arrested by dozens of police deployed at the airport, Israeli radio reported.

But organisers rejected the Israeli claim they were planning a “provocation” by “hostile elements.”

“We are not a flytilla, we are not hooligans,” Mazen Qumsieh, one of the event’s organisers, said at a Bethlehem news conference on Tuesday.

“The people coming are average, normal Europeans who want to learn about the situation and visit the people living in the occupation.”

Qumsieh estimated that between 1,500-2,000 people, primarily from Western Europe, would be arriving. The goal, he said, was “to claim solidarity with Palestinian people.”

“We have a busy programme for them, which includes sharing our lives, living with the Palestinian people and getting to know their tragedy. They are coming to show solidarity in a situation of an occupation,” he said.

“Even prisoners are allowed visits, we have the right for them to visit us and cooperate with us in building Palestine and liberating it.”

As for Israeli efforts to prevent activists from boarding planes, Qumsieh noted they had “legally challenged airlines in European countries from the last event, and even if the Israeli government gives them (airlines) lists of names, they (airlines) will allow them to board planes.”