* Israel says it will deport pro-Palestinian activists
* Hundreds of police deployed at Tel Aviv airport
By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM, April 15 A pro-Palestinian "fly-in"
to Tel Aviv got off to a slow start on Sunday after Israel
scrambled to block activists from boarding flights in Europe.
"Four activists have been detained after arriving on an El
Al flight from Paris and are being questioned at (Tel Aviv)
airport," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
An Interior Ministry spokeswoman said the Immigration
Authority had on Wednesday given airlines the names of some
1,200 activists whose entrance to Israel would be barred. Israel
made clear the airlines would have to shoulder the costs of
sending any deported activists back to their port of origin.
Leehee Rothschild, a "Welcome to Palestine" activist, said
that dozens of campaigners had since been informed by airlines
that their tickets to Tel Aviv have been cancelled.
Organisers said some 1,200 Palestinian supporters throughout
Europe had bought plane tickets to Israel and had planned to
travel on to the occupied West Bank, an hour's drive from Tel
Aviv, as part of a campaign called "Welcome to Palestine".
The aim of the so-called "flytilla", organisers said, was to
help open an international school and a museum in Bethlehem. But
Israel has denounced the activists as provocateurs and said it
would deny entry to anyone who threatened public order.
Hundreds of police officers were deployed in and around Tel
Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, Israel's main gateway to the world.
"We are expecting hundreds of activists throughout Sunday.
Some will be sent back to their countries. As part of normal
procedure, they will be questioned and each case will be decided
upon individually," Rosenfeld said.
A similar, though smaller "fly-in" last year led to a few
hundred activists being blocked at European airports and more
than 100 others were deported after Israel denied them entry.
"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 said.
Palestinians hope to establish a state in the West Bank and
East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East
War, and the Gaza Strip that is ruled by Islamist Hamas.
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
released a letter on Saturday which it hoped to hand the
activists upon their arrival.
Echoing the "thank you for choosing our airline"
announcements cabin crew often make to passengers after landing,
the letter said: "We appreciate your choosing to make Israel the
object of your humanitarian concerns."
"You could have chosen to protest the Syrian regime's daily
savagery against its own people, which has claimed thousands of
lives," the letter read. "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."
Israel's left-wing Haaretz newspaper criticised the
government's decision to bar the activists.
"A country that respects human rights in the territories
under its control, including the right to non-violent protest
against foreign occupation, must invite peace activists to visit
anywhere and welcome them with flowers," it said in an
(Editing by Jon Hemming)