BEN-GURION AIRPORT, Israel (Reuters) - Some 200 pro-Palestinian activists have been barred from leaving foreign airports for Israel, where authorities are poised to deport others who manage to fly in, Israeli police said on Friday.
After Greece grounded a flotilla that tried to sail in contravention of the Gaza Strip blockade this month, international protesters mobilized to flock to Ben-Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv, in a challenge to Israel’s curbs on accessing the occupied West Bank.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced them as provocateurs. His government ordered a crackdown, citing concern for public order at Israel’s main gateway to the world, or that the foreigners would reinforce Palestinian demonstrations.
Travelers affected by the ban expressed outrage.
“I am absolutely shocked that it is even possible that I am being blacklisted without any evidence that I have done anything at all,” one thwarted traveler, Cynthia Beat, told Reuters.
“Apparently, it is sufficient to state that you would like to go to Palestine, to spend time with Palestinians, in order to be banned from Israel,” she said, speaking in Berlin.
Palestinian supporters say Ben-Gurion is the easiest access point for the West Bank, which is 10 km (6 miles) away and has no airport of its own. They condemn the expulsions from Israel as an abuse of power.
According to Israel’s biggest newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the government issued European airlines with a list of 342 suspected activists who would be turned back at Ben-Gurion, with the carriers expected to bear the cost of returning them.
“What we can confirm is that there have been approximately 200 people that have not gotten on the airplanes overseas,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
“That’s due to the fact ... that the international companies that are flying out realized that those individuals would have to fly back and won’t be allowed inside Israel and therefore financially it was not worth them taking the risk.”
Two American women who flew in overnight were detained on grounds of “security problems” and deported, Rosenfeld said.
“These types of people try to come in throughout the year and if necessary they are turned back, and that is a standard procedure,” he said.
In French and German airports, scores of pro-Palestinian activists said they had been kept off their flights to Israel.
Palestinian organizer Mazen Qumsieh said some would-be visitors would give themselves away by naming “Palestine” as their destination rather than telling Israeli immigration officers they were pilgrims to the Holy Land, as many Travelers do.
“We did not request that they do that,” Qumsieh said. He added that he was satisfied with the publicity over the crackdown.
Mick Napier, a member of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said he intended to risk being detained at Ben-Gurion.
“I think your prime minister, Netanyahu, is kind of really over the top in suggesting that peaceful visitors flying in to the airport and then taking the bus to (the West Bank city of) Bethlehem was in some way a threat to the security of the state,” he told Israel’s Army Radio by telephone.
“You can win the battle and lose the war here.”
Apparently unaffected by the beefed-up police deployment in Ben-Gurion, Israeli counter-demonstrator Michelle Marshalian held a sign urging protesters to go instead to Syria, Libya and other Arab states roiled by revolts against autocratic regimes.
“I think it is very hypocritical that so many people are activists against Israel,” Marshalian said.
Writing by Dan Williams; Additional reporting by Catherine Bremer in Paris; Editing by Michael Roddy