TEL AVIV // Israel will take firm action against hundreds of activists who plan to protest at the country's main airport tomorrow, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned yesterday.
Israeli police said hundreds of officers were deployed in and around Ben-Gurion Airport, undercover officers will be stationed aboard flights and at arrival areas and passengers will face longer security checks in a bid to suppress any "disturbances" that may take place when the demonstrators arrive.
Some 600 activists plan to board about 50 flights from several European countries, including as many as 350 French citizens according to the activists' website, between tonight and tomorrow morning, and openly declare the West Bank as their destination, according to police.
According to the activists, some of whom were interviewed by Israeli media yesterday, their act aims to protest against what they described as Israel's routine and illegal deportation of foreigners who arrive and say they are bound for the Palestinian territory. They added that they plan to tour sites in Bethlehem, Ramallah, the Jordan Valley as well as Jerusalem. The campaign, dubbed by activists as "Welcome to Palestine", is being planned to last until July 16.
The so-called "fly-in" comes at a time that another group of activists were attempting to sail to the Gaza Strip in a flotilla to try to break Israel's siege of the Palestinian enclave. However, most of the flotilla's boats have been docked in Greece for at least a week after Greece agreed to Israel's request to ban them from leaving its ports.
Yesterday, Mr Netanyahu told reporters at the airport before a visit to Romania and Bulgaria that he has ordered the internal security minister and immigration authority to "act with determination, while trying to avoid unnecessary friction" with the activists.
"Every country has the right to prevent the entry of disrupters and provocateurs at its borders," Mr Netanyahu said.
Bentzi Saar, a senior police commander, told an Israeli radio station that the police have received intelligence that some of the activists "want to cause confrontation". He did not provide any information to support the claim.
Israel is also trying to persuade authorities and airlines in the activists' countries of origin to cooperate with it in halting the demonstration. Haaretz newspaper reported yesterday that it has "provided intelligence" to the US and seven European countries, as well as to several foreign airlines that were not named, on the identities of the passengers who may be involved in the protest.
Israel media reported yesterday that a special operations room will be temporarily set up in the airport to monitor the events. The reports said Israel will deport any activists who appear to be seeking "provocation". Any arrivers who riot or refuse to return to their countries will be transferred to a special airport facility or to the prison services, reports said.
Activists, however, say they will conduct a peaceful demonstration. They also said they are not planning to visit Gaza and that their protest was not timed to coincide with the Gaza-bound flotilla.
Tom Innes, one of the activists arriving from Britain, told the Israeli news website Ynet: "I have been to the West Bank many times and am fed up with lying at the airport every time I am asked to where I am heading to avoid getting into trouble. At the end of the day, even inmates in a prison are allowed to get visitors, while Palestine remains shut off."
Israel's preparation appears to be an effort to avoid encountering surprise acts by protesters that may spur violence with Israeli forces and possible casualties.
The country is already facing criticism for using unnecessary force in two soon-to-be-published United Nations reports. One document probes into the country's deadly raid in May 2010 of a Turkish-flagged ship bound for Gaza and another investigates its actions against protesters from Lebanon in mid-May on Nakba Day, the day Palestinians mourn the 1948 creation of Israel.
Israel and Turkey, both of which have representatives on the UN panel on the ship raid, are in intensive talks this week in a bid to reach a compromise on the wording of the report that would soften criticism of their involvement in the events surrounding the Israeli attack that killed nine Turkish activists. The report may be made public as soon as today.
The UN document on the Nakba Day events is expected to attack Israel's military for using unnecessary violence when firing on the thousands of Palestinian refugees who marched on its border, killing seven and injuring 111, Haaretz reported, saying it had been leaked a copy of the report. Haaretz said the document, which has already been distributed to the 15 UN Security Council members, has spurred fury in Israel, which has cut off its ties with the UN's special coordinator for Lebanon, Michael Williams, who wrote the report.