The protesters said their campaign was focused on criticising Israel's travel restrictions on tourists looking to head to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Israel blocks 'flytilla' protesters at airport but second wave expected
TEL AVIV // Israel yesterday appeared to have succeeded in quashing a protest due to take place at its main airport against the country's policies towards the Palestinians, as it deported at least 25 activists who had landed and blocked the arrival of several hundred others.
"Twenty-five have been sent back where they came from," the police spokeswoman Luba Samri said. "Thirty are still being questioned."
More than 600 demonstrators from Europe and the US were to fly to the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv yesterday. However, Israeli police said about 200 activists were notified by e-mail, telephone or at the airport that they would be forbidden from flying to Israel after the country provided airlines with a so-called blacklist of more than 340 people who would not be allowed entry.
Organisers told the Associated Press only two activists managed to enter Israel, but more arrivals were expected late last night and today.
Anna 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 told the Associated Press.
The protesters said their campaign was focused on criticising Israel's travel restrictions on tourists looking to head to the Israeli-occupied West Bank. However, Israeli police yesterday also detained six activists who came to the airport's main visitors' hall and held up signs that read: "Free Gaza."
Police deported another two US female activists who had arrived from Athens, where they had planned on taking part in a flotilla that aimed to sail to Gaza to try to break Israel's blockade of the enclave. Last week, Greece barred the boats from departing its ports.
The Israeli public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, told reporters while visiting the airport yesterday that about 100 activists were still expected to succeed in boarding their flights and reaching Israel. "The wave is still ahead of us," he said.
Israeli commentators said the country's actions were aimed at subduing the demonstration, and reflected Israel's growing disdain for having international attention focused on its approach towards the Palestinians. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu is already facing escalating international condemnation over its increasing expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and its continued blockade of the Gaza Strip.
However, the torrent of reports in Israeli and foreign media over the past three days has prompted commentators and activists to poke fun at Mr Netanyahu's government, claiming its efforts handed the protest its desired attention.
The activists were demonstrating against what they claimed was Israel's routine and illegal deportation of flight passengers who openly declare the West Bank as their destination upon landing. They say they are forced to lie if they want to avoid expulsion.
A press release distributed by the activists, who had dubbed their campaign "Welcome to Palestine", accused the Israeli government of engaging in "provocative, blackmailing and illegal actions".