Israel braces for pro-Palestinian fly-in

10:57, July 08, 2011      

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An Israeli police patrols at Ben-Gurion International Airport early on July 8, 2011. The Israel police on Thursday continued beefing up its deployment at Ben-Gurion International Airport ahead of the expected arrival of hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists on flights from Europe. Some 600 uniformed and plainclothes officers are mobilizing in and around the airport's Terminal 3, as the first batch of activists are likely to arrive on some 20 flights from London, Rome, Frankfurt and Zurich. (Xinhua/Yin Dongxun)

by Gur Salomon

The Israel Police on Thursday continued beefing up its deployment at Ben-Gurion International Airport ahead of the expected arrival of hundreds of pro- Palestinian activists on flights from Europe.

Some 600 uniformed and plainclothes officers are mobilizing in and around the airport's Terminal 3, as the first batch of activists are likely to arrive on some 20 flights from London, Rome, Frankfurt and Zurich.

Israeli officials said they are expecting a second wave of activists, among them U.S. and Canadian nationals, to arrive on Friday. Security sources assess that anywhere from 500 to 1,000 activists from 17 international organizations will ultimately land at Ben-Gurion.

Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said that the forces deployed at the airport are tasked with ensuring that its daily operations continue "smoothly and uninterrupted."

"Hundreds of trained police officers are deployed inside and around Ben-Gurion in order to counter any development or event," Rosenfeld told Xinhua on Thursday.

"According to our intelligence information, hundreds of activists are expected to arrive. The bulk of our activity will take place Thursday and throughout Friday," he said.

Organizers of the "Welcome Palestine" organizations said they plan to take part in solidarity events in the West Bank to protest Israel's occupation, and difficulties they claim Palestinians encounter entering or leaving the area.

Security personnel have been instructed to foil any interruptions of airport operations. Representatives of government ministries will also be on hand to assist in monitoring arrivals and administratively processing activists deemed hostile to Israel.

Israel considers the "Welcome Palestine" event a blatant provocation against its national sovereignty.

On Wednesday, police spokesmen informed that 10 pro-Palestinian activists from France, Belgium and Switzerland were detained at Ben-Gurion and deported a short time later after the Interior Ministry denied their request to enter the country.

The 10 were said to be the first arrivals of what Israeli officials fear may develop into an aerial version of the "Nakba" and "Naksa" Day events last month, in which thousands of Palestinians in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Gaza stormed Israel's borders to protest against occupation.

While Israel is planning a hasty deportation of activists from the airport, some are expected to slip through security and border customs under the guise of tourists and participate in protests in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, along the security barrier at the West Bank village of Bil'in, which has become the site of regular protests over the past five years, and elsewhere.

The event, dubbed "aerial flotilla" by local media, was organized after a 10-ship flotilla of some 350 activist, which was scheduled to set sail to the Gaza Strip last week in protest of the Israeli-imposed naval blockade of the Palestinian enclave, did not leave due to a host of technical and bureaucratic obstacles.

The Greek government earlier this week banned the ships' departure to Gaza. A French vessel that sailed on Tuesday was forced to turn back to port.

Police and other security forces are also readying for possibly violent protest at the airport, meant to highlight Palestinian " freedom of movement" issues in entering and exiting the West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said that "every country has the right to prevent the entry of provocateurs and trouble-makers into its territory."

"That is how all countries behave and that is how Israel will act. We must prevent the disruption of normal life for Israeli citizens," Netanyahu said.

The prime minister said he has instructed police to "act with determination" against attempts to create provocation but to avoid "unnecessary friction" with the activists.

Aside from the bolstered police presence, Israeli authorities are working with counterparts abroad in a bid to keep the activists from boarding flights to Israel.

Israel has already requested that foreign carriers bar activists from boarding their planes and has provided list of names of activists planning to participate.

Police have said that activists identified at the airport will be detained at the airport and in Israeli jails until their deportation.

Senior Israeli political sources on Thursday criticized the massive police deployment at Ben-Gurion, saying that Israel is conveying "panic and hysteria" in dealing with the matter.

They also said that hundreds of police officers swarming Israel 's national gateway presents the country as a "police state" bracing for an existential threat which, de facto, does not exist.

Source: Xinhua

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