Occupief Jerusalem: Israel barred 40 pro-Palestinian activists who had flown in for a ‘Welcome to Palestine’ campaign as hundreds more would-be protesters were stranded at airports across Europe.
As hundreds of police deployed at Israel’s main international airport in a bid to stop activists from entering, Europe’s main airlines faced a wave of passenger fury after cancelling some 300 tickets following heavy Israeli pressure.
By early afternoon, police had detained 40 passengers on suspicion of being part of the fly-in campaign, better known as the “flytilla,” with all facing deportation.
Organisers of ‘Welcome to Palestine’, now in its third year, had been expecting to welcome up to 1,500 people as part of a campaign to expose Israel’s control of movement both into and out of the occupied territories.
But Israel vowed to prevent their entry, warning airlines they would be forced to foot the bill for the activists’ immediate return home in a move which saw many carriers toeing the line.
With airlines cancelling at least 300 passengers’ tickets, scores of activists staged angry demonstrations at airports in several European capitals.
At Brussels airport, protests erupted after at least 100 French and Belgian nationals were unable to board flights with Brussels Airlines, Lufthansa and Swiss Air.
In Geneva, several dozen activists held an angry demonstration after around 45 people out of a group of 70 who had been planning to join the campaign were barred from boarding an easyJet flight.
Scores of activists also protested at Charles de Gaulle in Paris, where airport sources said 90 passengers had been prevented from boarding Lufthansa and Swiss Air flights for Tel Aviv.
Flanked by dozens of anti-riot police, they marched up to the Lufthansa counter to demand an “official written statement” as to why they had not been allowed to fly.
At Istanbul airport, another 50 activists were stranded after Turkish Airlines reportedly refused to allow them on board, Anatolia news agency reported.
In Vienna, Austrian Airlines said five passengers were barred from flights to Tel Aviv, and in Rome, Alitalia turned back seven Italian activists, press reports said.
Air France and two British budget carriers, Jet2.com and easyJet, also barred an unspecified number of passengers, with easyJet confirming it had prevented activists from boarding Israel-bound planes from both London and Switzerland.
Despite the success of its diplomatic campaign to pressure European carriers not to allow activists to board flights for Tel Aviv, Israel deployed hundreds of police at its main international airport with orders to “exercise restraint, but to intercept any troublemakers”.
All of yesterday’s arrests took place far from the whirring cameras with police detaining 33 French nationals, two Spaniards, two Italians, one Swiss national, one Canadian and one from Portugal as soon as they landed.
Of that number, 27 French nationals were refusing to board planes back to France, immigration spokeswoman Sabine Haddad told AFP, saying they would be “transferred to a detention facility”.
The rest had either already been deported or would be sent back later in the day, she said.
Police also arrested another six Israelis and a French national, who were already in the country, for disturbing the peace at various locations in and around the airport.