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The Israel Police will dispatch hundreds of officers to Ben-Gurion Airport on Sunday to await pro-Palestinian activists who plan to arrive in Israel.
According to the police’s evaluations, between 500 and 1,000 activists will try to land in Israel on 20 flights from Western Europe and Turkey throughout Sunday. Organizers estimate that closer to 2,000 people will attempt to arrive. The French delegation alone has 600 participants for the event, which has been dubbed the “fly-in” or the “flytilla.”
A national operation has been set up to deal with the activists, who police view as hostile elements seeking to create provocations and disturbances and attract media attention.
Organizers of the event, also called “Welcome to Palestine,” have in turn insisted that Israel is overreacting and that participants are peaceful supporters of the Palestinians, who want to learn about the issue and participate in nonviolent events.
Olivia Zemor, 63, who heads the French delegation and plans to depart Paris for Ben-Gurion on Sunday morning with her daughter Adele, 23, said those coming include women and children, some in wheelchairs.
They range in age from nine to 83 and many of them have never been to Israel or “Palestine,” Zemor told The Jerusalem Post in an interview from Paris.
“The majority of the participants are not activists, they are people that are against the occupation. They want a free Palestine. They want Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace with equal rights. They have wanted to meet Palestinians and to go to Palestine to tell them they support their struggle for freedom, but they were scared to do it alone,” she added.
Zemor has a long history of pro- Palestinian activism. She heads the group Euro Palestine and is a member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. She and her daughter were among the 347 activists Israel blacklisted last July when they attempted to participate in the first “Welcome to Palestine” event.
Another 124 activists who landed in Israel were deported. Several dozen passed through customs and participated in a week of planned events.
Zemor is hopeful that this year, she and her daughter will be allowed to board. Her pro-Palestinian opinions, she said, should not bar her from the country.
“Would Israelis be prevented from coming to France if they did not like [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy?” she asked.
Manuel Hassassian, the head of the Palestinian diplomatic mission to the UK, sent a letter to all members of that country’s parliament asking them to support the event.
Gush Shalom on Wednesday called on Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch to cancel Sunday’s police operation at the airport and to allow the activists to land. It suggested instead that the activists be welcomed with flowers.
Aharonovitch has received ministerial responsibility to oversee the operation, while central police district chief Cmdr. Bentsi Sao will oversee its implementation.
The activists chose one of Ben-Gurion Airport’s busiest days to land, as around 45,000 ordinary passengers are expected to pass through the airport on Sunday, just after the Passover holiday ends and a week after Easter.
The police’s primary concern is to keep the site running in a routine manner.
To that end, police officers met with representatives of the intelligence community on Wednesday morning, going over information and details of the operation to prevent the activists from bypassing security.
According to evaluations, the foreign activists plan to meet up with Palestinian activists and demonstrate in traditional flashpoints, such as the security fence and east Jerusalem.
Police are also preparing for the possibility that Israeli anarchists and other far-Left activists may try to meet the foreigners at the airport, and are determined to prevent that from occurring.
The Public Security Ministry said that like last year, senior activists intent on creating disturbances will be identified before they board planes to Israel.
During last year’s “flytilla,” the majority of activists were prevented from boarding passenger jets bound for Israel after the Foreign Ministry submitted lists of names to airlines.
If the activists manage to arrive in Israel, they will be taken off the planes and denied entry. They will be placed in temporary holding cells before being deported to their points of origin.
“Israel will prevent this provocation, just as every country prevents the entry of hostile elements to its territory,” Aharonovitch said. “We will be determined and speedy in our response, but we will not chase anyone through the halls of the airport.”