Israel Reacts Hysterically to Welcome to Palestine Initiative

Wednesday, 06 July 2011 16:36 Sergio Yahni, Alternative Information Center (AIC)

The Israeli government has responded with hysteria to the Welcome to Palestine Initiative, in which hundreds of international activists will openly declare their intention to visit Palestine when landing in Tel Aviv on 8 July. Sergio Yahni explores why. 


One year after the Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, during which the Israeli military killed nine Turkish solidarity activists, Palestinian, Israeli, American and German activists met in Berlin: the focus for this coming summer is not only the Israeli blockade against Gaza, they decided, but also the one around the West Bank. On 8 July hundreds of international activists from numerous countries will accordingly attempt to participate in the Welcome to Palestine Week to be held in various West Bank villages and cities.


Delegations from France, Great Britain, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, USA, Japan and several African countries are expected to participate in a week of activities that will include trips to the Jordan Valley, the Negev Desert and Hebron.  They will take part in cultural activities and in peaceful protests against the Israeli appropriation of Palestinian land with the assistance of the Apartheid Wall.


Since the eruption of the Second Intifada in September 2000, tens of thousands of international activists have come to the occupied Palestinian territory to learn about the Palestinian reality and to express their solidarity by participating in demonstrations and sharing the life and hardship of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.


However, this year participants in the Welcome to Palestine initiative decided that when arriving to Israel’s Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, they won’t hide their intentions. In the eyes of the Israeli immigration authorities, this decision has transformed them into a “security threat.”


On Wednesday 6 July, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened an operational discussion in preparation for the expected landing of the solidarity activists in two days.


According to the Israeli press, Netanyahu, who arrived at Ben Gurion Airport on his way to Bulgaria and Romania, instructed various government agencies, including Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Police Commissioner  Yohanan Danino and other security officials to “act decisively against attempts to create a provocation at the airport.” Netanyahu further instructed security forces to avoid unnecessary friction with the international activists.


The Israeli authorities perceive in the arrival of the international activists a potential danger to Israel’s image, which may undermine the current efforts to “re-brand” Israel in international public opinion.


In international public opinion polls, Israel is one of the most abhorred countries in the world. In the 2009 EastWest’s global nation brands perception index, Israel was 192 out of 200, behind rogue states such as North Korea, Cuba and Yemen, and just before Sudan and Iran.


The efforts to re-brand Israel began in 2005 in the United States with the founding of “Israel21c”, a small California-based group that has worked with public relations experts to place news stories about Israel that do not focus on the conflict with the Palestinians. These efforts aim to downplay religion and avoid any discussion of the occupation and the Israeli-Arab conflict.


A plan was adopted during a meeting on 2 October 2005 between the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and his counterparts in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Finance Ministry. Participants examined specialised research conducted by American marketing executives over the previous three years.The driving concept in the meeting was that Israel will win supporters only if it is seen as relevant and modern, rather than only as a place of fighting and religion.


However, Israel’s military offensives against Lebanon and the Gaza Strip as well as the assassination of nine international solidarity activists in June 2010, undercut this strategy. After all, no public relations operation can cover up the Israeli war crimes and daily violence explicit and implicit in 44 years of occupation.


Israel managed to impose itself in the diplomatic arena in country to country relations, but it failed to gain the support of international public opinion. The presence of international activists, the Freedom Flotillas as well as the 8 July fly-in aims to highlight ongoing Israeli policies and force the international community to galvanize its positions toward implementation of Palestinian rights and to demand the community of nations to fulfill their responsibilities under international law.


The major ally of the international activists is the hysterical reaction of the Israeli government. There are already thousands of international activists in the occupied Palestinian territories, taking part in demonstrations and other solidarity activities on an ongoing basis. All of them entered the area by lying

about their intentions.


However, in response to the plan of international activists to be clear about the purpose of their visit, Israel will open a special operations room in Ben Gurion Airport on Thursday night.


Representatives from the Foreign Ministry, the Aviation Authority, the Internal Security Ministry, police representatives, Prime Minister’s Office officials and others will be present in the operations room, which will work nonstop until the last of the international activists has landed.


All incoming passengers will be checked in advance for their potential participation in the fly-in. Activists identified as such will be personally escorted out of the planes. Police plan to place officers on all aircrafts.


Additionally the Israeli authorities are considering the isolation of planes coming from Europe in a secluded area at the airport’s Terminal 1, where passengers will be extensively checked before they reach passport control.


This reaction may be seen irrational, and it is indeed irrational considering that at the end of the day, nothing new will happen on Friday. However, as that the current confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians is evolving into a confrontation between the Israeli military and the Palestinian popular resistance movement which has adopted non-violent strategies and tactics that also engage Israeli and international solidarity activists, the official Israeli hysteria is justified.


The British Empire failed to confront non-violent popular resistance in India, and it is not impossible that the Israeli occupation forces will go the same route.


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