#Airflotilla | A Day that Democracy Went Flying Out the Window Again

PNN – Palestine News Network –  14.07.11 – 10:52

By Gary Spedding – It is after the weekend in which that dreaded Friday saw hundreds of international activists flying in to Ben Gurion Airport announcing their intention to visit Palestine, an event that saw the State of Israel deploy every measure to stop those involved even boarding their planes at the country of origin.

ImageThose that did make it through boarding were subsequently detained on arrival and sent to holding centres awaiting deportation. Mean while those who went to the airport to greet them holding up signs exclaiming ‘Welcome to Palestine’ were violently dispersed and some even arrested for their activities. Very few people made it through to attend the press conference held at the Bethlehem Peace Centre 10am friday morning and even now as I write this there are still 40 or so people being held in detention without access to a lawyer or representation.

There are several issues raised here putting aside the treatment of activists and tourists who simply wish to travel to the Occupied Palestnian Territories to take part in a week of activities it is their challenge to Israeli immigration and border control that has proved very telling of the undemocratic and discriminatory practices at international entry points.

It is reported that on some days an international can fly into Ben Gurion or approach the bridge crossings declare their intention to visit the West Bank and make it through after a few hours delay while immigration officials and shin bet perform lengthy background checks all under the guise of security. If a person travelling to the Palestinian territories is lucky they can pull off an excellent pretend tourist act and sail on through immigration with little concern or attention after the three or four standard questions: “Where are you going? Are you travelling alone? Do you plan on visiting The West Bank? Do you know any Arabs?”

Unfortunately this is not the experience for most who come in via Ben Gurion either travelling alone or as part of a small group people are usually picked out and targetted, held for hours and sometimes eventually deported after having full body searches intensive interrogations and if they carry a laptop it is usually fully searched as well with their belongings looked through in a seperate room.

At Ben Gurion airport there is a highly troublesome method practiced to ascertain or predetermine whether a person is a potential trouble maker or ‘threat’ to the state. it is a practice that has been banned in many countries due to the connotations and issues that arise it is known as profiling and sometimes entails ethnic profiling.

To target somebody for their ethnicity in any instance is a heinous practice that caused a storm in America when it was used to specifically target ethnic minorities, most specifically blacks, and for Israel to use such methods most obviously against Arabs or those with Muslim names or ‘looks’ speaks volumes about the policies in place at border control.

There are other aspects of what happened on Friday and over the course of the weekend that should be of concern more particularly concerning basic human rights laws and also the legally binding contracts of bi-lateral agreements and even the Oslo accords.

The basic principles of the Oslo agreements should in theory still be in place paying specific attention to the safe passage clauses and the stipulations in the Oslo accords that give policies for tourist entry into the territories. In light of this it is a certainty Israel is in violation of the accords. If we look also at Israel’s bilateral agreements we can see similar breaching of documented and approved policy. All sources on these can be found on the Israeli government’s own website where Oslo and the bilateral agreements are proudly displayed for all to see. These agreements oblige Israel to facilitate the safe passage of internationals and tourists to the occupied territories as stipulated via safe passage routes.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is also very clear on an individual’s human rights in regards to freedom of movement:

Article 13.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Israel, it seems, is discriminating not just religiously and ethnically within its unwritten immigration policy but is also targeting people who hold undesired political views of the situation, which would mean Israel is acting undemocratically in this regard.

The uncouth methods used by Israeli immigration officials are not only under fire as a result of this event even Members of Knesset including the Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov have recently criticised the measures taken at immigration calling for a “comprehensive and perceptual” reform on how Israel treats internationals entering the country with official statistics revealing the policies leave around 300 per day and over 100,000 annually with a sour experience due to being held up at the airport this is also estimated to cost Israel millions every year in trade and other opportunities. (Source: http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=173754)

It was also revealed that it has been official policy since before friday to label the activists and tourists involved as radical extremists intent on causing provocation and violent disruption an official statement from Netanyahu’s office confirmed. It is important to clarify that the intentions of the fly-in and the Welcome to Palestine initiative was certainly not to cause provocation, violence or extremism, nor was their mission to reach Gaza as has been falsely reported in many sources linking the flotilla to the ‘Flytilla’ according to the Welcome to Palestine coordinators these people are not in any way radical extremists intent on clashing violently with Israel or Israelis.

Sami Awad executive Director of the Holy Land Trust stated in the Friday morning press conference that “people coming to Palestine have the right to state their destination and they have the right to access unless they really pose a security threat to Israel.“

He went on to say “what is taking place exposes the injustice at the airport against internationals” and “ethnic profiling is fundamentally wrong and takes place in Tel Aviv” we have also witnessed “Israel asking other countries to engage in profiling based on political beliefs.“

Mazin Qumsiyeh one of the organizers of the Welcome to Palestine campaign states “We are not surprised by the measures taken in Ben Gurion it has been ongoing for decades the compliance of other countries however violates Human Rights and Democracy we hope it will create enough pressure to allow people their rights and so people can see this issue themselves.”

It would seem that the entire policy which could have been going on for years is specifically designed to minimalize entry to palestine and anyone stating their intentions to do so directly get a nice red Entry Denied stamp in their passport and put on a blacklist.

Other statements at the Welcome to Palestine press conference included the fact that there is no legal reason to deny internationals entry to Israel.

That Israel was engaging in blackmail and intimidation not only upon the activists/tourists themselves but to actual airline companies who one by one caved to the threatening letters sent to them with the list of banned names attached is also a worrying development.

The Welcome to Palestine team stated that the events were planned in advance to coincide with the 9th of July 2004 the day that the ICJ advisory opinion on the wall and settlements was released.

Yes, Israel has legitimate security concerns, but should these concerns be used hysterically, to such an extreme point, preventing nonviolent activists and even tourists from visiting the Palestinian areas? These days it is enough to warrant several hours of questioning if you even mention that you know an Arabic person or family or if you are Arabic yourself. Is this democratic and fair?

Israel seems to be hell bent on damaging itself, and I think that it is indeed a sad day for democracy.


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