What happened yesterday was beyond even Palestinian expectations. No one believed Israeli airport authorities would welcome the pro-Palestinian activists from around the world with open arms. Last July, we all saw how dozens of activists were detained, put back on planes and banned from Israel for 10 years. We even gawked at foreign countries kowtowing to Israel and cancelling some flights out of Europe. What we did not except was the extent to which these European airlines would cower to Israel’s bullying, barring hundreds of foreigners from boarding their flights in Europe, forever ‘blacklisted’ by Israel’s intelligence services.
In all, no more than 20 people managed to make it in to participate in the Welcome to Palestine campaign, which includes cultural, artistic and agricultural activities in support of Palestine’s struggle for independence. The 1,500 others were either barred from leaving their home countries by airlines that heeded Israel’s orders not to let them on the flight or were detained and deported at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. Even some brave-hearted Israeli peace activists were detained at the airport for holding up signs reading “Welcome to Palestine”, ready to receive the supporters.
But victory can still be claimed by Palestinians and their supporters. While the number of friends who managed to make it into the country was miniscule, the bad press and the frenzied paranoia that Israel demonstrated yesterday pulled the curtain away from its true face. Even Israeli officials were unhappy with the way they came across in the press and with foreign allies, saying that because so many people were blacklisted without proof of what they called plans to participate in “illegal activities [i.e. solidarity with Palestinians], many ‘innocent’ people were banned from entering the country. At their own admission 40% of those on blacklists were not “activists”. Apparently even a French diplomatic couple coming to look for a house was informed by their carrier that they would not be allowed to board their flight out of Paris because their flight plan was “suspicious”.
But we all know Israel and its fear of anything that might expose its occupation and oppression of Palestinians. What is so surprising however, is the sheer cowardice of Europe’s airlines that allowed themselves to be bullied by Israel, which basically trampled on their decisions as sovereign countries. Israel threatened the airlines with sanctions against them if they allowed the blacklisted passengers on board and informed them that they would have to foot the bill of returning them to Europe if they were returned at the border.
That –” to many Palestinians –” was what was so disappointing. It is not Israel and its fear of the truth or the absurdity of its arrest and detention of completely peaceful protesters doing nothing but carrying signs reading “Welcome to Palestine”. The Palestinians and their supporters are used to this behavior and Israel’s manic efforts to stifle a truth that many have begun to uncover and expose nonetheless. But to have countries such as France and even Turkey, who are usually friendly and supportive of Palestinians turn peaceful protesters away just because Israel threatened to steal their lunch money is a letdown indeed. It just proves that when push comes to shove, Israel is still able to push its agenda, regardless of how absurd it is.
The victory may not be in the numbers of pro-Palestinian supporters that made it into the country; that was obviously not the case. But there is a palpable victory in the number of people who were willing to risk arrest, detention and deportation to stand by the Palestinians and their cause. There is a victory in the number of Israelis who would defy their own government and risk being called ‘self-hating Jews’ and ‘traitors’ to stand by their principles and say to Israel’s face that the occupation must end. There is something to be said about Israel when it is so threatened by a sign held up by peaceful protesters with three simple words: Welcome to Palestine.
The Palestinians may seem to be in a very unenviable position at present but yesterday proves that popular opinion is moving in the right direction. Let Air France, Lufthansa, Alitalia and Turkish Airways kowtow to Israel and squirm at their own lack of chutzpah. One day they too will tire of Israel’s dictates. In the meantime, our friends will continue to show their solidarity with us, either in Palestine, in airport terminals or their own countries, and the occupation, eventually, will fall. Of this, there is no doubt.