If it’s summer, you might be thinking, then it must be flotilla season again. And you'd be right: The “Freedom Flotilla II - Stay Human,” consisting of some nine ships, is currently waiting to sail to Gaza and distribute humanitarian goods after the Canadian vessel Tahrir was recently stopped by the Greek coast guard after attempting to leave Crete in violation of Athens’ orders. You see, this time around the Israelis have wisened up, choosing to drown the flotilla in the bassinet by persuading its neighbors to bottle the ships up in their own harbors before they can ever set sail. But the activists have gotten clever too, and this summer they have hit upon a new method to draw attention to the human rights situation in Gaza: by staging a “flytilla” straight to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.
Police are on alert for "hooligans" at Tel Aviv's
Ben Gurion Airport (statesman.com)
The Israeli government has put the country’s chief airport on alert in expectation of up to 600 international activists who are planning to mingle with the estimated 22,000 passengers scheduled to arrive by air on late Thursday and Friday. A total of fifty scheduled flights might be involved. The handful who have already made their way onto Israeli territory in are being submitted to extensive screenings and interrogations, and so far the Israeli press is reporting at least two arrests. Another six Israeli protesters were apprehended at the airport and were subsequently “attacked by bystanders,” the Jerusalem Press reports.
The Israeli government has gone typically ballistic over the “flytilla” campaign, describing the stunt as a “threat” staged by “hooligans.” Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office has issued a press release stating that the activists seek “to undermine Israel’s right to exist” by entering the country and represent an attempt to penetrate the country’s “borders and its sovereignty, by sea, land and air.”
According to Haaretz, airplanes containing large contingents of activists may be parked far away from the main terminal until their passengers have been sorted out. Those who are arrested are to be handled discretely and, if possible, deported before they ever reach passport control. Special forces are also being deployed around the airport to handle unusual situations. Police have been brief to avoid public scenes at all costs: "When you enter the airport, it will be as if you are entering the set of Big Brother."
But the authorities have done everything possible to keep potential troublemakers off Israel-bound airplanes anyway, and have already issued a blacklist of 342 undesirable passengers to European airports. At last report, 200 of these persons have been turned away at the check-in counters. In addition, the government has placed Israeli security personnel in foreign airports with orders to report any “suspicious-looking” passengers before they can board their planes.
Major international carriers such as Air France, Lufthansa, Alitalia and Marev have taken willing part in the effort to block the activists, duily submitting passenger lists to the Israeli authorities forty-eight hours in advance. This compliance has led the French coordinator, Olivia Zemor, to claim that “Roissy-Charles de Gaulle [Airport] is under Israeli occupation.”
Free Gaza logo (wikipedia)
The activists apparently planned to spend a week in the West Bank and, potentially take part in anti-Israeli demonstrations. The entire action is designed to shore up the latest flotilla mission. So far, the Israeli navy, supported by the Greek government, has prevented any ships from reaching the Gaza coast.
While the “flytilla” might look like a fiasco, its organizers are already calling it a victory. And why not? They are showing the rest of the world how easy it is to embarrass the government of “the sole democracy in the Middle East” at minimum expense, with no bloodshed, and with very little discomfort. As one organizer told reporters on Thursday night:
We should be thanking Netanyahu because without him this wouldn’t have worked. If we would have paid thousands of shekels in PR it would not have worked out so well. Many people abroad who I'm in contact with are very excited by Israel's overreaction. They feel they are taking a risk in taking part in the fly-in. They knew that when they come to Israel and explain that they meant to visit the Palestinian Authority to express solidarity with the Palestinian people they would be arrested and deported. They were worried it would all have happened on the down low with complete media silence.
Actually, this whole drama, a sideshow of the Israeli-Palestinian issue as a whole, does bear a certain resemblance to Big Brother, not to mention As the World Turns. But don't expect this series to be cancelled next year, or the next, or any time soon.