Easter celebrates suffering
and compassion. Alhamdulliah, these human traits were on display on
Easter Sunday at European airports and in the Holy Land, reports Eric
Ben Gurion Airport was thrown into chaos for the third annual Flytilla
on Sunday. As starry-eyed tourists arrived to visit the Holy sites and
beady-eyed new Israelis arrived to kick more Palesinians off their land
in the name of the Jewish State, thousands of Westerners with a sense
of conscience presented their air tickets to suspicious officials in
Europe and -- if they were lucky -- their passports in Tel Aviv, and
held their breath.
Their intent was quite innocent -- to visit beleaguered Palestinians
in the West Bank; in one case, to help locals build a school. But the
fact that 2,000 such do-gooders were planning to do so en masse as part
of the annual Flytilla was a red flag to the Israeli bull. The world
might take notice, the Palestinians might take heart, and Israeli crimes
might finally be stopped.
But Israeli refusal to allow these innocent visitors to the West Bank
would prove once again that the West Bank is an open prison inside Israel,
with access at the whim of the prison guards.
The prison guards rose to the occasion. Airports around the world were
issued no-fly lists with 730 names, and airlines were warned they better
kick them and any other suspicious passengers off their planes, or the
airlines would be charged for the cost of deporting them. 650 undercover
police swarmed Ben Gurion with their guns and tear gas, just in case.
The high tech planning against the low tech protesters mostly worked.
Members of “Welcome to Palestine” say up to 200 of the 2,000 activists
from 15 countries, a third of them from France, were prevented from
flying to Tel Aviv from Paris, Brussels, Basel, Geneva and Zurich on
Sunday. Apartheid-complicit airlines included Jet2.com, Brussels Airlines,
Lufthansa, Alitalia, Swiss Air and Turkish Airlines.
At Ben Gurion, a Swedish citizen was forced to sign a hastily-composed
document stating that she would have no contact with pro-Palestinian
groups while in Israel. Shortly after, a new illegal procedure was instituted
at the airport demanding select passengers sign a statement saying they
will not be in contact or work with “members of any pro-Palestinian
organisations” and “will not participate in pro-Palestinian activities”.
The Prime Minister’s Office released a letter that was handed to deported
Flytilla activists telling them to “Go to Syria”.
The Welcome to Palestine Campaign stated: “Those who wanted to welcome
our visitors and were brutally assaulted will remember how the same
Israeli police let right wing fanatics sing and disrupt at the airport.
The whole world is now seeing Israel for what it is: a police state
that fulfills all the requirements of being an apartheid pariah state
per the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of
the Crime of Apartheid (1973)”, and charged that “those airlines and
governments that acted as subcontractors for the Israeli apartheid regime
are being challenged by their own people.”
Last year, around 800 people tried to join the campaign, 400 blocked
from flying by the airlines. Another 120 were deported by Israel. The
term “flytilla” recalls attempts by activists to reach Israeli-blockaded
Gaza by boat, which have come to be known as “Freedom Flotillas”.
A 23-year-old French woman who made it into Israel to take part in the
protest said about half her group of 50 was detained. “The security
forces in France and Israel treated us like criminals,” she said. “It’s
very frustrating and surprising that the authorities cooperated with
the Israeli claims and propaganda.” The blacklist grows by leaps and
bounds. The 270 people who made it to Tel Aviv in last year’s protest
had pride of place on this year’s list and are banned from entering
the country for 10 years. All those on this year’s will be added.
Israeli apartheid is not perfect. Two lonely voices in the Knesset denounced
the crackdown. Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On said blacklisting pro-Palestinian
activists only deepens delegtimisation of Israel. MP Haneen Zoabi said
it proves that Israel violates human rights not only of Palestinians
but of people from all around the world. An Israeli official admitted
that 40 per cent of the names on Shin Bet security blacklist were not
activists at all.
Included among the blacklisted were: a French diplomat and his wife
looking for an apartment in Jerusalem; an Italian government official
scheduled to meet her Israeli counterparts; and a member of the board
of directors of German pharmaceutical giant Merck with 10 million euros
for the Weizmann Institute of Science. In the mix-up, even Israelis
were blacklisted. “We put people on the list who are as far removed
from anti-Israel political activity as east is from west,” one Israel
Foreign Ministry official complained. “We have insulted hundreds of
foreign citizens because of suspicions, and have given the other side
a victory on a silver platter.”
The daily stream of Jewish and Christian Disney-pilgrims continue to
wail at one Wall or pass through another to visit a faux manger in Bethlehem,
or a prettified Garden of Gethsemane. Only Egypt’s Coptic Church and
the Eastern Orthodox Church refuse to give permission to pilgrims to
make these jaunts, which give tacit approval to Israel’s destruction
of Jerusalem’s Christian and Muslim heritage.
The flytillers, today’s true pilgrims, are enduring their travail --
bearing their cross -- not to send home “I was there” pictures of Jesus’s
tomb, but to provide truly Christian compassion to the suffering Muslims
and handful of Palestinian Christians who desperately cling to their
remaining bits of land, and to emphasise to the world how Israel crucifies
innocent Palestinians every moment. For them -- Arab or Christian --
every day is Good Friday.
Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/
You can reach him at http://ericwalberg.com/ His Postmodern Imperialism:
Geopolitics and the Great Games is available at http://claritypress.com/Walberg.html