Israeli group wants ‘flytilla’ activists put on trial

JERUSALEM — An Israeli group on Thursday called for the arrest and trial of hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists who are expected to arrive at Ben Gurion airport as part of a solidarity campaign this weekend.

Between Saturday evening and Sunday, hundreds of activists, mainly from European countries, are expected to land at Israel's main international airport as part of a campaign called "Welcome to Palestine."

The visitors are expected to openly declare their intent to visit the West Bank. But Israel has vowed to prevent them from arriving.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Israel Law Center, said she had asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein "to put an end" to the campaign, now in its third year.

"We are asking him to put them on trial," she told Israeli public radio.

"This is criminal activity … [which is] a breach of several laws in Israel including unauthorized assembly and crossing the border when they have been specifically told not to come here."

In previous years activists have been held in custody pending deportation but not charged with any offense.

"Israel must put an end to this," Darshan-Leitner said, "They don't learn because they don't pay the price."

Hundreds of Israeli police are to be deployed in and around the airport from Saturday night, and the security establishment has already approached foreign carriers in an attempt to prevent known activists from traveling, press reports said.

Representatives of all the airlines that fly to Israel were summoned to a meeting last week with senior police and defense officials, at which they were told that the activists would not be allowed in, Maariv newspaper reported on Wednesday.

"It was made clear to those present that every activist that arrived in Israel would be detained, and the airline would be held responsible for returning him at its own expense," it said.

Israel is also planning to hand the airlines a list of activists who are expected to arrive shortly before the planes are scheduled to take off from their points of origin, it said.

Most of the flights defined as "problematic" would not arrive at the main Ben Gurion terminal, but would be rerouted to another part of the airport where they would be "isolated so that the police officers can check the passengers prior to disembarkation," the paper said.

During the first "Welcome to Palestine" campaign in 2010, organizers said around 100 activists managed to get in without incident and travel to the West Bank, access to which is controlled by Israel.

But last year, Israel worked with airlines to prevent hundreds of activists from boarding planes bound for Ben Gurion, and detained and later deported others who managed to arrive.

French organizers of the planned event said on Wednesday they still plan to travel despite Israeli opposition.

The campaign's organizers in the West Bank say they want to publicize Israel's control of movement into and out of the Palestinian territory and to boost solidarity with the Palestinian people.

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