Pro-Palestinian fly-in - 8.7.11
Israeli pro-Palestinian activists at Ben-Gurion International Airport on July 8, 2011. Photo by Ilan Assayag
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A standoff between Israel and dozens of detained European pro-Palestinian activists continued Monday, with some of them refusing to be put on return flights.

More than 81 were still being held in an Israeli jail early Monday, three days after being refused entry on landing at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion International Airport.

"Some of them refuse to be returned while with others, it is only a matter of finding a vacant seat on a flight," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. "The only delay is a vacancy on a free flight," he added.

Some 39 had been expelled by Monday, including 10 Germans who landed in Frankfurt late Sunday. Among the expelled was an 82-year-old German, who complained that despite his advanced age, he was kept on a transportation vehicle for hours, then brought to Beer Sheva prison with the other activists. He said he had only told Israeli security at Ben-Gurion that he wished to "visit friends in Israel and Palestine." Palmor said he had no information of the specific case, which outraged many.

The spokesman said Israel had denied entry to anyone who was on a list published by the Welcome to Palestine campaign, as soon as the coalition of Palestinian groups announced the activists would participate in unauthorized protests against the Israeli occupation.

He insisted any state had a right to deny entry to anyone who may participate in disturbances of the order, such as protests held with no permit.

As part of the Welcome to Palestine campaign, hundreds of activists had tried to fly to Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on Friday, to participate in a week of "non-violent" resistance activities against the Israeli occupation.

After intense Israeli diplomacy, many were not allowed onto flights departing from Paris' Charles de Gaulle and other airports across Europe. A total of 130 were refused entry upon landing in Israel. Four of them were allowed through after agreeing to sign documents in which they pledged not to participate in "disturbances of the order." A handful were flown back immediately.

The remainder were kept in a jail near Tel Aviv and another near the southern desert city of Beer Sheva, as Israel was arranging their expulsion.

By Sunday afternoon, all 35 foreign nationals - including Belgians,
French, Dutch and Spanish - held near Beer Sheva had been put on return flights. But by Monday morning, dozens of others were still in the Ramle jail near Tel Aviv.

Responding to critics who said Israel had reacted with hysteria to the activists' arrival, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that it was "better to be too prepared than not prepared enough."

Welcome to Palestine organizers said that between 60 and 90 international activists had made it into the country, despite the strict airport checks.

They joined other foreign nationals already in the West Bank in Saturday protests at the Qalandia military checkpoint and the village of Bi'lin, on the West Bank just outside Jerusalem, expressing opposition to Israel's security wall and restrictions against Palestinian movement.

One Jerusalem-based organizer, Sergio Yahni, called the Welcome to Palestine campaign a success, although fewer than 100 activists made it through. "The aim here was not to change the relationship of forces on the ground, but that people who come to Palestine, instead of lying about the purpose of their voyage, declare openly that they are coming as an act of solidarity with the Palestinian people," he said.

"What happened is that the State of Israel prohibited these people from entering just for their political ideas, and these people were also discriminated in Europe because of their ideas," Yahni added. "Nobody spoke about it , but now it is all open in the air and written in the press that there is discrimination here based on political perspective," he told the German Press Agency. "We continue with our activities," he vowed, adding that these included solidarity demonstrations.

On Tuesday, Yahni said, the activists would visit the West Bank city of Kalkilya as well as Hebron, where a handful of Israel settlers live among thousands of Palestinians whose freedom of movement is tightly restricted.