flytilla - AFP - July 8 2011
Police mingling with passengers at Ben-Gurion Airport yesterday. Photo by AFP
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Police are readying for the hundreds of activists headed for Gaza who are expected to fly into Ben-Gurion Airport this afternoon. But according to intelligence information, a significant number of the activists who were expected to arrive in the early hours of the morning did not even board their flights, due to the success of a blacklist Israel distributed on Wednesday.

Some apparently did not even go to the airport, since they were informed by the airlines that they would not be allowed on the plane, even though they had purchased a ticket.

The Immigration Authority sent a letter Wednesday night to all the airlines on whose aircraft activists were due to arrive. The letter included a list of 342 individuals who were fingered as possible activists and said these people would be barred from entering Israel.

Therefore, if the airline did decide to fly them to Israel, the plane would not be allowed to depart Israel again unless the unwanted visitors were on it, the letter warned.

Police believe the letter to the airlines was very effective, since the companies did not want to sustain any losses. Moreover, it was easy to discover on which airline a given activist had bought a ticket.

The blacklist was put together by intelligence and police units, mainly by accessing the social networks used by activists organizing the "fly-in." It also includes activists who are known to the security forces from various previous incidents. Most of those on the banned list were from Western Europe.

The airlines' decision to cooperate in keeping more than 300 activists off their Israel-bound flights was described by the manager of one European airline in Israel as "unprecedented."

"In the past, it was one name here and there that the authorities said would not be allowed into the country," he said.

But despite this success, a decision was made not to lower the police's alert level. Yesterday evening, security forces deployed en masse at the airport to await the first activists, who were due to arrive between 1 A.M. and 4 A.M. on Friday. The number of forces was reduced during parts of the night shift, but in the 1 P.M. to 4 P.M. time slot today, police are expected to be at the airport in full force. In addition, police decided that a senior officer with the rank of police brigadier general will be present in the passenger arrival hall at all times.

Passengers who flew in from Europe yesterday described what was happening at their points of departure.

Ayelet, who came from France, said that "when we arrived at the terminal in Paris, we saw a lot of soldiers and police standing near the El Al counter. Everyone who passed by was asked questions and the reason for their journey. They checked everyone - not only the luggage, but also asking questions: where you are from and whether you have family in Israel."

A senior official in the airport's management said "the incident will either end without problems or as a mega-incident. There will be nothing in between. If the airlines manage to prevent the arrival of a lot of activists and only a few arrive, everything will pass quietly. On the other hand, it's sufficient for a group of 30 activists to start going crazy near the passport control booths for the media to report on it, and then the activists will have won."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was visiting Europe yesterday, said, "there is no hysteria. There is a calm determination to deal with provocations, to prevent disturbances of the peace. Every country has the fundamental right to prevent provocateurs from entering its territory, and we are doing so. If we didn't act, they would say, 'why did you do nothing?'"