El Al planes
El Al planes at Ben-Gurion International Airport in July 2009. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Ivan Prado, the most famous clown in Spain, did not expect to be put on a return flight back to Madrid soon after arriving at Ben-Gurion International Airport late last month, after spending six hours with officials from the Shin Bet security service and the Interior Ministry. The officials accused Prado of having ties to Palestinian terror organizations.

Foreign Ministry officials, meanwhile, say the incident caused grave damage to Israel's image in Spain.

Prado, director of the International Clown Festival in Galicia, arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport on April 26 with a Spanish national of Arab origin. They planned to go to Ramallah to help organize a similar festival, but at passport control Prado was taken aside by a Shin Bet officer who asked him about his planned visit to the West Bank and about his connections to various Palestinian organizations. He and his female companion were held for six hours, during which they were questioned repeatedly, and their passports were confiscated.

They were sent back to Spain after an Interior Ministry official informed them that they would not be permitted into Israel.

After Prado returned to Madrid he launched a media campaign denouncing Israel and comparing the situation of Palestinians in the West Bank with Jews in Poland.

The incident sparked tension between the Israeli Embassy in Madrid and the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, prompted by questions to the embassy from Spanish journalists and fueled by the diplomats' anger at the Foreign Ministry's explanation that Prado was turned away at the airport "for security reasons."

The Shin Bet issued a statement to Haaretz lacking significant details about the reasons behind the decision. "We recommended to the Interior Ministry to prevent his entry into Israel after the findings of the security check produced suspicions about him," the statement said. "The man declined to provide complete information to the security people, especially in regard to his links with Palestinian terror organizations."