Pro-Palestinian activists dismiss Israel deportation warning

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Organizers of a planned pro-Palestinian demonstration said Friday they expect about 1,000 activists from Europe and North America to board flights for Israel this weekend, despite Israeli warnings to deport them.

Activists with the "Welcome to Palestine" campaign are set to land in Israel on dozens of flights Sunday. They say they wish to travel to nearby Bethlehem in the West Bank to participate in a week of activities, like the dedication of a school and homestays with Palestinian families.

Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Palestinian campaign organizer, said the activists were coming to exercise their right to visit the Palestinian territories.

"The object is not to fly in to make a protest at the airport. The object is for foreigners to visit us," Qumsiyeh said. "Even prisoners are allowed visits."

Israel's public security minister has called the activists "provocateurs" and said they are bent on disturbing the public order.
  Last July, Israel blocked a similar effort. It beefed up security at the airport, questioned dozens of activists upon arrival at the airport and denied entry to 69.

This weekend Israel says it will round up activists who land in the country and deport them.

Israel has also compiled a list of activists it suspects have booked flights to Israel for the campaign, and has warned airlines they would have to fly those passengers back to their cities of origin if they were allowed on flights to Israel. During last year's fly-in, many airlines barred blacklisted activists from flying to Israel.

German airline company Lufthansa said this year it had received a list of names of activists from Israel and would prevent those passengers from its flights to Israel.

Nicolas Shahshahani, a campaign organizer in France, said Lufthansa had so far canceled tickets and refunded the cost for 40 people who had been booked on the company's flights originating in France. Two passengers not associated with the pro-Palestinian campaign also were barred from the flight, Shahshahani said.

A national union of aviation workers in France protested the cancellations. Union member Pierre Contesenne said the union had sent a letter to the Air France airline, asking it to allow activists to fly.

No other airlines are known to have announced cancellations yet.

Mick Napier, a British activist coordinator, said the group would sue any airline which denies to board activists bound for Israel.

He said organizers have not compiled a complete list of all the Europeans and North Americans who have booked flights for the "Welcome to Palestine" campaign, to prevent Israel from discovering the list and blocking their entry.

"We're not being conspiratorial here, but we don't want to make the Israelis' job easy," Napier said.

He said organizers have asked participants to be honest with Israeli airport authorities about their purpose of arrival.

Apart from this initiative, throughout the year hundreds of foreigners -- including activists and aid workers -- live, volunteer and work in the West Bank. Israel sometimes denies entry to pro-Palestinian activists it believes could instigate provocations against Israel or pose a risk to the country's security.