Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mr. Minister, who are you calling a hooligan?

To  The Minister of Internal Security, Mr. Yitzhak Aharonowitz

Dear Sir

According to reports in the media, the Prime Minister has entrusted you with handling what is known as the "Fly-In," i.e. hundreds of peace activists from abroad who are scheduled to land at Ben-Gurion Airport this Friday. You have been quoted as saying that you consider these people to be 'law-breaking hooligans,' without your having bothered to check or find out who they are and what are their intentions. It has also been published that you intend to treat them with brute force, and to this end to fill Ben-Gurion Airport with thousands of police officers. These violent plans may cause a serious and completely avoidable damage to the State of Israel.

I wish to clarify the facts. Several months ago, Palestinian civil society organizations sent an invitation to peace activists around the world to visit the West Bank over the week
of July 8-16. In the framework of the visit, which is called Welcome to Palestine, the visitors from abroad are invited to stay in the homes of Palestinian families and to take part in various cultural activities such as planting olive trees in villages in the Ramallah area; visiting the Freedom Theater in Jenin whose director, Juliano Mer, was murdered several months ago; and visiting the community center in Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem. In no way or form is any violent or provocative action planned. Indeed, the Palestinians have encouraged their visitors to come as entire families with their children, and many of them intend to do so.

The first people to accept the Palestinian invitation were 350 peace activists from France, who have been joined over the last few months by activists from the USA, the UK, Germany, Italy and Belgium, totaling about 600 people – many of them, as stated, entire families including their children.

If the Palestinians had an airport of their own, the activists would have preferred to land at such an airport. However, at present it is only possible to reach the Palestinian Territories by way of Israel, and the activists purchased, at their own expense, tickets for flights landing at Ben-Gurion Airport. They have no intention of creating chaos at the airport, and their only intention is to pass through passport control, like any other traveler, and be on their way.

In many cases over the past years, visitors who have arrived at Ben Gurion Airport and stated their intention to travel to the Palestinian Territories were not allowed to enter and were summarily deported. As the result, such travelers feel that they are forced to use lies and deceit and to conceal the true purpose of their visit from the Israeli authorities. The people who are coming to Israel this Friday do not intend to do that. Each and every one of them intends to act honestly and sincerely and to clearly state that the purpose of their visit is to stay with Palestinians. Moreover, the participants met early this week with representatives of the French Foreign Ministry, and asked them to relay the purpose of their visit to the Government of Israel – evidently, that information has not reached you.

Whatever happens at Ben-Gurion Airport on Friday is entirely in your hands, Mr. Minister. If the peace activists are allowed to pass through passport control and depart for their destination, it will be just another routine day at the airport. If, on the other hand, you decide to act abusively and violently and to deport no less than 600 people at once, including families with children, there will be severe logistical problems and later, political, diplomatic and public relations problems which might  continue to plague us for a long time to come. It is not yet too late to decide to act wisely.

Adam Keller