Plans are underway to challenge Israeli apartheid during 2012 by having a large number of international activists land in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport and state openly that they wish to visit Palestine. Scheduled for 15 April, the “Welcome to Palestine 2012” initiative will be the second such attempt to affirm the right of Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank to receive visitors.
In July this year, international airlines collaborated with Israel in preventing black-listed participants to board planes. More than a hundred activists with the Welcome to Palestine “Flytilla” reached the Tel Aviv airport, but they were detained by Israeli forces upon arrival, and subsequently deported.
The Electronic Intifada contributor Adri Nieuwhof recently interviewed Mick Napier, chairman of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and a Welcome to Palestine 2012 organizer in the United Kingdom, about the project. Napier was one of the participants in this year’s “Flytilla” who was detained by Israel.
Israel’s deporting of dozens of international activists earlier this year generated bad publicity.
(Oren Ziv /ActiveStills )
Adri Nieuwhof: Can you clarify how you become involved in Palestine solidarity activism and what drives you?
Mick Napier: Well, I spent years at university opposing the [US] invasion and devastation of Vietnam. I took from that the idea that it is possible to defeat even the greatest crimes. If we organize ourselves and link the people in colonial countries with a principled solidarity movement in the metropolitan countries, we can win.
AN: Can you tell us more about the Welcome to Palestine initiative?
It is a French-Belgian initiative, with a few of us from the UK joining last year. As soon as I heard about it, I knew it would be a serious challenge [to] the fencing off of the Palestinians in the West Bank. In the same way as the [Gaza Freedom] Flotilla
has done. With “Welcome to Palestine” we can show people the crimes Israel commits against the Palestinians.
In July, about 500 people were prepared to fly to Tel Aviv, and 125 arrived. We know we wrong-footed the Israelis. We know, if we multiply the numbers, we can challenge Israel and the compliance of our governments. Not just in Gaza, but in the West Bank as well.
AN: You participated in the first Flytilla. How was the reception at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv last July?
MN: The reception in Tel Aviv shows that Israel is a lawless state. Upon not infringing passport control after we said that we want to visit Palestinian friends in Bethlehem, we were frog-marched to a detention center and from there moved to two other prisons. We were assured by Israeli officers that we were guilty of something but not [told] of what. While we were in prison, the Israeli embassy in London issued a statement that we were not held in a prison.
AN: What are the lessons you have learned from the Flytilla?
The Israeli authorities in the days before 8 July became hysterical. [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu
announced that people who fly to Tel Aviv to go to Bethlehem are a threat to the security of Israel. The Israeli police chief, who is a hooligan himself, called us hooligans who will be dealt with appropriately. We learned we should fly in huge numbers and [that it is important] to liaise with Palestinians and friends in Israel.
The Israelis have constructed enormous prisons for Palestinians. But prisoners
have a right to visits. Our countries are in league with Israel. Israel denies the most basic rights to Palestinians. Their response to our initiative was to score an own-goal. The publicity and sympathy we received was quite remarkable.
AN: With the first Flytilla, airlines received lists with names of people who would be denied entry to Israel, [and the] airlines did not allow them to board the plane. What role will the airlines play in the coming Flytilla?
MN: There are indications that airlines felt manipulated by Israel. European airlines have felt it is costly in terms of money and public relations. There will be demonstrations if we are not permitted on board. There will be a chance they [the airlines] will leave Israel to deal with us. Airlines should refuse to be the auxiliary prison guards for Israel’s illegal occupation.
AN: Not everybody can participate in the next Flytilla on 15 April 2012. Do you have suggestions what people who want to support the Palestinians can do?
MN: Everyone can participate. Not just the hundreds of people that will fly. People are needed to explain why it is important to adopt the tactic, to explain why people are going to visit Palestinian friends openly. We need a support system on the ground like the Flotilla to inform the public in case we are detained.
The wider answer to your question is boycott, divestment and sanctions
(BDS). We respond to the Palestinian call of boycott of any institution of the Israeli state. So [Israeli airline] El Al is most definitely not an option to fly that day.
Fundamental to what we do is the understanding — shared by Zionists — that Israel has become a toxic brand. The knowledge about Israel’s criminal behavior has spread far and wide in every European country. Therefore, when Israel crosses another red line by a massacre on sea, or by not allowing visits to prison for Palestinians, they dig themselves deeper into a hostile public opinion which is the basis of all BDS successes that have been secured until now.
WELCOME TO PALESTINE 2012
« We, the undersigned, endorse the call from the Welcome to Palestine 2012 initiative for supporters of Palestinian human and national rights around the world to openly visit Palestine during Easter 2012. There is no way into Palestine other than through Israeli control points. Israel has turned Palestine into a giant prison, but prisoners have a right to receive visitors.
Welcome to Palestine 2012 will again challenge Israel’s policy of isolating the West Bank while the settler paramilitaries and army commit brutal crimes against a virtually defenceless Palestinian civilian population. We call on governments to support the right of Palestinians to receive visitors and the right of their own citizens to visit Palestine openly.
The participants in Welcome to Palestine 2012 ask to be allowed to pass through Tel Aviv airport without hindrance and to proceed to the West Bank to take part in a project there for children to benefit from the right to education. »
First signatories :
Desmond TUTU (Afrique du Sud, archévêque, prix Nobel de la Paix pour sa lutte contre l’apartheid)
Ronnie KASRILS (Afrique du Sud, ancien membre du Congrès National Africain)
Noam CHOMSKY (Etats-Unis, auteur, linguiste, philosophe)
Tony BENN (Grande-Bretagne, ancien ministre socialiste)
John PILGER (Australie, journaliste et cinéaste)
Nawal Al SADAAWI (Egypte, auteur, féministe)
Nurit PELED ELHANAN (Israël, professeur, activiste de la paix)
Sam BAHOUR (Palestine, Right to Enter Campaign)
Jonathan COOK (Grande-Bretagne, journaliste indépendant vivant à Nazareth)
Vauro SENESI (Italie, dessinateur et auteur)
AbdelFattah ABU SROUR (Palestine, directeur du centre culturel Al-Rowwad, camp de réfugiés d’Aïda à Bethléem)
Xavier RENOU (France, fondateur et porte-parole des « Désobéissants »)
Rabbi Lynn GOTTLIEB (Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence)