(CNSNews.com) – Left-wing activists who flew into Tel Aviv as part of a pro-Palestinian publicity stunt at the weekend were met with a letter from the Israeli government suggesting they devote their energies instead to humanitarian crises in Syria or Iran – and then wishing them a “nice flight.”
Several dozen activists were barred from entering the country and were being deported. Some minor scuffles took place at Ben Gurion Airport, with arriving activists waving “Welcome to Palestine” signs. A handful of pro-Israeli counter-demonstrators were also seen, including one holding a sign advising the visitors to “Go to Syria.”
Hundreds of mostly European activists taking part in the so-called “air flotilla” campaign were prevented from boarding their Israel-bound flights in the first place, after Israeli authorities sent a list of names to foreign airlines, saying that those listed would be denied entry and warning that airlines not complying would face sanctions.
Activists complained in online postings that “collaborating” airlines including Air France, German carrier Lufthansa, and British budget airliner Jet2.com had prevented the named passengers from flying.
A letter prepared by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office in several languages and given to those who did reach Israel read, “Dear activist, We appreciate your choosing to make Israel the object of your humanitarian concerns. We know there were many other worthy choices.
“You could have chosen to protest the Syrian regime’s daily savagery against its own people, which has claimed thousands of lives. You could have chosen to protest the Iranian regime’s brutal crackdown on dissent and support of terrorism throughout the world.
“You could have chosen to protest Hamas rule in Gaza, where terror organizations commit a double war crime by firing rockets at civilians and hiding behind civilians.
“But instead you chose to protest against Israel, the Middle East’s sole democracy, where women are equal, the press criticizes the government, human rights organizations can operate freely, religious freedom is protected for all and minorities do not live in fear.
“We therefore suggest that you first solve the real problems of the region, and then come back and share with us your experience. Have a nice flight.”
Campaigners say they want to draw attention to the fact Israel controls the entry points into the Palestinian self-rule areas. Pro-Palestinian activists who visit Israel can and do travel to and stay in the West Bank, but are generally advised by advocacy groups to keep their intentions to do so private when first arriving in Israel.
This is the second “air flotilla” campaign, following one last summer that was similarly unsuccessful. Pro-Palestinian activists have also sought to reach the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip by boat, a campaign that led to an Israeli commando raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish ship in May 2010. Violent clashes between commandos and activists left nine activists dead.