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Welcome to Palestine: Israel 'pretends to be a democracy'

April 15, 2012 7:55 P.M. (Updated: April 17, 2012 2:16 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Organizers of the Welcome to Palestine campaign said Sunday that the first day of the initiative was a success, even though only two activists were able to enter the West Bank.

"It was a success at a media level, but it was not a success at a human level in the sense that we were not able to have our friends with us," coordinator Abdul-Fatah Abu Srour told reporters in Bethlehem.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that 45 people had been refused entry at Ben Gurion airport by the evening and would be deported.

Nine Israeli supporters, some holding "Welcome to Palestine" signs, were also detained as they waited to greet the arrivals.

Organizer Mazin Qumsiyeh said that two participants had arrived on Sunday via Ben Gurion airport, but were not asked where they were going by Israeli authorities.

Between 15 and 20 people have managed to enter the West Bank so far to participate in the week's agricultural, cultural and artistic events.

One of the activists, a French citizen, said that 31 out of 50 people in her group were barred from boarding their flight in Lyon airport, with the others prevented from entering Israel upon their arrival at Ben Gurion.

The Welcome to Palestine campaign was expecting around 1,500 people to arrive, but so far hundreds have been barred from boarding flights to Tel Aviv.

Earlier, organizers told the Israeli daily Haaretz that over 60 percent of the expected 1,500 arrivals had flights canceled by airlines, after Israel circulated a blacklist of passengers and warned it would fine carriers.

Organizers say Israel is subcontracting the occupation and asking others to do its dirty work, in reference to international airlines preventing participants from boarding their flights.

Some 25 organizations invited internationals to visit Palestine from April 15-21. Israel has denounced participants as provocateurs intent on confrontation with Israeli security forces.

The campaign has asked its guests to be open about their plans to visit the West Bank.

"We have shown that Israel pretends it is the only democracy in the Middle East," coordinator Abdul-Fatah Abu Srour said.

"It is a real disaster for the Israeli government."

Reuters contributed to this report
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