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‘Flightilla’ activists deported, detained or allowed entry

By TOVAH LAZAROFF
07/09/2011 20:14

Jerusalem Post

Israel looking to deport 124 pro-Palestinian activists arrested after landing at Ben-Gurion Airport as part of mass fly-in.

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Israel is looking to deport the 124 pro-Palestinian activists arrested on Friday after they landed at Ben- Gurion International Airport as part of a mass fly-in protest action, called “Welcome to Palestine.”

As of Saturday night neither the police nor the activists could say how many had agreed to be put on planes back home and how many were refusing to sign papers agreeing to be deported.

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The group is made up of 76 women and 48 men, including activists from the US, Spain, Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Some of them are being held in Givon prison in Ramle and others in Ela prison in Beersheba.

Pro-Palestinian activist Laura Durkay, who landed in Israel at 4 p.m. on Friday and spoke with The Jerusalem Post close to 7 p.m. from the airport’s detention area on her cell phone, said she would prefer to be arrested than deported, and that a number of others who were with her felt the same way.

The Post has not been able to reach her since then.

The 29-year-old New York resident said she flew on an Easy Jet flight without trouble from England to Israel.

She was able to disembark with all the passengers and head to passport control.

But that was as far as she got.

“They asked me standard questions, like my parents names,” she said. “Then they asked me what are you going to do on your trip,” Durkay said.

“I told them, I am here to visit Bethlehem and the Aida Refugee Camp. At that point a security officer came over and told me to come with her,” Durkay said.

“We have been in the immigration waiting area for two or three hours,” she said.

“They have not told us anything yet,” she said.

“The latest we heard from a senior officer is that they are trying to decide what to do with us.”

She said she had spoken with the US consulate and told them she was being held.

John Paul, of Belgium, was luckier.

The 55-year-old gray-haired, smiling man arrived from Brussels and gave the same response as Durkay.

To his surprise, they let him through. He spoke with the Post as he stood with his bags in the crowded arrivals area at the airport.

He said that a few other activists from his flight also made it through, before authorities began detaining the rest.

He was among the 50 to 100 activists, mostly from Europe, who made it through passport control.

Another activist, Ana Da Palma, 44, said she took a roundabout way to get to Israel. She went from Portugal to Rome, and then to Zurich, before boarding a Swiss Air flight to Tel Aviv.

“I got out easily,” she said, mostly because she didn’t use the word “Palestine.”

“I was scared,” she said and added that she wanted to be able to participate in the week of protest events planned for the West Bank.

As reporters and police crowded the arrivals section of the airport, she sat on a metal bar, almost unnoticed, trying to figure out how to work her Israeli cell phone so she could check in with other activists to see if they had made it through.

“I’m still waiting to find out,” she said.

Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.