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Demonising the Fly-in: Welcome to Palestine, Unwelcome to Israel

Les Levidow on challenging the travel restrictions in Palestine.

The ‘Welcome to Palestine’ initiative aimed to challenge Israel’s blockade on Palestinians receiving foreign visitors.  They have been effectively barred from Palestine unless pretending to be tourists or Christian pilgrims.  Even prisoners have some rights to receive visitors, but the Israeli prison known as ‘the West Bank’ keeps out pro-Palestinian visitors.

To challenge this restriction, several hundred of us planned to arrive at Ben Gurion airport on 8th July for a week-long programme of events.[i] In the publicly advertised plan, we would openly declare our intention to visit Bethlehem and to be hosted by the Al-Rowwad Cultural Centre there.  This initiative came to be called the fly-in.  Some mass media called it the flytilla, by analogy to the Gaza flotilla being simultaneously blocked by Greece, though our week-long programme had been planned several months earlier.

Nearly all of us were blocked enroute to Palestine (see below), resulting in high-profile mass-media coverage in Israel and Europe.  This achieved a major aim of the initiative, said Dr Mazin Qumsiyeh:

The local organizers of the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign, while sad about our continuing isolation from the international community, are pleased that this episode and brutal Israeli assault removes one of the last illusions about “Israeli Democracy.”[ii]

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