JERUSALEM, Israel - After failing to get into Gaza by sea, pro-Palestinian activists are now planning an aerial descent into Israel this weekend. Some 700 activists, mostly from Europe, are participating in an event called "Welcome Palestine."
After landing at Ben Gurion Airport, these activists hope to travel to cities under Palestinian Authority control in the West Bank (biblical Judea and Samaria).
Some plan on being honest with Israeli customs officials about their desire to visit "Palestine."
If they're permitted entry to Israel, they plan to spend a week participating in various solidarity activities in support of Palestinian statehood.
But, there is a twist in the tale. These 'peaceful' activists have an alternative plan. If they're denied entry into Israel, they hope the display of authorities dealing with 700 activists will mirror the difficulties Palestinian Arabs face traveling to and from the West Bank and, in turn, humiliate Israel.
At a ceremony in Nazareth on Tuesday, Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said activists hoping to function as a counterpart to the second Gaza flotilla won't be allowed into the country.
"In the coming days, hundreds of radical activists from throughout Europe are expected to come to Israel to create provocations and illegal demonstrations and undermine our legitimacy in our own land," Aharonovitch said.
"My message is clear and unequivocal: You should know that your attempt won't succeed, and you would do well to refrain from coming here. But the State of Israel would be happy to welcome you as tourists so you can get acquainted with its beauty and its wonderful inhabitants," he said.
The activists tell a different tale.
Lubna Masarwa, one of the organizers, says the goal is simply to enter Israel as tourists and proceed to Bethlehem, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.
According to Masarwa, the fly-in to Ben Gurion and the Gaza flotilla are unrelated.
"Confrontation with Israel isn't the goal in this case; the goal is to visit Palestinian cities in the West Bank, and also Jerusalem," she said.
Another activist said the group chose Ben-Gurion International Airport only because flying via Jordan is more expensive.
Israeli officials are expecting the main protest to take place Friday morning, though the first group of activists is likely to arrive Thursday night.
Police and other security personnel, including members of Yassam - a special anti-terror unit -will be at Ben-Gurion to help the Israel Airports Authorities security staff deal with the demonstrations.
The primary aim is to prevent the activists from disrupting the airport's normal operation. But authorities are also preparing for extreme scenarios, such as an activist trying to set himself on fire, Haaretz reported.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is firm about stopping the activists.
"Every country has the right to prevent the entry of provocateurs and trouble-makers into its territory. That is how all countries behave and that is how Israel will act. We must prevent the disruption of normal life for Israeli citizens," Netanyahu said Wednesday morning.