Israel uses web to block protesters

Israel has used social media sites to help prevent scores of pro-Palestinian activists from boarding Tel Aviv-bound flights in Europe.

Dozens more were detained or deported on arrival at its main airport, heading off attempts by the foreign protesters to reach the West Bank on a solidarity mission with the Palestinians.

Israel had tracked the activists on Facebook, compiled a blacklist of about 300 names and asked airlines to keep those on the list off flights to Israel.

Some 60 of the activists who managed to land in Tel Aviv were detained for questioning and by early evening 27 of them had been deported.

At one point, two planes from Geneva and Rome were diverted to a secluded area of the airport on landing and boarded by security.

Organisers of the Welcome to Palestine campaign accused Israel of overreacting to what they said is a peaceful mission to draw attention to life under Israeli occupation, including travel restrictions. Israel controls all access to the West Bank.

“This was never about demonstrations at airports. We are on a fact-finding mission. We want to understand what’s going on,” said Pippa Bartolotti, a 57-year-old British activist from Wales.

She said she was the only member of a 40-member group on a flight from Britain who managed to enter Israel. “Unfortunately everybody else is in a holding bay and expected to be deported,” she said. “There are people from Belgium, France and the UK.”

Israel took a series of measures to prevent clashes, most notably by barring protesters from the country altogether. Hundreds of police were also deployed at the already heavily fortified Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry, said the list was compiled by following organisers’ preparations on social networks and websites. In all, about 300 people were identified as planning to create “provocations” upon arrival, he said.

( /09.07.2011)

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