In the early hours of this morning the Israeli authorities at Tel Aviv airport stopped a group of international observers who were en route to a Christmas peace conference in Bethlehem.
After lengthy interrogations, two (UK) were allowed to enter the country and three were denied entry on ‘security grounds’. The three (S Africa, Italy, Australia) intend to challenge this decision in the Israeli courts. Now they expect to spend Christmas in jail, rather than in Bethlehem.
The group are experienced peace campaigners who were on their way to the “Celebrating Non-Violence” conference to be held in the Palestinian town early next week. All five have worked previously as international observers in the Palestinian territories.
Spokesperson Charlotte Carson states: “Our colleagues are being stopped from attending a conference about non-violent activism because they are non-violent activists. Clearly, Israel is afraid of the power of non-violence.”
The detained are all members of Access for Peace in the Middle East, a pressure group that intends to challenge the criminalisation of peace workers and the deliberate isolation of Palestinians from international observation and assistance.
Robin Horsell, a UK-based South African who formerly campaigned against apartheid gave his reasons for making this legal challenge:
“Israel gives spurious grounds for deportation or refusal of entry. But the real reason is our support for human rights and justice. We hope this legal challenge sets a precedent that in future will allow international citizens full access to Palestinian lands.”
This campaign is supported by many prominent peace campaigners, including Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Nonviolence International, George Monbiot, AngieZelter, Jeremy Hardy and European Jews for a Just Peace.
Since 2000, the Israeli authorities have denied entry to the Occupied Palestinian Territories to hundreds of international citizens who intend to work with grassroots organisations such as the International Solidarity Movement, Christian Peacemaker Teams, the International Women’s Peace Service, and many other NGOs that provide humanitarian assistance to the occupied civilian population.
Israel calls itself ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’, yet its practice of obstructing the passage of hundreds of observers and peace activists calls its democratic credentials into question.
According to the Palestinian Red Crescent organisation (the equivalent of the Red Cross), during the last five years 3754 Palestinian men, women and children have died from Israeli military action. The vast majority of these casualties have been civilians.