JERUSALEM (JTA) — At least 43 foreign pro-Palestinian activists who arrived in Israel for a "fly-in" protest were detained at Ben Gurion Airport.
Two protesters, citizens of France and Italy, made it through security to Bethlehem.
Thirty-one of the detained activists were transferred to a detention center and 12 were deported to their point of origin, Israel Police told reporters. Nine local activists who protested the detentions at the airport also were arrested.
The foreign activists who arrived Sunday from several European countries and North America are part of the "Welcome to Palestine" campaign in which activists declare their intention to travel to the West Bank to highlight that there is no way to visit what they call Palestine without traveling through Israel.
The group had plans to travel to Bethlehem and lay a cornerstone for an educational institution. The campaign said it expected up to 2,500 activists to attempt to make it to Israel.
Several airlines, including Lufthansa, Air France and Easyjet, canceled the flights of known activists before they could leave from their points of origin. Israel had requested that airlines prevent activists from boarding flights. In addition, if fliers are turned away from Israel and put on a flight back to their point of origin, the airline must absorb the cost of the return flight.
More than 600 unarmed policemen were stationed at Ben Gurion Airport to intercept the activists who arrive in Israel unchallenged, according to Israel Radio.
Several dozen pro-Palestinian activists protested Sunday morning at the airport in Geneva, Switzerland, saying that authorities prevented about 100 activists from boarding a flight bound for Israel.
Dozens of activists reportedly also protested at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris after being denied entry to their flights to Israel. The protesters chanted "Today the barrier is here" and "Israel get out, France is not yours."
Sunday, the day after Passover ended, is one of Ben Gurion Airport’s busiest flying days.
Activists who managed to arrive in Israel reportedly received a sarcastic letter issued by the Prime Minister’s Office thanking them for "choosing to make Israel the object of your humanitarian choices" instead of protesting human rights abuses and terrorists in Syria, Iran and Gaza, according to The Jerusalem Post, which printed a copy of the letter.
The letter suggests to the activists that they "first solve the real problems of the region, and then come back and share with us your experience." It also tells them to "Have a nice flight."
Last July, some 300 activists flew to Israel for a protest fly-in. About 120 were detained.