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Welcome to Palestine is an initiative that aims to highlight Israel’s cruel and brutal siege of the West Bank and the complicity of Western governments and of corporations in helping Israel maintain its illegal occupation through violations of Palestinian human and national rights.  Welcome to Palestine 2012 (WtP2012) achieved these aims with the participation of hundreds of internationals who are now more determined than ever to join the Palestinian struggle for justice and to intensify the campaign against Israeli occupation, colonisation and apartheid.

This year some 1200 internationals, men, women and children, booked their flights to Tel Aviv airport and prepared for their visit to Palestine.  They were responding to an invitation by Palestinian organisations in Occupied Bethlehem to participate in a programme that included the renovation of a children’s school.  Dr Victor Batarseh, Mayor of Bethlehem, appealed for international support for this initiative.  The only difference between the WtP2012 participants and the hundreds that travel to Palestine every year to express their solidarity with Palestinians is that they intended to tell the truth at Tel Aviv airport – the purpose of their travel was to visit Palestine.

Israel’s response to this peaceful initiative exposed its fear of peaceful travellers transiting Tel Aviv Airport to access Bethlehem in Palestine;  hundreds of internationals were prevented from boarding flights as a result of threats made to airlines, and participants who landed at Tel Aviv were imprisoned without charge. 

The Israeli government has made a strategic mistake by extending its illegal siege of Palestine into international airports.  Participants responded with protests that lasted hours.  Pressure on airlines resulted in some changing their policy of refusing refunds to those denied boarding. 

In Tel Aviv Airport Israeli activists waiting to welcome travellers were swamped by uniformed police and arrested for using the words ‘Welcome to Palestine’. Israel’s claim to be a ‘democracy’ was exposed yet again as a lie. 

Extensive local and international media coverage increased awareness of the spread of Israeli apartheid from Palestine to European airports, through racial profiling and extensive political blacklisting.

Welcome to Palestine 2012 was endorsed among others by Ronnie Kasrils and Archbishop Tutu, both veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.  Since 15th April, elected representatives of many participants, particularly those imprisoned by Israel for wishing to visit Palestine, have been pressing governments to condemn Israel’s actions and the complicity of airlines. 

Investigations have begun into the nature and source of Israel’s ‘McCarthyite’ lists sent to airlines.  Trade unions whose members - nurses, teachers, community workers - were denied boarding or imprisoned by Israel, expressed their strong support for the goals of the initiative.  In Paris, CGT's Roissy-CDG union branch representing airport staff rejected “the complicity of the French authorities in this violation of the freedom to travel”. 

As a salute to the steadfastness of Palestinian political prisoners, WtP2012 participants in Givon Prison refused food on Palestinian Prisoners Day on 17th April as those who were refused boarding took part solidarity actions in cities across Europe.  These actions are an expression of the strength and depth of international solidarity that exists for the Palestinian people.  The participants of WtP2012 will continue to join international actions against Israeli occupation, colonisation and apartheid and will intensify our campaigning for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. 

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