Israel used Facebook to compile a pro-Palestinian blacklist of hundreds of names. On Friday, the country's government then asked foreign airlines to keep those on the list off flights to Israel, prevented many activists from boarding Tel Aviv-bound flights in Europe, questioned dozens more upon arrival at its main airport, and denied entry to select individuals.
Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, said the list comprised of individuals identified as planning to create "provocations" upon arrival. "These people announced on their Internet sites that they planned to come here and cause disruptions, and told their friends. We were able to contact other foreign ministries and simply give them links." Barring entrance in such cases is "accepted practice in any country," he added.
Some 200 people were prevented from boarding their flights at European airports, according to Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. "The companies did not allow them on the airplanes because we told them clearly they wouldn't be able to enter Israel," said Rosenfeld.
310 of the activists who managed to land in Tel Aviv were detained for questioning, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad told the Associated Press. Of those, 69 were denied entry: four were immediately put on return flights and 65 were held until flights home could be arranged for them. The rest were permitted entry, she said.
Israel has not outlined its criteria for denying entry, but has said peaceful visitors will not be deported, though clearly the country was not willing to give many the benefit of the doubt. Organizers 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. The group released a statement calling the moves to prevent activists from reaching Israel "provocative, blackmailing and illegal."
Authorities are determined to deny entry to those they consider hostile agitators, but critics in Israel have said the government's high-profile reaction has only drawn further media attention to the activists. Recent anti-Israel protests have been organized on Facebook and other sites, and Israel now closely follows would-be protesters online.