News from Israel: Academic claims Israeli school textbooks contain bias
- Academic claims Israeli school textbooks contain bias
Nurit Peled-Elhanan of Hebrew University says textbooks depict Palestinians as 'terrorists, refugees and primitive farmers'
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
The Observer, Sunday 7 August 2011
Nurit Peled-Elhanan, an Israeli academic, mother and political radical, summons up an image of rows of Jewish schoolchildren, bent over their books, learning about their neighbours, the Palestinians. But, she says, they are never referred to as Palestinians unless the context is terrorism.
They are called Arabs. "The Arab with a camel, in an Ali Baba dress. They describe them as vile and deviant and criminal, people who don't pay taxes, people who live off the state, people who don't want to develop," she says. "The only representation is as refugees, primitive farmers and terrorists. You never see a Palestinian child or doctor or teacher or engineer or modern farmer."
Peled-Elhanan, a professor of language and education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has studied the content of Israeli school books for the past five years, and her account, Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education, is to be published in the UK this month. She describes what she found as racism– but, more than that, a racism that prepares young Israelis for their compulsory military service.
"People don't really know what their children are reading in textbooks," she said. "One question that bothers many people is how do you explain the cruel behaviour of Israeli soldiers towards Palestinians, an indifference to human suffering, the inflicting of suffering. People ask how can these nice Jewish boys and girls become monsters once they put on a uniform. I think the major reason for that is education. So I wanted to see how school books represent Palestinians."
In "hundreds and hundreds" of books, she claims she did not find one photograph that depicted an Arab as a "normal person". The most important finding in the books she studied – all authorised by the ministry of education – concerned the historical narrative of events in 1948, the year in which Israel fought a war to establish itself as an independent state, and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled the ensuing conflict.
The killing of Palestinians is depicted as something that was necessary for the survival of the nascent Jewish state, she claims. "It's not that the massacres are denied, they are represented in Israeli school books as something that in the long run was good for the Jewish state. For example, Deir Yassin [a pre-1948 Palestinian village close to Jerusalem] was a terrible slaughter by Israeli soldiers. In school books they tell you that this massacre initiated the massive flight of Arabs from Israel and enabled the establishment of a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. So it was for the best. Maybe it was unfortunate, but in the long run the consequences for us were good."
Children, she says, grow up to serve in the army and internalise the message that Palestinians are "people whose life is dispensable with impunity. And not only that, but people whose number has to be diminished."
Peled-Elhanan approaches her subject from a radical political background. She is the daughter of a famous general, Matti Peled, who became convinced that Israel's future lay in a dignified peace with the Palestinians. After leaving the army, he became active in the peace movement.
When Peled-Alhanon's only daughter, Smadar, was two, her face appeared on billboards in a political poster for Labour. Its message was that all children deserve a better future.
Then, in 1997, Smadar was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber while shopping in Jerusalem. She was 13. Peled-Elhanan declines to talk about her daughter's death apart from once or twice referring to "the tragedy".
At the time, she said that it would strengthen her belief that, without a settlement to the conflict and peaceful coexistence with Palestinians, more children would die. "Terrorist attacks like this are the direct consequence of the oppression, slavery, humiliation and state of siege imposed on the Palestinians," she told TV reporters in the aftermath of Smadar's death.
Her radical views have exacted a professional cost. "University professors stopped inviting me to conferences. And when I do speak, the most common reaction is, 'you are anti-Zionist'." Anybody who challenges the dominant narrative in today's Israel, she says, is similarly accused.
She hopes her book will be published in Hebrew, but is resigned to it being dismissed by many in the political mainstream.
Asked if Palestinian school books also reflect a certain dogma, Peled-Elhanan claims that they distinguish between Zionists and Jews. "They make this distinction all the time. They are against Zionists, not against Jews."
But she concedes that teaching about the Holocaust in Palestinian schools is "a problem, an issue". "Some [Palestinian] teachers refuse to teach the Holocaust as long as Israelis don't teach the Nakba [the Palestinian "catastrophe" of 1948]."
Perhaps not surprisingly for someone of such radical views, Peled-Elhanan is deeply pessimistic about her country's future. Change, she says, will only come "when the Americans stop providing us with $1m a day to maintain this regime of occupation and racism and supremacy".
She said that within Israel, "I only see the path to fascism. You have 5.5 million Palestinians controlled by Israel who live in a horrible apartheid with no civil and no human rights. And you have the other half who are Jews who are also losing their rights by the minute," she says, in reference to a series of attempts to restrict Israelis' right to protest and criticise their government.
She dismisses the Israeli left as always small and timid, but especially now. "There has never been a real left in this country." She believes that the education system helps to perpetuate an unjust, undemocratic and unsustainable state.
"Everything they do, from kindergarten to 12th grade, they are fed in all kinds of ways, through literature and songs and holidays and recreation, with these chauvinistic patriotic notions."
Israel mourns its dead – and takes revenge on Palestinians
Military wing of Hamas ends truce after Red Sea bus attack prompts air strikes. Donald Macintyre reports from Gaza
Saturday, 20 August 2011
Gaza militants fired rockets deep into southern Israel yesterday in the latest round of violence triggered by an unusually well-planned and co-ordinated attack that inflicted the worst death toll on Israel for more than three years.
The rocket attacks – which injured six people when one landed next to a religious college – followed Israeli air strikes on Gaza overnight and yesterday that left at least 12 more dead, including 10 militants, a two-year-old and a 13-year-old Palestinian boy who was buried in the rubble of his flattened family home.
Following two days of air strikes on coastal Gaza, the military wing of Hamas, the al-Qassam Brigades, last night announced an end to de facto truce with Israel in place since the end of the conflict of 2009, a move which could lead to an escalation in violence. "There is no longer any truce with the enemy," said the statement, which was broadcast over a Hamas radio station.
As families of victims of both sides mourned their dead, funerals were held for most of the eight victims – six civilians and two soldiers – of Thursday's militant onslaught near Israel's popular Red Sea resort of Eilat.
Israel accuses the Gaza militant group the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) of responsibility for the attack near Eilat, which started when gunmen opened fire on a bus crowded with soldiers and civilians. The militants then fired on private cars and exploded a roadside bomb. However, Israel insists that Hamas remains responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza. Egypt yesterday formally complained to Israel about the deaths of three members of its own security forces, killed as Israeli troops pursued gunmen whom they identified as having been behind the roadside ambushes. Israel said that its forces had hit seven of the gunmen but their identity remains unknown.
Among the Israeli victims named yesterday was Yosef Levi, 52, whose wife, Etie, was injured by a bullet in her shoulder and played dead for 90 minutes as she lay bleeding by her husband's body, according to a report in Haaretz newspaper. The sisters Flora Gez, 52, and Shula Karlitzky, 54, and their husbands, Moshe Gez, 53, and Dov Karlitzky, 58, were also killed, when their car was attacked. The funeral was also held for Staff Sgt Moshe Naftali of Ofra, 22, who was killed in a gun battle with the militants. His commander said the soldier "had a sense of humour and was moral and professional. The enemy will not defeat us. We will do anything we can to follow in Moshe's footsteps."
Another security force member, the counter-terrorism commander Paskal Avrahami, aged 49, was buried in Jerusalem. "We lost a fighter who fought bravely," police commissioner Yohanan Danino said at his funeral.
The sense of loss was replicated in Gaza following the deaths from the Israeli reprisal attacks. Mahmoud Abu Samra, 13, died inside a house in northern Gaza City which was demolished in the attack. The house was about 100 metres from a long-disused Palestinian intelligence headquarters that had been wrecked by previous bombing.
The dead boy's father, Atif, said that three of his children had been sleeping when he and his wife saw a flash of light before the house collapsed around them. His two other children are in hospital, while he was injured in the foot.
"I want them to answer me: 'Why did you hit this place?' Is it our fault the Eilat operation was done?" Mr Abu Samra, a taxi driver, said. He dismissed suggestion by neighbours that waste ground beside the house had been used for Hamas training.
Although Israel has begun constructing a security fence along two sections of its border with Egypt, only about 10 per cent has been built, provoking criticisms that the border is all too porous to militant infiltration. A man said by the Israeli authorities to be part of the group behind the attacks blew himself up on the Israel-Egypt border, injuring several Egyptian soldiers.
An Israeli strike late in the afternoon of Thursday's attack killed five members of the PRC, including its military commander Abu Awad Nayrab. It also killed the two-year-old son of one of them. The attack left only a crater two metres deep and one metre square in the yard where the militants had been gathered. Claiming the group had been hit by a drone, traditionally dressed women family members of the house praised the Eilat attack – despite the civilian casualties – while insisting the PRC had not been behind it. One relative, Fatima Shaath, 22, said: "This attack [by Israel] will make us stronger, not weaker."
Israel's new settlement plans irk US and EU
White House urges Israel and Palestinians to avoid unilateral moves that could jeopardize stalled peace talks.
Last Modified: 11 Aug 2011 21:01
Israel's approval of construction plans for 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem has reignited a dispute with Washington over the threat of new settlements to the upcoming Palestinian statehood debate.
The White House on Thursday urged Israel and the Palestinians to avoid any actions that jeopardize efforts to restart stalled peace talks.
The press briefing did not specifically mention the new approval, but the announcement of the same project last year during a visit by Vice President Biden caused a diplomatic rift.
Jay Carney, White House spokesperson, ducked a question on Thursday about whether Israel's approval for the construction of the new settler homes would make it harder to convince the Palestinians not to seek statehood at the United Nations.
"Our position on that has not changed, which is that we urge both sides not to take any action that makes it harder for the two sides to come together and negotiate," he told reporters.
Victoria Nuland, State Department spokeswoman, echoed his remarks.
"As we've said many times, unilateral action of this kind works against our efforts to get folks back to the table, makes it all more difficult," she said.
"It undercuts trust," she added.
'Deep regrets' from the EU
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Friday expressed her "deep regret" over Israel's approval of more new settler homes in east Jerusalem.
The European Union "has repeatedly called on Israel to end all settlement activity, including natural growth, and to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001," Ashton said in a statement.
"Settlement activity threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution and undermines ongoing efforts to resume negotiations."
"It is with deep regret that, once again, I received information of the publicly stated intention of the Israeli government to continue settlement expansion in East Jerusalem," Ashton said.
More homes planned
Eli Yishai, Israel's interior minister, is also expected to approve another 2,700 homes in the coming days, Roi Lachmanovich, a spokesperson for the interior ministry, told the AFP news agency on Thursday.
Yishai, a member of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, has given approval for "1,600 homes in Ramat Shlomo and will approve 2,000 more in Givat Hamatos and 700 in Pisgat Zeev," Lachmanovich said.
Lachmanovich added the final approvals were "economic" not political, linking the interior minister's decision to the mass demonstrations over housing prices and the cost of living that have rocked Israel in recent weeks.
"These are being approved because of the economic crisis here in Israel, they are looking for a place to build in Jerusalem, and these will help," he said. "This is nothing political, it's just economic."
Later on Thursday, Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, reported that: "Yishai said during a meeting on Thursday 'the time is ripe for an upheaval in the coalition' to solve the ongoing social crisis that has rocked the country over the past month."
'Hard to avoid'
The issue of linking settlement building to Israel's housing protests was used two weeks ago when 24 Knesset members came out and said they should use more land in the West Bank to relocate those protesting over raising housing prices, Al Jazeera's Cal Perry, reporting from Tel Aviv, said.
"When you speak to people here in the tent city [where the protesters are gathered], they would rather not talk about this issue [settlement construction], but it is hard to avoid with a billion dollars spent on building and construction in the West Bank," Perry added.
The settlements are considered illegal under international law.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967, and annexed East Jerusalem, a move not recognised by the international community.
The announcement of the new settler homes comes just weeks ahead of an expected move by the Palestinian Authority to have a Palestinian state recognised at the UN.
Yishai's ministry first announced the project in March 2010, as Biden visited Israel and the Palestinian territories to lay the groundwork for new direct peace talks between the two sides.
The announcement drew sharp criticism from the US, leaving Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, red-faced as he sat down for talks with Biden and prompting a mini-crisis between the allies.
Last week, the interior ministry issued a similar final green-light to the construction of 900 new homes in the East Jerusalem settlement neighbourhood of Har Homa, which lies in the southwest of the city, neighbouring Bethlehem.
Yishai linked that construction project to the protest movement, saying it would help address the "real estate crisis".
Israeli news site Ynet quoted him as saying he had directed his staff to promote the construction of small housing units in the settlement neighbourhood "in an effort to enable all Israeli citizens to purchase an apartment".
Despite Palestinian and international community objections to the settlement building, Israel has continued to push forward its policy of expansion, which is seen as being in direct conflict with achieving any sort of viable peace.
Israelis set up tent cities in protest at housing costs
Protests over high house prices and rents spread across the country
Israeli settlers on the West Bank
Might some stay?
It is conceivable that some Jewish settlers could remain in a Palestinian state
Jul 21st 2011 | NABI SALAH | from the print edition
EVERY Friday and often after school on other days, Israeli soldiers fire tear-gas and sonic bombs at the Palestinian children as they approach a spring. It sits in a valley that separates Nabi Saleh, an Arab village of 500 people half an hour’s drive north of Jerusalem, from Halamish, a religious Jewish settlement. On most nights jeeps roll through the village; over the past 18 months the Israeli army has detained 32 of its children, some as young as eleven. Many have been taken from their beds, kept in pre-trial detention for months, and brought to court in shackles, there to be convicted of stone-throwing.
For some of Halamish’s settlers, irritated by the tear-gas that wafts into their living rooms from across the hill, this is not harsh enough. “The soldiers don’t maim enough Palestinians,” complains Iran Segal. A year-and-a-half ago he put up a sign naming the spring after his father, sparking anger among Palestinians who saw the move as a land-grab. Jewish settlers and Palestinians who used to share a nargila (a water-pipe) at the water’s edge now bicker over ownership of the spring’s goldfish. “When we see Arabs heading towards us we start shouting to get the army to shoo them away,” says a 12-year-old settler.
Israel’s army has long presented itself as holding the ring between two fractious communities in the West Bank, Jewish and Arab, living in what Palestinians see as the heartland of their future state. But as pressure on Israel to pull out mounts, some Palestinians and some Jewish settlers have begun to contemplate what the future might hold, if and when the army leaves. The issue is highly topical, not least because of a new law this month to ban many political boycotts, including those aimed at West Bank settlements.
Some views are, on the face of things, surprisingly flexible. A former head of the Israeli prime minister’s office, who lives in Ofra settlement on the West Bank, backs a single state in which Palestinians and Israelis share full political rights. Other settlers have voiced support for the concept of “parallel states”, in which Jews and Arabs would owe their allegiance to separate parliaments but share a single territory and army. Yet others propose that settlers should stay on the West Bank—under Palestinian rule. “It could be a good solution,” says a local councillor, Ziki Kravitz, who hankers for the time when Jewish settlers and Arab villagers attended each other’s weddings, and wonders how he might keep his assets under Palestinian rule.
It would indeed be easier for the Israeli army to withdraw if there were an alternative to the forced evacuation of Jewish settlers. Under a widely touted compromise, some 200,000-plus of them, not counting those in East Jerusalem, might stay inside an adjusted Israeli border (with Palestinians getting equivalent land-swaps elsewhere). But that would still leave a good 80,000 in the West Bank, most of them well-armed religious Zionists who might resist any eviction with guns.
In 2009 the then chief Palestinian negotiator, Ahmed Qurei, told his Israeli counterpart, Tzipi Livni, that Jews would be free to live under Palestinian rule. The present prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has signalled his interest in such a proposal. “Some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders,” he told both houses of Congress in Washington, DC, in May. Some Western diplomats, frustrated by their failure to persuade Israel to stop settlement-building, might also welcome such ideas to salvage a two-state deal.
Yet raising such fundamental questions jangles many nerves. The Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly sought to block joint projects between Jewish settlements and neighbouring Arab villages for fear that co-operation would make the settlers feel more at home.
Nobody knows how many settlers might want to stay. Opinion pollsters have shied away from taking soundings. Some religious leaders among the settlers preach that both secular Jewish and non-Jewish rule are objectionable. They argue that it is more important to stay on what they deem to be Jewish land, even if it falls under a Palestinian government.
Others, however, vow to fight. “As soon as Palestinian police come through those gates, we’ll open fire,” says a pensioner in Halamish, noting that religious Zionists make up 40% of Israel’s combat units. Some hardline Jewish ideologues in isolated outposts talk of carving out their own theocratic state of Judea. “If the army leaves, we’ll declare a Halachic kingdom [ie, one governed by religious law] in the highlands alongside the secular Jewish one on the coast,” says the rabbi of a settlement called Nachliel.
Other tricky questions remain. Would Jews who stay have to take Palestinian citizenship or could they hold dual nationality? Would settlements remain exclusively Jewish or be open to all Palestinian citizens? How would Palestinian courts deal with claims against settlers who live on land taken from Arabs? Most awkward of all, how would a Palestinian government disarm settlers who insisted on retaining self-defence militias?
Yet the readiness to coexist on both sides may be stronger than is often realised. Noam Arnon, who speaks for the Jews in Hebron, the biggest city in the southern part of the West Bank, once cheered total separation, with settlers fiercely defending their homes in urban areas. Today he marches to protest against the erection of separation barriers around Palestinian villages and insists on visiting shops there. “There’s no reason why Jews can’t conduct themselves normally vis-à-vis Palestinians,” he says, “just as we did in the past.”
Boycott the state, not just the settlements
West Bank settlements would not be viable without government aid, so boycotts should target the Israeli state as well.
Yousef Munayyer Last Modified: 20 Jul 2011 13:08
Israel's boycott ban draws fire from law professors
Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu defends controversial measure but legal experts, including some rightwingers, say it damages freedom of expression
Israel's crackdown grows with boycott bill
The Knesset recently passed a bill making it illegal to advocate boycotts of goods produced in Israeli settlements.
Neve Gordon Last Modified: 14 Jul 2011 17:28
CIA veteran: Israel to attack Iran in fall
The Israeli security establishment is increasingly worried by Netanyahu's bellicose stance towards Iran.
MJ Rosenberg Last Modified: 17 Jul 2011 10:50
Flying into Israeli detention
Israel has been accused of over-reacting to a recent 'fly-in' of activists who say they were treated harshly.
David Poort Last Modified: 11 Jul 2011 11:31
Israel passes law banning citizens from calling for boycotts
Law for Prevention of Damage to State of Israel through Boycott means anyone proposing boycott could be sued
Israel expands its borders into Europe
Recent clampdowns on Palestinian solidarity activists underscore Israel's ability to outsource its security operations.
Dahr Jamail Last Modified: 12 Jul 2011 09:57
On July 11, Israel announced it was not interested in having the United Nations become involved as a mediator in its maritime border issues with Lebanon.
But when it comes to recruiting other countries to assist in the enforcement of its naval blockade of Gaza, or having international airlines deny entry to passengers destined to the occupied territories from flying, Israel is keen to have other countries help.
In 2010, Israel faced the worst kind of media exposure when its military raided the Mavi Marmara, shooting dead nine activists and wounding 40 others, evoking global condemnation and a beginning a tectonic shift in its relations with Turkey.
Rather than risking direct confrontation with activists taking part the recent Freedom Flotilla II, or the ''Flytilla'' of activists who attempted to fly into Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport, Israel instead chose another strategy that has proven quite effective.
Anchoring the flotilla
In June, ten ships carrying some 200 activists from 20 countries were to take part in what came to be known as "the second Freedom Flotilla", whose goal was to break through the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza.
Israel began its campaign to keep the vessels from reaching Gaza by warning journalists on June 26 they could be banned from entering the country for ten years if they travelled aboard the aid flotilla.
The Israeli government also said journalists could also have their equipment seized, in addition to other sanctions placed on them.
Jay Bushinsky from the Foreign Press Association in Israel questioned the constitutionality of the Israeli government's warning, and said it could be overruled by Israeli courts. He told Al Jazeera: ''If the steps are taken, it will reflect an unwise policy and a losing proposition.''
Israel backtracked and retracted the warning.
The next day, June 27, activists aboard the Swedish ship Juliano reported their vessel had been sabotaged by divers. In a statement, they said, ''hostile divers had destroyed the propeller house and cut the propeller shaft''.
At approximately the same time, Israel escalated a media campaign that was geared towards demonising flotilla activists. According to Tel Aviv daily Yedioth Aharonoth, military sources said participants of the flotilla were planning to pour chemicals, such as sulphur, on Israeli soldiers, and senior Israeli officials claimed that ''radical elements'' among the flotilla activists had stated an intention to ''spill the blood of Israeli soldiers''.
Then on June 30, three days after the Juliano was sabotaged, the Irish ship Saoirse had to abandon plans to set sail, because of what it called Israeli sabotage. Activist Huwaida Arraf told Israel's Army Radio that the ship's engine was damaged while in port and could have led to deaths on board.
"When the engine was started, it completely bent," Arraf said. "While out at sea, if this would have happened, if it would have bent in this way, the boat would have started taking on water and it could have led to fatalities."
The alleged sabotage occurred at the Turkish coastal town of Gocek where the Saoirse has been berthed for the previous few weeks, according to organisers.
Israel refused media requests for comment on both allegations.
Also in late June, an anonymous private legal complaint was filed against the Freedom Flotilla. The complaint alleged that the US boat, The Audacity of Hope, was not seaworthy and therefore was unfit to sail. In response, the harbour master in Athens, Greece, where the boat was docked, told the crew that he could not allow them to leave until the complaint was resolved.
Two days later, the Israel Law Center, Shurat Hadin, accepted responsibility for the complaint, that, while baseless, was a very successful exercise in legal harassment that kept the boat docked. Shurat Hadin is a Tel Aviv-based law centre that, according to its website, specialises in lawsuits against ''terrorists''.
This, coupled with mounting pressure from the Greek and US governments, kept most of the boats moored in Greek ports. Under the watchful eye of the Greek coastguard, when the US and Canadian boats tried to sail, they were both commandeered by coast guard personnel who brought the captured vessels back to port. The captain of the US vessel was jailed for three days, before eventually being released.
Activists with the US boat claimed that Israel had threatened economic sanctions if Greece did not cooperate in preventing the flotilla from leaving Greek ports.
Khalid Tuhraani, an American-Palestinian activist whose ship was stuck in the port of Corfu, told Al Jazeera: ''Many of the Arab countries have, like Greece now, become hostages of the political will of the United States and Israel.
"We chose Greece because this country has a history of support for the Palestinian struggle for freedom,'' he said. "Unfortunately we did not expect the Greek government to just roll over and die. But the Middle East Quartet issued a statement against our flotilla, so I think the pressure on the Greek government just might have been too enormous for it to bear."
Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu publicly acknowledged Greek Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou's cooperation in efforts to stop the flotilla.
Israel's 'no fly' zone
The ''Flytilla'' campaign that took place on July 8 involved an estimated 600 Tel Aviv-bound Palestine solidarity activists whose stated goal was to challenge Israel's policy of not allowing freedom of movement between Ben Gurion airport and the West Bank, and to show the injustice and human rights violations imposed on the Palestinian community by Israel.
However, roughly half of the activists were not allowed to board their planes in their home countries.
Nearly 100 activists were not allowed to board their Lufthansa Air flights at Charles de Galle airport in Paris on Friday morning.
"We came this morning at 4:30am to get our 6:30am flight," Satina, an activist who asked that only her first name be used, told Al Jazeera. "When we arrived and wanted to check in, they told us to go to another check in point, where there they told us they could not check us in. We grouped together and asked why, but they didn't give us anything in writing."
Her group then began demonstrating in front of all the airlines that were not allowing the activists to board, shouting "Collaborators, collaborators!" to condemn the French authorities for their action. In addition to Lufthansa, other airline operators that disallowed activists from boarding were Air France, Alitalia, Malev Hungarian Airlines and easyJet. The Lufthansa-owned Swiss-branded flight operator also banned would-be protesters from their planes.
"We asked why they wouldn't check us in and they would not give a reason, they simply said we could not board this flight," Satina added.
Most of the passengers not allowed to board were French citizens with valid passports, according to Satina, who said activists were "supposed to go on two Lufthansa flights and one Swiss Air flight in terminal one, and Air Italia and Air France flights in Terminal two."
Israeli immigration spokeswoman Sabine Hadad admitted that Israel had given airlines a list of 342 "unwanted people" and warned airlines that those passengers would "immediately be turned back at the expense of the companies".
After the warning was issued, Haddad said, "The companies have already refused to take on board around 200 of these passengers," and added that two US activists who arrived overnight had already been sent back to the United States.
But Donzel Jean Claude, a spokesperson for the Swiss airline, told Al Jazeera that this issue is regulated by the International Civil Aviation Organization, and the position of the airlines was clear.
"If a country informs the airline that somebody will not be allowed to enter, that person will not be allowed to board the flight," he explained, "This problem happens with a lack of visa, or invalid papers, or if in this case we have information from the country these people will not be allowed [in]. For the airline, we have to follow it and we cannot transport the passenger."
Jean Claude said the airline was "legally obliged" to decline boarding said passengers, because "any country has the right to refuse entry. We are obliged to transport somebody having a ticket, but if their papers are not correct or if, for some other reason, they will be denied entry by the country they are travelling to, then we are not obliged."
Dr Mark Ellis is the Executive Director of the International Bar Association in London. He told Al Jazeera that, while Israel's move to bar the passengers from flying is controversial, the country was within its legal right to do so.
"It's a little like the US no-fly list, in the sense the Homeland Security Department is sending out lists of individuals not allowed to enter the US. This has been controversial, especially in Europe. Anytime a country bars someone from entering and it requires an airline to initiate this, it's controversial, but it's not illegal." Ellis explained that flight restrictions are permitted under a country's domestic laws.
The only way to get to the West Bank is through Israel-controlled crossings - either by arriving at Ben Gurion Airport and driving to the West Bank, or from Jordan, passing through the Israeli-controlled crossing on the Jordan-West Bank border.
Similar to the strategy the Israelis used to pressure the Greek government keep the flotilla from sailing, most of the "flytilla" activists never got off the ground. For those who did arrive in Ben Gurion, detention and interrogation by Israeli security was followed by deportation.
Political and economic pressure
For the "flytilla", Israel's tactic of exploiting airlines' policies of watching their bottom line was used to their advantage.
If a passenger flies to Tel Aviv and is denied entry, the airline is responsible for flying them back to their place of departure and has to cover the cost. Thus, it makes no economic sense for an airline to fly a passenger if their destination country informs the airline in advance that said passenger will be denied entry. Hence, Israel's blacklisting the "flytilla" passengers they were able to identify before takeoff.
For the Greek government's role in carrying out Israel's wishes of never having the flotilla set sail, the most obvious point of leverage is also economic.
The Greek economy is expected to shrink 3.7 per cent this year, following a decline of 4.5 per cent in 2010, and two per cent in 2009, while unemployment has shot up to over 16 per cent. Citizens who have held on to their jobs have lost much of their pensions, had their salaries slashed and face yet more job cuts in the years to come as Greece slims down its public sector due to its imposition of internationally mandated spending cuts amid its economic crisis.
Debt-ridden Greece is currently negotiating a second economic rescue package, on top of the $158 billion it was granted a year ago. However, these loans depend on harsh "austerity measures" and an overhaul of Greece's economy, designed to bolster the country in the long-term, but which will most certainly worsen citizens' financial pain in the short-term.
Greece is in a state of economic desperation and chaos, and enraged protests of hundreds of thousands battled riot police on the streets of Athens while the flotilla was being kept in port by the Greek coast guard. For Israel to exert economic pressure on Greece at this time would obviously prove fruitful in having Greece carry out its wishes against the activists.
The US, always the stalwart ally of Israel, also reportedly exerted political pressure on Greece to abide by the wishes of Israel regarding the flotilla.
A friendship based on mutual need
Greece was the country of choice for flotilla activists because, during the 2010 flotilla the country was very accommodating, in addition to its geographic proximity to Gaza.
But, as political relations with Turkey soured in the wake of the 2010 flotilla disaster, the political and economic climate between Greece and Israel improved, and many of the reasons why are clear.
Greece has seen a 50 per cent increase in Israeli tourists over the past year, while in the same period the number of Israeli tourists visiting Turkey has dropped by nearly 90 per cent.
When Turkey downgraded its military and political ties to Israel in the wake of Israel's 2008 attack on Gaza, the political vacuum this caused between Turkey and Israel was filled last year when Greek Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou became the first Greek prime minister to visit Israel in nearly three decades.
A few months after this, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu became the first Israeli leader to pay an official visit to Greece. Greece, who had once been a staunch supporter of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, has recently transformed itself into Israel's new best friend.
It is a relationship is based on mutual need: Greece remains in economic crisis and the country is frantically looking for new markets and a different source for its tourism, which plays a huge role in the Greek economy, while Israel needs a new strategic political and military ally.
As need dictates, Israel, with the full backing of the US, will likely be forging more relationships such as this. This ability does not bode well for activists seeking governments support of future actions.
Follow Dahr Jamail on Twitter: @DahrJamail
Israel and Greece forge closer ties
As Israel's relationship with Turkey has soured, its relations with Greece have grown stronger.
Last Modified: 03 Jul 2011 19:07
Canada clamps down on criticism of Israel
In an affront to free speech, Canadian committee declares that criticism of Israel should be considered anti-Semitic.
Jillian Kestler-DAmours Last Modified: 22 Jul 2011 10:28
Nearly two years after the first hearings were held in Ottawa, the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition fto Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA) released a detailed report on July 7 that found that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Canada, especially on university campuses.
While the CPCCA's final report does contain some cases of real anti-Semitism, the committee has provided little evidence that anti-Semitism has actually increased in Canada in recent years. Instead, it has focused a disproportionate amount of effort and resources on what it calls a so-called "new anti-Semitism": criticism of Israel.
Indeed, the real purpose of the CPCCA coalition seems to be to stifle critiques of Israeli policy and disrupt pro-Palestinian solidarity organizing in Canada, including, most notably, Israeli Apartheid Week events. Many of the CPCCA's findings, therefore, must be rejected as both an attack on freedom of speech and freedom of protest, and as recklessly undermining the fight against real instances of anti-Semitism.