Challenging Israeli apartheid, starting at Ben Gurion Airport

on 18 Comments

From July 8-16, I will join hundreds of internationals for a week of solidarity actions in coordination with 15 Palestinian civil resistance organizations in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.  To my knowledge, this will be the first attempt to bring such a large number of internationals—already over 500, according to organizers—to the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a coordinated manner.  While Freedom Flotilla 2, sailing in the coming days, rightly puts the spotlight on Israel’s cruel blockade of Gaza, we intend to show that Israeli repression in the rest of historic Palestine—the West Bank, Jerusalem, and what is now Israel—is no less important and is part of the same project of ethnic cleansing and colonization. 

The opening act of our week of nonviolent resistance is, in my opinion, its most creative and daring component.  On a single day, July 8, hundreds of internationals and Palestinians living abroad will fly in to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport and perform one simple but radical action: refuse to lie about the fact that we are there to travel to the Occupied Territories and visit Palestinians. 

Anyone who has traveled to Palestine knows the potential risks associated with this action.  Israel controls all entry points into Palestine, except for the Rafah crossing into Gaza, which is controlled by Egypt and has its own Kafkaesque challenges.  The Israeli government routinely denies entry to people it knows or simply suspects of being Palestine solidarity activists; journalists, academics and cultural workers sympathetic to the Palestinians; even people coming to do volunteer or charity work in the Occupied Territories. 

This means that for years, the most common strategy among solidarity activists entering Palestine has been to keep your head down and lie about why you are there.   

Plenty of us know the routine.  You say that you’re a tourist.  You play dumb about history and politics, and you never say you are going to visit Palestinians.  You don’t point out the fact that every person of color in your group just got picked out for questioning.  You submit calmly to interrogation and construct non-offensive half-truths, conveniently leaving out certain parts of your itinerary.  When they search your stuff, you nod and say you understand it’s for “security reasons.”  You swallow every rebellious instinct that brought you to Palestine in the first place and temporarily submit to a racist, invasive, intimidating security apparatus in the hope that they will deign to let you in to Palestine, and accept that this is the price to be paid for being able to do the work you want to do. 

For the record, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with this strategy.  In any given situation, the most useful way to interact with agents of the Israeli state is a tactical decision.  I understand there are many groups of people who do not have the luxury of pissing off Israeli security: people who depend on free movement in and out of Palestine for work, study, or to see family; those engaged in long-term projects in the region for whom maintaining access to the Occupied Territories is crucial; those engaged in critical media work that gets Palestine’s story out to the world; those who may be in a more vulnerable position for any number of reasons. 

But at the same time, we should be clear that Israel’s border controls and repressive entry policies are part of the apartheid system—a big part.  Entry restrictions on solidarity activists, journalists, and NGO workers are a natural outgrowth of the restrictions that prevent a large percentage of the worldwide Palestinian population from returning to their own country and/or moving about freely within it.  They are a component of the elaborate matrix of borders, walls, checkpoints, permits, soldiers and secret police by which the Israeli government exerts a choke-hold on free movement and political activity throughout occupied Palestine.  They are part and parcel of the occupation machinery that seeks to isolate the Occupied Territories and make life there unbearable so that Palestinians will leave, and that frequently forces them out whether they want to go or not.  And like all other parts of the apartheid system, they deserve to be challenged. 

This year’s Nakba and Naksa Day protests saw Israel besieged on every one of its garrisoned borders by unarmed Palestinians simply wanting to return home.  At the end of this month, Freedom Flotilla 2 will defy Israel’s punitive and illegal naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.  We see the July 8 fly-in as our contribution to the new movement that is chipping away at Fortress Israel. 

Some fellow activists have raised the possibility that this action will result in nothing more than hundreds of us being summarily deported, and possibly banned from entering Palestine in the future.  It is entirely possible that this will happen, and anyone participating in this action should be aware of the risk.  It seems to me a very small risk to take in comparison to the crushing violence Palestinians have stood up to for over 60 years.  While this action is not for everyone, I believe the time is right for those in a position to expose and nonviolently resist Israel’s repressive entry policies to do so on a mass scale. 

Just as no one thinks one flotilla (or two or three) is going to bring the siege of Gaza to an end, no one believes this one day of action will immediately alter the state of affairs at Ben Gurion Airport and the rest of Israel’s borders.  In the short term, it is possible that it may even make airport personnel more suspicious and aggressive.  That is how oppressors respond to acts of resistance.  They often become more aggressive before they are defeated, because they rightly sense that the momentum is on the side of justice. 

July 8, and the week of solidarity it opens, is one step in the long process of taking down the apartheid system.  The Arab revolutions, the growing BDS movement, and Israel’s own increasingly hysterical reactions to nonviolent protest have radically accelerated the timeline of that process from what many of us believed possible only a few years ago.  Israeli apartheid’s days are numbered, and now is the moment to challenge it on every front. 

Laura Durkay is a member of Siegebusters Working Group and the International Socialist Organization in New York City.  You can follow updates from the week of solidarity on her personal blog, Laura on the Left, and on Twitter at @lauradurkay

Individuals interested in participating in the July 8-16 week of solidarity should email [email protected] or visit for more details.

18 Responses

  1. seafoid
    June 20, 2011, 10:32 am

    Would it not be better to flashmob Ben Gurion Airport after the part where you get your visa? I don’t see the point of telling the slimeballs. They will just deport you. A flashmob at the heart of the system would be far more potent.

  2. seafoid
    June 20, 2011, 1:55 pm

    All the Israelis have to do is read this thread and pick up the author on arrival. I don’t see the point.

    Why not make some stickers that say “contains white phosphorous” and stick them on every Israeli fruit and vegetable in your local store?

    Or do something at the Wailing wall. But not at the airport.

    • lauradurkay
      June 20, 2011, 10:48 pm

      All the actions you suggest are complementary. It’s not a case of one or the other.

      The point of this action is that it’s not secret, because we have nothing to hide. It’s been publicized on the websites I linked to for months. In fact, JPost reported about it (in a somewhat distorted way) several weeks ago: link to

      We are taking our cue from the strategy of the Flotilla, which is to declare plainly and clearly what our intentions are, that we are nonviolent and unarmed, and that we have every right to enter Palestine. How the Israeli government responds to that is up to them.

      I’m sure people also said “Not at the Lebanese border,” “Not in the Golan Heights,” and “Not by sea into Gaza.” No one’s ever tried something like this at the airport, so we can’t predict exactly what will happen. I would say we have a distinct advantage over all those other ventures in that it’s very unlikely we’ll be shot.

  3. GuiltyFeat
    June 20, 2011, 3:35 pm

    For once I’m in agreement with seafoid, except, I imagine some of you will be denied boarding to your planes at the point of origin.

    Just out of interest what would happen to US citizens if they started telling the truth about their final destination being Cuba when they tried to board a plane to Canada or Mexico. Wouldn’t they be arrested on the spot?

    • Woody Tanaka
      June 20, 2011, 4:15 pm

      “Just out of interest what would happen to US citizens if they started telling the truth about their final destination being Cuba when they tried to board a plane to Canada or Mexico. Wouldn’t they be arrested on the spot?”

      How is this relevant? As evil as the Cuban embargo is to US citizens (and, of course, to the Cuban people), the US isn’t engaging in the type of crime against humanity as you Israelis are with your illegal blockcade of the Gazan people. The US doesn’t prevent Israeli from going to Cuba, when the hell are you preventing Americans from going to Gaza?

      Don’t you tire of making excuses and trying to change the subject? If you and the so-called liberal Zionists in the world would spend half as much time correcting the evil in Zionism and Israel as you do making excuses for it, the world would be a much better place.

    • patm
      June 20, 2011, 4:22 pm

      Guilty, just out of interest, why haven’t you answered my question of June 14, 2011 at 3:35 pm — on the “London is turning into Israel’s laboratory in preparation for 2012 summer Olympics” thread.

      My question was this: “Why on earth should we believe this [Mickey Levy] fellow when he tells a reporter that Israeli “officers had to be sure they could see a suicide vest or explosives before they opened fire?” In case you didn’t see my reply to you here it is again.


      Guilty, In the Guardian article you cite, it states that Major General Mickey Levy, was the police commander in Jerusalem from 2000 to 2004.

      I’ve been checking Mickey Levy out:

      Here is a documented account of one incident that occurred on his watch:

      “In October 2000, Israeli police used live ammunition against unarmed civilians demonstrating their solidarity with Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Thirteen Palestinians, of whom twelve were Israeli citizens, were shot dead.

      An official commission, headed by Judge Theodor Or, was appointed to look into the events which came to mark a dramatic deterioration in Arab-Jewish relations inside the country.

      In 2003, the Or Commission confirmed that the police used “excessive” and unjustifiable force, reported that the police viewed the country’s Arab citizens as “enemies” and documented a pattern of “prejudice and neglect” towards them by Israel’s establishment.4

      While the Or Commission recommended a number of measures to redress the sharp disparities between Jews and Arabs in the country, families of the victims regarded the report as a whitewash.

      The Commission failed to examine the forensic evidence in each of the killings, and none of the killers, nor any responsible official, were ever brought to justice.5

      By 2007, according to Elie Rekhess of the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, there remained “yawning” gaps between Jews and Arabs in Israel and “the bottom line” is “that the conclusions and recommendations of the 2003 Or Commission remain conspicuously unimplemented.”6

      link to

    • Shmuel
      June 20, 2011, 4:23 pm

      what would happen to US citizens if they started telling the truth about their final destination being Cuba when they tried to board a plane to Canada or Mexico. Wouldn’t they be arrested on the spot?

      I don’t know. You tell us. BTW, is Cuba currently under US control? Are there other ways of getting to Cuba besides going through the US or US-controlled border crossings? Is half of Cuba detached from the other half? Has the US established civilian settlements throughout Cuba that are considered legitimate destinations (for the right sort of folks, of course)?

      Fireman: “Move along. There’s nothing to see here. Buildings may collapse at any moment.”
      Trevor Chaplin (James Bolam): “Buildings may collapse at any moment? That sounds like something to see!”

      • James North
        June 20, 2011, 4:57 pm

        Are these U.S. colonies in Cuba that Shmuel describes expanding, and stealing even more land from Cubans? Are the U.S. colonists there heavily armed, and allowed to attack the local Cubans with impunity?

      • Shmuel
        June 20, 2011, 5:17 pm

        The bottom line is always that Israel is just like France, or Germany, or the US, or the UK. So what’s all the fuss about? And if all else fails, Israel is just like Slovakia or Estonia or Turkey – or better than Syria or Yemen or Iran (but God help you if you suggest treating Israel like one of those countries).

        Aren’t all nation-states ethnocracies? Don’t all countries allow members of one ethnicity to “jump the queue”? Wouldn’t any country starve or bomb the living daylights out of its neighbours? Doesn’t everyone have a “separation fence”? Isn’t ethnic cleansing an integral part of nation-building? Everyone’s guilty, so no one’s guilty. Let’s make a deal: I’ll criticise my country and you criticise yours.

        Nothing to see here. Buildings may collapse at any moment.

      • tree
        June 20, 2011, 5:33 pm

        The bottom line is always that Israel is just like…

        Spot on.

        Everyone’s guilty, so no one’s guilty.

        …and don’t forget its corollary : Everyone’s guilty, so why are you singling out Israel, you anti-semite!

        Or, in other words, other people have gotten away with murder so how dare you hold me accountable for my actions!

      • eljay
        June 20, 2011, 5:34 pm

        >> The bottom line is always that Israel is just like France, or Germany, or the US, or the UK. … And if all else fails, Israel is just like Slovakia or Estonia or Turkey – or better than Syria or Yemen or Iran …

        “Israel: It’s not as good as the best but, hey, at least it’s not as bad as the worst!”©

    • tree
      June 20, 2011, 5:26 pm

      Just out of interest what would happen to US citizens if they started telling the truth about their final destination being Cuba when they tried to board a plane to Canada or Mexico. Wouldn’t they be arrested on the spot?

      For GF, who seems incapable of Googling simple answers to simple questions:

      Contrary to popular belief, US law does not prohibit US citizens from visiting Cuba. However, tourism is effectively banned by the Trading With the Enemy Act, which prohibits US citizens from spending money there.

      The Cubans have no restrictions on US tourists. On the contrary; they welcome US visitors with open arms. The Cubans are savvy—they won’t stamp your passport. As many as 60,000 US citizens visited Cuba in 1995; only about 20% did so legally, while the rest slipped in through third countries.

      The following categories of travelers are permitted to spend money for Cuban travel without the need to obtain special permission from the US Treasury Department:

      Official Government Travelers. US and foreign government officials, including representatives of international organizations of which the United States is a member, who are traveling on official business.

      Journalists regularly employed in such capacity by a news reporting organization.

      Persons who are visiting to visit close relatives in Cuba in circumstances of extreme humanitarian need. This authorization is valid without a specific license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control only once every 12 months.

      Special licenses may be issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control on a case by case basis authorizing travel transactions by persons in connection with the following travel categories:

      Humanitarian Travel. Persons traveling to Cuba (1) to visit close relatives in cases involving extreme hardship, such as terminal illness or severe medical emergency, (2) persons traveling to Cuba to accompany licensed humanitarian donations (other than gift parcels), or (3) persons traveling in connection with activities of recognized human rights organizations investigating specific human rights violations.

      Travel in connection with professional research or similar activities, for clearly defined educational or religious activities, or for purposes related to the exportation, importation, or transmission of informational materials, including provision of telecommunications services.

      Except as specifically licensed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, payments in connection with any other travel to Cuba are prohibited, whether travelers go directly or via a third country such as Mexico, Canada, or another Caribbean island.

      “Fully hosted” travel to Cuba is not restricted, provided that the travel is not aboard a direct flight between the United States and Cuba. A fully hosted traveler may pay for transportation only if aboard a non-Cuban carrier. Travelers whose expenses are covered by a person not subject to US jurisdiction may not bring back any Cuban origin goods, except for informational materials.


      Many ordinary US citizens and residents can also qualify for official travel status as “researchers.” The law states that “Specific licenses for transactions related to travel to, from, and within Cuba may be issued for persons engaging in professional research and similar activities” (my emphasis). Several organizations are licensed to offer educational trips and can assist you to meet qualification requirements.

      In addition, “Specific licenses will be issued to persons for travel to Cuba for clearly defined educational activities . . . attendance at a meeting or conference . . . activities related to study for an undergraduate or graduate degree sponsored by a college or university located in the United States.”


      If you want to go it alone and try the “journalist” or “researcher” angle, write to the Licensing Division, Office of Foreign Assets Control, Department of the Treasury, 1331 G Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20220, tel. (202) 376-0922. The Treasury Department requires a written statement of why your proposed trip falls within the rules for permissible travel. If your story is convincing, you should get approval in two or three months.

      You may also travel legally by booking a prepaid, all-inclusive package with companies such as Wings of the World.

      A far simpler alternative, the route chosen by the vast majority of US visitors to Cuba—is to forget the legal restrictions and simply go!


      Trading with Cuba is good for up to a US$250,000 fine and 10 years in prison, but arresting people for merely vacationing in Cuba is not high on the US government’s list of priorities. To my knowledge, no one has been prosecuted merely for going to Cuba and spending money there as a tourist.

      link to

      And here’s the official US government regulation language on humanitarian travel to Cuba by US citizens:

      Specific licenses may be issued by OFAC, on a case-by-case basis, authorizing travel transactions by the following categories of persons in connection with the following activities:

      Humanitarian Projects and Support for the Cuban People – 1) Persons traveling in connection with activities that are intended to provide support for the Cuban people, such as activities of recognized human rights organizations; and 2) persons whose travel transactions are directly related to certain humanitarian projects in or related to Cuba that are designed to directly benefit the Cuban people. Licenses authorizing transactions for multiple trips over an extended period of time are available.

      link to

      Quite a bit different from Israeli policy toward humanitarian projects in the Occupied Territories, wouldn’t you say?

      Nice diversion, though. The two situations are not at all similar. If the US was occupying Cuba and preventing foreigners from going there, then you might have an accurate comparative. But, even then, Israeli policy would still be worse than the US policy towards travel to Cuba.

  4. Citizen
    June 20, 2011, 6:05 pm

    Here’s something it might be hard to read–a scathing critique of the failure of the tactics of the pro-Palestinians-anti-Zionist movement–it has totally failed to reach the average American and Israel is still expanding its settlements, progressing on its final solution to the Palestinian Problem: link to

    The author of the article, a US veteran, is now working on Part 2, some activities that might prove more effective in reaching the average American.

    • Frankie P
      June 20, 2011, 6:36 pm

      Here’s something else to read related to the pro-Palestinian-anti-Zionist movement: this relates what some see as the co-opting of this movement. I’m hoping that Phil will step up and address his statements and the issues in general that Gilad and Nahida (The Exiled Palestinian) bring up here. Thanks Phil, please continue to delve into hard issues, even the uncomfortable ones.

      link to

      Frankie P

    • Robert
      June 20, 2011, 8:00 pm


      Alan Sabrosky is overdoing it, and loses credibility. He pushes the Israel-did-9/11 theory, and claims that “high levels of our military understand this”. No they don’t.

      Also, he has no faith at all in the One-State Solution, and doesn’t even think of it or mention it. We all have our serious critiques of Zionism, but Sabrosky doesn’t build credibility, he lowers it.

  5. es1982
    June 20, 2011, 7:05 pm

    Is there any special significance to the date, July 8? Is it the anniversary of a special event?

    • lauradurkay
      June 20, 2011, 10:50 pm

      Yes, I should have put this in the article, in fact. July 9 (the official first day of solidarity actions inside Palestine) is the anniversary of the International Court of Justice ruling that the apartheid wall and Israeli colonization of the West Bank were illegal. It is also the anniversary of the BDS call to action, for the same reason.

  6. sycamore
    July 5, 2011, 4:47 am

    Thanks for doing this. I would just like to make one comment about one thing that bothered me, despite the fact that I am very excited about the action and grateful that people will spend the time, money and take the risks necessary to do it.

    You say that Palestinian solidarity activists must lie about their reasons for being in Israel. But if you’re Arab/Palestinian, it’s a tough nut to crack. If you have an Arab name, the likelihood of being able to spin a convincing story about avoiding the territories is slim to none. It’s a whole nother level.

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