That’s the question that haunts me as I watch from afar the planned “fly-in” of activists to Israel on 7 and 8 July.
Didn’t know about this one? You’re in broad company. This isn’t the deeply silly “flytilla” plan to get an airplane past the Israeli air force into Gaza. This is the (equally silly) plan of hundreds of activists to fly into Ben Gurion Airport, all at once, and demand to visit the “Palestinian” territories. The act of defiance here is being truthful about the activists’ purpose: instead of lying about their intentions, which they freely acknowledge is their usual practice, they intend to state plainly that they are there to go to “Palestine” and give political support to the “Palestinian cause.”
The purpose is to embarrass Israel by creating a “situation” at the airport and getting it all on video. Israeli authorities are understandably concerned about both the photo op and the potential disruption to the travel of innocent bystanders; they have beefed up security and distributed to the airlines a blacklist of activists who will be denied entry, in order to discourage their embarkation at the points of origin.
But while I don’t fault the Israelis for being prepared and doing what they can to defuse this, I think it’s the activists who are overreaching. It’s one thing to try to get a ragtag flotilla past the Israeli navy. That’s an exotic situation that most people inhabit only in their mental imaginings. It is abstract to them; they have no reference point for what it looks, sounds, and smells like to be on a yacht or ferry at sea; what the rules of the road are; what the expectations of the professionals are; what’s right and wrong, what’s smart and stupid.
But millions and millions of people know the drill with air travel. They know the host government at your arrival airport has the right to stop and question you; queues are set up everywhere you go to make sure that that happens. It’s not excessive, it’s standard. They also know that at any airport in the world, if you act up, you’re going to be detained and treated with suspicion and special handling. No one who has watched the carabinieri stand around – armed to the teeth – looking menacing and alert at Fiumicino in Rome would think twice about the security at Ben Gurion. Airport security can’t take a joke anywhere these days: JFK, Frankfurt, Madrid, Moscow, Singapore, Sydney, Honolulu, Bogota, Mexico City. No one’s airport security suffers fools gladly.
Equally important is the reality that creating disturbances makes travel miserable for innocent third parties. Whole airports can be closed down for hours merely because someone has been unintentionally stupid. When things like this happen to me, I don’t blame the authorities, and I don’t think most people do. If I were in the terminal at Ben Gurion, I would assume the same thing about security detaining a bunch of loud-mouth protesters that I would think about it if I saw it in an airport anywhere else: that the protesters were in the wrong, and security was just doing its job.
People’s tolerance for having their air travel messed with, by irrelevant third parties engaging in political shenanigans, is at an all-time low these days. Air travel is annoying enough as it is. Even if the fly-in protesters can pull off some kind of video moment at Ben Gurion, I think they have miscalculated the effect it will have. How many people do you know who would look at a group protesting host-nation policy in an airport and feel sympathy for them? I very rarely deploy this word, but I think it’s appropriate here. I’m pretty sure most witnesses, regardless of their political sympathies, would think the protesters were morons.