France urged pro-Palestinian activists, who plan to visit Bethlehem this month in solidarity for residents of the occupied West Bank, to avoid joining the operation given there was a high risk of being detained or turned back by Israeli authorities.
About 1,200 Palestinian supporters throughout Europe have bought plane tickets for the visit on April 15 to help open an international school and a museum at the request of a local organization called “Welcome to Palestine”.
A similar, though smaller, operation last year led to a few hundred activists being blocked at European airports.
Deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said on Monday that while Paris wanted foreigners to travel freely to the West Bank, Israel had made it clear it would not allow anybody who threatened public order to enter the country.
“France is concerned by the risk of incidents ... as part of ‘Welcome to Palestine’ operation” he said. “For this reason, we advise our citizens to not take part in this initiative given the risk of being turned away or being detained.”
The West Bank has been occupied by Israel since a war in 1967. Some 2.5 million Palestinians and about 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Palestinians, who want to create their own state together with the Gaza Strip, object to illegal Jewish settlements, trade restrictions and scant water supply, and their limited autonomy.
“Our goal is to show, unlike our politicians, there are women and men and many people in the world that are upset about this situation, that care about Palestinians,” Olivia Zemor, coordinator of the French contingent, told Reuters.
“We are coming to show the world we are not prepared to give up human rights and international law,” added Zemor.
Additional reporting by John Irish; Editing by Alison Williams