Israeli authorities deported four Turkish students Thursday who were planning to visit Jerusalem. Despite obtaining visas from the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul, the students were held by Israeli intelligence officers overnight at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and deported the next morning after a lengthy interrogation.
Ömer Faruk Balta, one of the students, told Anadolu Agency (AA) they were held on Thursday evening at the airport's passport control point and taken for no reason to an interrogation room. "While they did not say a single word about what was happening, we were subjected to repeated interrogation and occasionally violent interventions," Balta said, adding they and their belongings were also searched a number of times. Balta said their visas were also cancelled before they were deported.
He said they believe the intelligence officers' actions were part of an Israeli project to eliminate Jerusalem trips from the agenda of Muslims. Balta stressed that they had intended to visit Jerusalem purely for tourism purposes as well as seeing the Muslim holy sites. "We absolutely did not act provocatively. Our only goal was to see Jerusalem. However, Israel's strict stance has prevented it."
For Muslims, Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound represents the world's third holiest site. Jews refer to the area as the "Temple Mount," the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times. Israel occupied East Jerusalem where Al-Aqsa is located during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. In a move never recognized by the international community, it annexed the entire city in 1980, claiming it as the Jewish state's "eternal and undivided" capital. Israel's relations with Turkey have severely deteriorated in recent years as it stepped up its campaign against Palestinians and tightened its blockade of the Gaza Strip, to the chagrin of Turkey, an outspoken defender of the Palestinian cause. Israel is also accused of arbitrarily detaining Turkish visitors in the country, keeping them at the airport for hours for "security" reasons before sending them back to Turkey.