Israel deports Italian activist arrested in West Bank raid

JERUSALEM (AP): Israel deported an Italian activist to Italy after security forces detained her during a raid in the occupied West Bank, Israeli authorities said Tuesday, accusing her of having links to a Palestinian militant group.

The Israeli military arrested Stefania Costantini during a pre-dawn incursion Monday into the the Dheisha refugee camp in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.

Footage shared on social media shows an Israeli soldier picking up Costantini and flipping her over his shoulders as she shrieks. A group of soldiers drag her out of the camp and shove her into a military vehicle, videos show. Israeli forces fatally shot a 14-year-old boy in the head during the same raid as they opened fire on Palestinians throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails.

Italian media described Costantini as an advocate for Palestinian rights. Israel’s Shin Bet security service said Costantini was arrested on suspicion of belonging to, and transferring funds to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The militant group, known as the PFLP, was involved in hijacking passenger planes in the 1960s and 1970s and later claimed responsibility for suicide attacks during the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, in the early 2000s. It is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

The Shin Bet said Costantini arrived in Israel on May 2 last year on a tourist visa and was summoned for interrogation last September about her alleged involvement with the PFLP. Costantini did not report to authorities “and even continued her activities” for the militant group, the security agency said. Israel deported her on Monday afternoon, the Interior Ministry said.

The COBAS leftist labor union in Pisa, Italy, to which Costantini belongs, expressed “consternation” at the news of her arrest and deportation. The union said it was concerned for Costantini’s “health and safety.”

The group described Costantini as a specialist working with students with disabilities who has long sought to defend “those whose rights are denied.” Several months ago, the group said, Costantini left her life in Italy and moved to a Palestinian refugee camp. It made no mention of the Israeli security agency’s allegations.

The Italian consulate in Jerusalem did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Israeli and Italian foreign ministries also did not comment.

But on Monday, the day of Costantini’s deportation, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen wrote on Twitter that he held a phone conversation with his Italian counterpart. The readout of the call focused on the countries’ joint efforts to “fight terrorism” and boost their “political cooperation.” It made no mention of Costantini’s case.

Israel has stepped up its fight in recent years against Palestinian activists and rights groups. Last summer, the Israeli military raided and shuttered the offices of Palestinian human rights organizations that it designated as terrorist groups over their alleged links to the PFLP. Nine European countries rejected Israel’s charges against the rights groups, citing a lack of evidence.