Saturday, 16 July 2011

Released from Israeli jail


Well I spent yesterday trying to chill out after a rather expensive long weekend in an Israeli jail. I guess most people already heard that from the media reports - if not check out http://www.scottishpsc.org.uk (see item; welcome-to-palestine-israel-arrests-jails-and-expels-internationals-en-route-to-bethlehem)

The plan originally was to spend a week with various Palestinian NGOs as part of a deliberate challenge to the Israelis' constant attempts to prevent people visiting the West Bank for any kind of political or cultural dialogue with Palestinian people. If people say they are Christian pilgrims or that they have come as 'innocent' tourists with a hotel booking, the border authorities will probably let them through passport control. But if you're on a human rights fact-finding tour, or a town twinning visit, let alone any kind of volunteering mission, you are very likely to waste your air fare unless you conceal the real motives for your trip. I did this twice. The first time in 1989, when this 'tourist' visited the West Bank talking to prisoners' support groups, advice centres, and so on with a group of (mainly Jewish) lawyers who later founded Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights. The second time I was a volunteer English teacher for a few weeks, after a visit to my former art teacher now living in Jordan, and again presented myself at the Allenby Bridge as a 'tourist'. The third time, July 8 2011 at about 3.45pm, I had the following interesting conversation with passport control:-


First passport official; why have you come to Israel ?
Anne: to go to Bethlehem to visit Palestinian friends.
Official; Are you going to the conference ?
Anne; What conference is that ?
Official; stand aside.
Second official; Where are you going?
Anne; Bethlehem
Second official: where will you stay and what will you do ?
Anne: I have an invitation to visit the Al Rowwad arts centre - it's a theatre, arts and educational centre,with various children’s projects. They will arrange accommodation.
Second official (indicating waiting room);go in there please .

That was enough to get me four days in jail, and as I learnt only after being put on a plane back to Luton, an 'access denied' stamp in my passport.

After an hour, there was another bigger waiting room, EXCLUSIVELY for the 40-50 people (many French) who had arrived that afternoon to join the Bethlehem trip organised by several Palestinian NGOs (see http://www.palestinejn.org). There was no further questioning at all, not like they usually do if they are seriously considering your request for an entry visa. Just waiting, until after about two hours the border police boss said he wanted to take us to a 'hotel' one by one. I instantly had a feeling that this would be more like Harmondsworth than the Hilton. Our passports were visible in a pile, each with some kind of dossier attached. But we weren't getting them back, and if we wanted to go to the toilet, it was with a police escort. Eventually 23 uniformed men, some army, entered the room and grabbed the first person to drag him out - a French guy who looked of Algerian parentage. We linked arms to protect each other and stay upright. But several people didn't and got bruised as people, hard chairs and luggage all fell about in chaos. Eventually we all filed out and were led downstairs to the toilets, hand luggage searched, patted down, chivvied out to a waiting vehicle. No explanation at all. No chance to say anything. Some people, mainly men, got handcuffed - starting with a brave Scot who shouted, as one of the soldiers got up on a desk with a video camera; 'this is all a put-up job so they can show the media WE are being violent'. Which we certainly weren't! It was all them.

The vehicle might be called the Black Hole of Ben Gurion. We sat in it from shortly after sunset -maybe 8.30 at the latest? - until well after 11. It was all metal and had been sitting in the sun with the fan off, at least 30 celsius inside. Twenty eight women in 23 hard metal seats. The men, and the last four women, were in little box-like compartments, some handcuffed - see photo on
http://www.swanseapalestine.org , look for 'more uk citizens to be released tonight'. After an hour, they turned the fan on intermittently, but kept turning it off as it was clearly linked to the cattle-truck battery. A bit later we banged on the doors and shouted for water. They brought 2 litres for 28 women. (We might have had the odd bottle in our hand luggage but they had taken that away.)

Dehydrated and very hungry, we finally got to the Giv'on prison after midnight. Another couple of hours of waiting with hardly any access to our hand baggage. We could see it in a corner with a guard standing over it. They brought a water urn, a box of apples and a few take-away-like containers of rice and chicken, enough for only one between 2 or 3 women. We were searched again and phones, cameras, money, belts and so forth confiscated for the prison safe. Finally to bed in cells with 6 bunks each, a stinking squat toilet cubicle and filthy floor, and lock down till the British consul arrived to see us at 9 am.

Well treated, claimed the Israeli press releases. Well if you call it that, with about 3 hours in the exercise yard over 4 days, and locked in the cells (so that we couldn't even move around the corridor)for about 16-17 hours each day. I'll grant the Israelis could teach HM Prisons (whose catering I fortunately never suffered) a thing or two about food - with raw peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, apples and yoghourt even a fussy veggie like me didn't complain. Though by 10 am Saturday, having had a few spoons of rice and two apples since landing, I was like a wolf and barely wanted to say hello to my French cellmate till I had eaten breakfast. Horrifying what jail does to life's small courtesies - I kept thinking of a certain Primo Levi novel.

The legal (or any other basis) for our detention remained a mystery. Our consul reckoned at first we would get a deportation notice, our Palestinian lawyer (working pro bono for I think the Red Crescent)said there was a right of appeal, but it rarely got anywhere. Later the story was we were 'in another dimension' as one prison official put it, or 'in transit' as the consul was told. So we didn't have the rights even of immigration detainees pending deportation - who according to the notice in the corridor, could have cellphones and money with them, and a right to a court hearing. We clamoured for permission to make one phone call, but got it only by Monday.

The men's block was incommunicado from us until 4pm Monday, when all the UK citizens met with a British consular representative. Only then did we learn from the men about three important developments:
1. On Monday morning the men had started a hunger strike, demanding an explanation for why they were detained -- though they never received an official explanation.
2. On Sunday evening they had been told they would be allowed to make phone calls on Monday morning, but then this offer was restricted to those who would eat -- i.e. break the hunger strike.
3. On Saturday afternoon a couple Israeli border officials visited the prison to offer that the over-55s could go to Bethlehem if they signed a document saying they would not approach zones where there was conflict with the Army -- e.g. Bi'lin, Silwan, Jayous, etc. After much discussion, the older men agreed to accept the travel restrictions -- if the offer was extended to all the men, regardless of age. They made that proposal to the border officials, who gave no response.

Why the age limit? It was probably a proxy for 'We do not want these young Arabs in our country on any terms', since most of the French and Belgian youths were of North African descent. By analogy, in 2009 Israeli ruled that only the under-15s and the over-50s males could go pray in Al Aqsa during Ramadhan and for a few weeks afterwards. Insidiously, age was being used as a marker for ethnicity. The border officials' offer aimed to instrumentalise the older men to isolate and stigmatise the younger ones.
On Tuesday we were locked in cells most of the time and called out in twos and threes to get ready for the airport. The Luton flight was the last - all accepted it except for four brave Welsh women who wanted to have a go at an appeal, but they never got it. They are now back - see http://www.swanseapalestine.org/2011/07/bbc-welsh-palestinian-activists-put-on.html for their story.

And a wonderful welcome at Luton from several of my friends and local Green party people who had come out at midnight to meet us. Thanks everybody!

Was it worth it ? The Palestinians who had invited us thought so. It's highlighted how impossible is the cultural and political future of a country where if you leave, you may not be allowed back in, and if you have visitors, they may be arrested. Rather like a giant prison, in fact. Activities that would support any peace process like educational and cultural exchanges, town twinning visits, aid and human rights work are all made far more difficult by these kind of restrictive immigration practices. Since the Israelis won't say if they will let you in till you get to the airport, they're not even really immigration 'rules'.

Should people feel sorry for us ? Probably the people to feel sorry for are the Palestinians themselves. When they go to jail, it's often for weeks, months or years of arbitary detention with no trial, or a perfunctory military court, and quite a few beatings attached. And all over the West Bank, there are constant attacks on unarmed civilians with tear gas, rubber and plastic bullets and sometimes live ammo, sometimes against people who throw stones but very often against people who have done nothing violent at all. Even during the time we were in jail, some horrendous things were going on; see for example
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-14134711

The Palestinian academic who coordinated the 8th July 'Welcome to Palestine' week, Mazyn Qumsiyeh, is sure that non-violent resistence is the key to advancing the Palestinian cause. Look at the web site, http://www.qumsiyeh.org/ and do read his books. They will inspire you, as they did me.

Written by Anne Gray who has a blog here.

14 comments:

Martin Francis said...

Welcome back and thanks for taking the time to let us know about your experience. The Israeli's actions once again betray their lack of respect for human rights.

Viridis Lumen said...

Fascinating account and it shows what anyone wanting progress in Palestine is up against. Well done on taking such a courageous stance and, while you are right that it is the Palestinians who suffer most, many would not have taken the risks you did to highlight this important issue.

I hope you don't mind, but I have put a link to this article on my own blog.

No. 6 said...

you misguided middle class joo-haters are hilarious.

The dozy bint wants to try being in Hamas' custody and see how much she likes it. Not so long ago so salafist fascists slaughtered an Italian Peace Activist in Gaza, perhaps for not wishing every living jew dead and every homosexual murdered etc. Be careful who you mix with.

I imagine when the Nazis were wiping out the jews in 43, you'd have claimed pacifism excused you from going and doing anything about out.

At least your harmless.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Anne for all you do for human rights in the UK and abroad.

The comment from 'No. 6' demonstrates the indifference toward Israeli-induced human rights abuses and hostility of those at the airport who called the welcoming committee and returners 'Jew haters' as they rammed into us with our luggage.

And it needs to be pointed out as per Early Day Motion 1360 'Never Again for Anyone Initiative' by John McDonnell MP in the UK Parliament, and has been acknowledged by non-bigoted Jews, that before the Nazis went for the Jews they went for disabled people who they portrayed as 'useless eaters'.

EDM 1360 proposes replacing 'Holocaust Day' with 'Genocide Memorial Day'. As the title says, 'Never Again for Anyone'.

Alan Wheatley

Anonymous said...

urggh!

"genocide memorial day"? You really are deeply unpleasant.

And when we remember the Holocaust, as I do in the school I teach in, we remember the gypsies, the disabled, the communists and trade unionists etc, not just the jews.

What do you have against the Jews? Holocaust Memorial Day has NOTHING to do with Gaza, or Israeli policies and an attempt to get it renamed, is in my view, anti-semitic and comes from a very fucking dark place indeed.

I am not a Zionist, Jewish nor do I have any connection with Israel at all.

Anonymous said...

"Deeply unpleasant" is something I have not been called before. Maybe I should have added the 'Never Again for Anyone' bit to 'Genocide Memorial Day'?

The full text of Early Day Motion 1360 reads:
"That this House welcomes the Never Again For Anyone Initiative by survivors and descendents of survivors of genocides, which declares that every life is of value; notes that disabled people were the first victims of Nazi mass murder, that working class activists and trade unionists, many of whom were Jewish, were the first to be sent to concentration camps, and that Nazism targeted not only Jewish but also Roma, Jehovah's Witnesses, lesbian, gay and bisexual people and others they deemed undesirables; and therefore supports the call for international awareness of all communities and countries who have suffered and resisted mass extermination by renaming Holocaust Memorial Day as Genocide Memorial Day - Never Again For Anyone."

As for what I may have against 'the Jews', I have Jewish friends and have long appreciated the works of songwriters such as Phil Ochs and Leon Rosselson. And my friend Debbie Fink of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods tells me that Leon Rosselson is a member of Jews for Justice for Paliestine.

It is the human rights violations of the Zionist nation that I cannot tolerate, and for your of unknown identity to say: "Holocaust Memorial Day has nothing to do with Gaza and Israeli policies" is to be burying your head in the sand or some other occluded place while apologists for Israel's denial of Palestinian human rights generally uses accusations of 'anti-Semitism' as a shield to detract attention from what the Israeli state does to define itself as a religious state.

Alan Wheatley
Alan Wheatley

Mike Shaughnessy said...

With refernece to our anonymous contributors analogous comparisons with Hamas. It should be noted that it was the humiliating way that Israel treated the PLO, that gave way to the more 'extreme' Hamas organisation. If Israel was prepared to negotiate a just settlement with the Palestinians, a way forward mutual to all might be found.

Tony Greenstein said...

I see our simpleton Zionist can't even spell 'Jew'. It's not 'joo'!

I see that our Zionist fool is judging Israel's human right standards by those of Hamas! Fair enough. How long before comparisons with the Nazis and you telling us that at least you're not exterminating anyone?!

In fact Hamas was almost a wholly owned creation of Israel in order to undermine secular Palestinian nationalism in the 1980's. It was they who helped them whilst repressing secularists. Much like the US strategy in Afghanistan in fact.

And our anonymous twit fails to tell us, because he's probably a sucker for Israeli propaganda, that throughout its history Israel has sought to demonise one group or another as an excuse for not having to allow the refugees to return, for confiscating more land and for always looking over their shoulder to ensure the Arab birthrate wasn't too high in the Jooish state (as our fool would call it).

And our gullible Zionist refers to the murder of an Italian peace activist in Gaza. True. Do we want to detail such things as the attempted murder of holocaust survivor and peace activist Prof. Ze'ev Sternhall by Zionist terrorists? To say nothing of Rabin, Bernadotte and all the others who didn't stick to the Zionist script?

I don't know why Zionist fool refers to 1943, then the holocaust started in 1941 and most Jews were killed in 1942? I guess s/he's trapped in the frozen past.

Anonymous said...

Tony, you sound angry. Do you think I'm jewish? Calm down dear.

Joo is often used when taking the piss out of people like you. Hamas wish to see the joos wiped out. Simple. It's in their charter. And whilst I could meet you halfway with a lot of things, when you start defending organisations like that, you're out of the game. But do keep it up. It reads well.

I mentioned '43 as it is in the middle of the war. I have relatives who fought the Nazis and saw things first hand at the end of the war. Lazy, naive (however well-meaning) people like you would see them happen again through your very simplistic view of the world - such as writing me off me as a Zionist (and probably everyone who disagrees with you too).

I don't know why you try and say it started in 41 and generally demean or play down the entire thing, although that tells its own story. Any secondary school history teacher will tell you perhaps somewhere near half of the total number of concentration camp deaths between 1933 and 1945 occurred during the last year of the war as the Nazis desperately tried to cover their tracks / finish the job

I'm not a zionist. I'm not a jew. I'm a socialist. Get over it.

Alan "some of my best friends are jews" Wheatley... nice one, keep digging.

glenda regan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Anonymous who call yourself a socialist and do not sign off with an identifying name:

It seems to me that there is nothing I can say that can have any effect on you that I desire.

Like I inferred, I judge people by their actions rather than by their stated religion -- and then you infer that I say insincerely, "Some of my best friends are Jews."

I shall draw a close to this discussion because I have to balance and prioritise my time as a campaigner.

While Palestinians in Israeli-occupied territories are under siege from Israelis whose settlers spit on indigenougs children on their way to school, a company called ATos harasses sick and disabled people in the UK with the connivance of the Department for Work and Pensions.

As an example of that, a woman sitting in the waiting room of an Atos Healtchare Medical Examination Centre [sic] told the support worker of a learning disabled adult who was also due to be 'assessed' that she had waited over a year for the tribunal, which she won. The week after getting her tribunal outcome, she got another summons from Atos to reapply for the same benefit that she had just won the tribunal for.

And while that company is paid £100m per year by DWP, it takes the DWP Disability Benefits CEntre more than two months to wade through the 'sandbags' on the assessments and appeals section floor, during which time the DWP's right of appeal gets timed out.

So, clearly, Atos and the DWP have found a new way of harassing the vulnerable.

Tony Greenstein said...

Our anonymous coward asks whether I think s/he is Jewish? To be quite honest I don' give a flying fuck. Whether an anti-Semite comes in Zionist or Christian clothes is of no concern to me. Racists come in all colours but with only one message.

The anonymous fool believes 'joo' is a way of taking the piss - possibly - but only out of her/himself - assuming s/he was any water worth passing.

And then the anonymous cretin repeats a mantra that s/he believes will be more true for repetition. The new Israeli created bogey wants to wipe out all Jews. Now that may be understandable. After all, if soldiers come to your house, shoot your children, target your bedroom, shoot you in the back - and all in the name of the Jews - besides scrawling graffitti about gassing Arabs on the wall and stealing your possessions, you might indeed wish vengeance on 'the Jews'.

What is remarkable is that the Palestinians, with very rare exceptions, do not possess such hatred. Compare this with the thousands of Israeli Jews who marked Jerusalem Day recently by marching in the Arab quarter chanting 'death to the Arabs' or the widely praised, by hundreds of Arabs, of Torat HaMelech, Book of the Kings, which justifies the cold blooded murder even of Arab children and suckling babes.

Whereas Jews who come to Gaza, like Amira Hass, are welcomed if not feted. Reality speaks louder than words and I'm not fan of Hamas, as my blog demonstrates. Yes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion ae in the Hamas Charter since that is one way the powerless demonstrate what they think is a way of antagonising their oppressors.

But as I said, Israel has always needed an enemy. 1984 all over again. Go read your Orwell, you might learn something of the need for a permanent enemy to keep the children on guard.

We all have relatives who fought or died at the hands of the Nazis. Difference is that you are so ashamed that you hid behind 'anonymous' so who knows whether you are a christian Zionist or not? Who cares even since the only think you have learnt from Hitler is that racism is right.

The Nazi extermation began with Operation Barbaross in June 1941, that's why I stated it started then. Before the opening of Chelmno in December 1941 there had been no gassing, except for an experiment with RUssian POWs in Auschwitz in September 1941. The Einsatzgruppen, killing squads, began their work in the wake of the army in Russia in June 1941. Now do u understand?

I'm afraid you are ignorant. The majority of deaths didn't occur in the concentration, as opposed to extermination camps, of which there were 6. Sorry but you are so pig ignorant you are unbelievable. Try reading Raul Hilbergs monumental 'Destruction of European Jews' and stop bothering people with your ignorance.

You say you are not a Zionist or Jew but a socialist. Not you are a social imperialist and chauvinist. You blame the victim, the Palestinians and turn a blind eye to the fact that Israel has just passed a Boycott Law which outlaws free speech and the fact that it has a fascist Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

You are about as much of a socialist as Ramsay MacDonald or Tony Blair. So there's nothing to get over, bar your illusions in yourself.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Tony

While I agree with the thrust of your arguments, I disagree with likening Zionists to people with mental disabilities.

I believe the term 'ignoramus' would be more appropriate in such matters.

Alan Wheatley

Deborah Fink said...

It is interesting how so many apologists for Israel post anonymously. Does this cowardice arise because they don't have the truth on their side? Or maybe in this case it's because he wants to pretend that he is not Jewish when he might well be.

I also see that he makes a personal attack on the messenger- Anne Gray- another sign of having lost the argument.

Then he calls Alan unpleasant- probably a projection. But what is interesting, is that this idiot says that he is a teacher. God help his pupils. Maybe this is a result of government cuts - they can only afford to employ ignorant bigots!

In referring to 'joo haters' he no doubt seeks to conflate Jew with Zionist, to get a knee jerk reaction and implication of anti-Semitism. By tarring all Jews with Israel's brush, he himself is being anti-semitic.

By the way, it's 'you're', as in 'you are', not the possessive noun 'your'!

I find his remarks offensive, but I think the moderator was right to let them through to further expose the Zionist lack of argument.