Attempt to visit Palestine
I wrote the following article after I was deported from the airport at Tel Aviv with a delegation of women from Birmingham on 29 July 2006, whilst attempting to visit Palestine.
THIRTEEN HOURS IN ISRAELI DETENTION
by Lynne Jones MP
At 5 o’clock on the afternoon of 29 July, I was one of a nine-strong all female delegation who set off enthusiastically from Birmingham for a long-planned visit to the West Bank. Several hours later we found ourselves detained at Tel Aviv airport by the Israeli authorities!
The main purpose of our intended visit was to develop links between the citizens of Birmingham and the citizens of Ramallah and we were due to meet Palestinian women and children’s organisations, as well as Israeli human rights workers. The Birmingham-Ramallah Twinning Committee had raised money for a children’s library and nursery at a refugee camp in Ramallah and the group was due to check on the progress of these badly needed projects.
The mission had been planned for months with my involvement coming after I had facilitated a meeting between the Israeli Embassy and an earlier group of women who been detained in similar circumstances in May 2005.
As a result, the delegation’s visit was discussed at length with the Israeli Embassy in London and details of the participants and our itinerary were provided to the Embassy as requested. I was therefore completely shocked at the way we were treated on arrival at Tel Aviv airport at 3.45 am on the morning of Sunday 30 July.
All of us were interrogated by hostile security staff. The first to be questioned, Katherine Day, was reduced to tears as a result of the threats she received from a man nicknamed “the devil” who boasted about his strong interrogation techniques.
One by one, the rest of us were called for questioning, though in a less brutal fashion. I was then informed we were to be refused entry
Amazingly, the initial reason given was that we had not notified the Israeli authorities of our visit! On being reminded that we had already provided copies of the notes of our meeting at Westminster with Dan Shaham, Director of Public Affairs at the Israeli Embassy, and our email communications with him, I was told that our misdemeanour was not complying with an alleged requirement for a special permit to visit the occupied territories. When I challenged this, on the basis that the Israel Embassy had told us of no such requirement, they changed their tune again. Now the problem was that two of our number had been refused admission previously and such a refusal would bar a person from returning for 10 years, another requirement of which the Israeli Embassy was apparently not aware. There is no such rule.
Despite the fact that the Israeli authorities had made up their minds to deport us (even after the intervention of British consular staff with whom I was in touch by phone) they still insisted on going through all our suitcases, including examining in minute detail the three cases of books for the library that we had brought with us. To my mind this constituted deliberate harassment
Throughout this time, we were given nothing to eat, though we were able to fill our water bottles. To begin with we had been able to use the toilet at will but at the completion of the interrogations, someone decided we were so dangerous that we had to be accompanied whenever we wanted to relieve ourselves. Again, this just seemed like unnecessary harassment.
After 11 hours, we were transported with our luggage to a detention facility where we were eventually given a hot meal. Either because most of the cells seemed to be full or in deference to there being a member of parliament with the group, we were not locked in the cells. Thirteen hours after arrival, we were put on a plane and deported.
During interviews with the media about our ordeal, I have frequently been asked why I think we were treated this way. I can only say that I find the decision not to allow us to carry out our completely peaceful mission is inexplicable and counterproductive. Having been on the receiving end of the sort of arbitrary harassment that Palestinians are subjected to on a daily basis, I can appreciate more than ever the resentment this causes. It saddens me that the Israeli authorities seem completely oblivious to the damage this sort of behaviour does to their standing in the world but perhaps, given the scale of recent far more serious incidences of this attitude, I should not have been so shocked.
It was noticeable that most of the people we saw detained were of black, Asian or Arab origin. I myself had first been allowed through passport control and the first of our group to be stopped (as was the case last year) was of ethnic minority origin.
From contact with the London correspondent of the Israeli newspaper, Maariv Nrg, I learned that she had been given the following comment by the Israeli Home Office:
"The British delegation arrived to the airport without prearranged idf's permission to visit the PA territories as the policies required, even though they have been told the last time when they arrived to Israel that they need to arrange it in advance. And this is the last time they will be able to enter without the permission; The British citizens chose to ignore the policy and we then had to refuse their entry to Israel. If they would have asked for the permission from the idf they could have entered."
As we followed the Israeli Embassy’s advice in full, I have written to Dan Shaham asking why the Embassy did not inform us that we needed to do anything further to secure entry. I await his response with interest.
As for where we go from here, I would like to have the opportunity to explain to Israeli politicians just why their Country is now viewed so negatively in the outside world, including by those like me who will defend the rights of Israelis to live in peace and security. I will look for opportunities through official parliamentary channels to make contacts with both my Israeli and Palestinian counterparts, if the “denied entry” stamp in my passport does not prevent me from doing so!
Finally, I would like to place on record the kindness shown to the group by our Palestinian hosts who were constantly phoning to enquire after our wellbeing. A great deal of work had taken place to organise our visit and I know that its cancellation will have caused great disappointment. Nevertheless we will seek all means available to continue the contacts already made and build further links.
Click here for a press release I issued on 21 July 2006 on a letter I sent to the Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett on the Middle East Crisis
Click here for previous postings on the Middle East