Fear and Intimidation: My Abduction by Israeli Undercover Police
7 Dec 03
What does the Israeli government have to fear from nonviolent civil disobedience against the occupation that it would spend so much time, money and energy into the abduction and arrest of a 25-year-old female American non-violent human rights activist?
In the ten months I have spent in the West Bank as a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement I have grown to be prepared for anything; Palestinian schoolchildren forced to wait for hours at checkpoints or farmers detained and beaten by Israeli soldiers while picking olives with their families.Nonetheless I never thought I would be observed, followed and abducted by undercover Israeli police as I was on Thursday December 4.
Let me start from the beginning.
I was arrested along with nine others in November, 2002 during a peaceful march by Palestinians, Israelis and foreigners against the construction of the Wall in the West Bank village of Jayyous , four miles inside the Green Line.My lawsuit against the State of Israel for this unlawful arrest was originally scheduled for Thursday, November 27, a couple of days before my scheduled departure from Israel and the expiration of my tourist visa.However, state defense attorney Yariv Ligomsky managed to postpone my testimony for one week through a technicality.To comply with the delay caused by the state attorney, I had to buy a new plane ticket and overstay my visa by 5 days, as I was unable to renew the visa due to Ministry of Interior strikes.
I testified in court on December 4.Never having testified in the past I had assumed the cross-examination would be difficult, or even tricky, however Yariv's questions seemed logically inconsistent, irrelevant and at times downright stupid, something which I believe Judge Geldstein noticed.Yariv made such blunders as producing pictures of the Jayyous demonstration showing Israeli soldiers shooting at civilians and grabbing at a video camera, thus helping my case by providing evidence of the Army's violent actions against peaceful protesters.(It should be noted however that Yariv was accompanied by a more intelligent and better-dressed sidekick Gutman, who coached him at times during the hearing).
When the testimony finished, I, along with 6 Israeli and international human rights activists left the Tel Aviv Court and caught a bus downtown to eat.Fifteen minutes later, as we got off the bus and began to walk I was approached by an undercover plainclothes police officer who said I was under arrest for illegally entering Israel and asked to see my passport.As I was rummaging through my purse two other plainclothes officers appeared popping on navy blue police caps.The first police officer (who was seen at my testimony) began to push me, saying that I needed to go to a van "over there".As I was instructing my friends to call my lawyer Shamai Liebowitz, the police officer, shouted "SHUT UP, SHUT UP, NO TALKING, I AM POLICE", pushing me in front of a bus, and then across the street in the pouring rain.There I saw an unmarked white van.Before I had time to close my umbrella, the police shoved me into the van, closed and locked the doors with great urgency.
Inside the van I asked the police how they knew I had an expired visa before checking, the reply: "We are the police, we know everything."
I was driven to an Immigration Detention center in Holon (outside Tel Aviv), where I was met by a very angry Border Officer who refused to identify himself.I asked him three times what his name was and he replied, " I'm a border agent that's all you need to know."
I asked if I could call my lawyer, and he said "after". At which point he questioned me, and I stated that I would answer his questions only with my attorney present.He told me that I would be transferred to prison and deported from Israel "AGAIN, you know what I talking about" (But I have never been deported).
While this was happening, my Attorney Shamai Leibowitz was on his way from the court with a judge's decision saying that I had to appear in court within one hour, and demanding to know why the police kidnapped me in such a manner.I asked a police officer guarding the room where exactly I was being held and he told me: "You don't answer our questions, so we won't answer yours."
At 7pm I was told to get ready, as it was my turn to go.I managed to stall for a bit, but just as I received a text message from Shamai that he had arrived the police began moving me out.The police officer and I arrived at a door and I heard Shamai's voice on the other side-. The police officer suddenly urged me the other way and I said, "Shamai!?"The door opened a crack, but I was not allowed to speak to my lawyer, and was taken back to another area several feet away.A few minutes later the police decided to disobey the judge's orders and take me to the airport.As a policeman grabbed me and began to take me away, I heard Shamai say, "don't touch her", and I said, "don't touch me, don't touch me, Al Tiga Be (Hebrew for don't touch me)" and "you are not allowed to touch me, you're a male officer," at which point he let me go.A female officer came, handcuffed me severely and dragged me out.
I spent the night in a cell near the airport and in the morning was police-escorted to a hearing in the Tel Aviv court. (They even escorted me into the ladies restroom-what did they think, that I would jump out of a nonexistent third floor bathroom window?)To our surprise state attorneys Yariv and Gutman arrived-over an hour and a half late-and urged a third judge to transfer the hearing to another a court.They then told a fourth judge that I should remain incarcerated until deportation because I would "hide" in the Occupied Territories and not board my plane, and that every time I come to Israel I go and "illegally" stay in Tulkarem and West Bank villages, defying the prohibition on entering "Area A."In reality there is no Israeli prohibition against foreigners staying anywhere in the Occupied Territories .
In the end I was released late yesterday (Saturday) night after 53 hours in illegal detention.A sum of 5,000NIS (approx. $1,000) was deposited under the conditions that I would remain under house arrest in Tel Aviv until my flight on December 12 at which time my friend Ronen would personally deliver me to the Airport Immigration Police.
Yariv appealed this decision to the High Court, asserting that I should be incarcerated until my departure from Israel .(He withdrew his appeal today, Sunday.) Now I am under court-ordered house arrest in Tel Aviv, unable to leave the home of an Israeli friend.
Why did the Israeli authorities go to such lengths, and send an undercover team to abduct and deport a non-violent, human rights activist?Why didn't police simply arrest me at the courthouse after my testimony, if I had broken the law as alleged?What threat do they think I pose?
Clearly, Israeli authorities wanted to arrest me away from the press, my lawyer and supporters, and put me on a plane before this illegal step could be blocked.They are afraid that a legal suit like mine will publicly demonstrate that the methods they are using to crush non-violent opposition in the Occupied Territories are both illegal and immoral.The fact that the police chose to pursue elaborate tactics of fear and intimidation indicates that the Israeli government will not tolerate even nonviolent opposition to its policies.
My arrest is yet another example of the efforts by the Israeli authorities to prevent non-violent groups like ISM from s upporting Palestinians in non-violent resistance to the Occupation and to the construction of the Wall deep within the West Bank, and to stop groups like ISM from getting information out to the world about the daily human rights violations committed against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
Fore more information call:
Radhika Sainath (English) - 065 203 596
Ronen Eidelman (Hebrew or English) - 053 561 580
Attorney Shamai Liebowitz (Hebrew or English) - 064 414 505