Saturday, December 24, 2011

“Conversation” (?) or rather, Interrogation # 1

I have described elsewhere how the Tahrir was boarded on afternoon of Friday November 4 2011 by overwhelming Israeli military force. Immediately following the assault on our vessel, we were all searched at gunpoint and most of our property and equipment confiscated. We are searched again at dockside in the port of Ashdod and then strip-searched in tents set up in a warehouse, before being bused (two of us in handcuffs and leg shackles) to an immigration processing centre. 

From the moment of my forced arrival in Israel, I repeatedly asked all the Israelis I met (and there were dozens over the course of those hours) for four things: I would like my passport returned, I would like to speak to a lawyer of my choosing, I would like to meet with Canadian consular staff and I would like to have our property (including our boat) returned. My repeated requests were of course ignored or dismissed. The following reconstruction of one of those “conversations”, based on notes I was able to take shortly after the events (while in prison and traveling home that week), is  necessarily partial (in both senses of the word: incomplete and somewhat biased) but they offer a flavour of what it was like interacting with Israel officials.

Security interview at immigration processing centre, Apartheid State of Israel, night of November 4. After finger-printing and being offered (and refusing to sign) a form which recognizes that I have entered Israeli illegally, I was selected to a “conversation” with a security officer. Three other plainclothes officers are in the room in addition to the interrogator, who begins by denying that he works for the security services.  

I do not work in security, I just have to ask you some questions to fill in this form. What is your name?
You have all my documents, you know my name. When will our confiscated property be returned?

Later. Your place of birth?
Also on my passport.  I would like to speak to my lawyer now please.

Mother`s name and father`s name?
What does it matter to you? Can I see my consular representative now please?

I need this information to fill out this form…
So, what are your mother and father`s names?

My parents? Their names are Avram and Sara.
Are Sarah and Avram proud that their son is an accomplice to piracy and kidnapping?

I ask the questions here. Your passport says you are 45, you don’t look that old.
Pacifism keeps us young, you guys should try it. Speaking of my passport, can I have it back please?

Not now. Did you know there was a military blockade of Gaza?
I do not recognize your authority to enforce that blockade: it is illegal in international law. Can I please contact Canadian consular officials now?

We do not agree about the legality of the blockade.
There are a lot of things we are not going to agree about, we could be here a while if you want to cover them all. Can I please see a lawyer now?

Why did you come here if you knew Gaza was under a military blockade?
Why did people of conscience go the southern U.S. to challenge segregation? Why did some people hide European Jews during the second world war?

But you knew there was some possibility of physical danger to yourself? Possibly some legal consequences in your country?
There was also danger and possible legal consequences in opposing segregation and in hiding people who needed to be hidden, but those were still the right things to do. When will I have my confiscated property returned?

Later, at the airport. One of the other officers hands him a note on a yellow pad. This was not the first time you tried to travel to Gaza?
It is a matter of public record that I was involved with organizing the Gaza Freedom March in 2009-2010
 and went to Egypt with the Canadian delegation. It is also public information, on our website, that I am part of the Canadian boat to Gaza steering committee and I went to Greece in June and July of this year to try to sail to Gaza. You can also see the stamps in my passport for each of these trips, so there is really no reason to ask these questions. Can I have my passport back please?

Not now. We do not have this information you say is on your website, we do not know where to find it.
I don’t think you brought me here to give lessons on how to use Google. The information you are asking about is freely and publicly available. If you have only obvious questions to ask, can I please see my consular officials now?

He goes to look for some papers in another office, leaving my with his three colleagues.  I ask what their work is, and two of confirm that they work in security, the other says he “
works everywhere”. When my interrogator returns, I congratulate him on his colleagues’ (relative) honesty in at least admitting what their work really is. After more pointless questioning, I am returned to the waiting area with the others.

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