Saturday, December 31, 2011

“Conversation” (?) or rather, Interrogation # 2

As previously discussed, my reconstructions of these questioning sessions are necessarily partial, in both senses (somewhat biased and somewhat incomplete), since they are based on summary notes which I took shortly afterwards and my own (fallible) memory.

My final security interview at Ben Gurion airport immigration holding area, Apartheid State of Israel. Just before midnight, night of November 9, prior to my deportation by an El Al flight to Toronto on the morning of November  10. This time there was an interrogator plus two other plainclothes officers, who said little but frisked me (yet again: after over a dozen searches in six days, it is not as if I can actually have anything of interest hidden on my person at this point. Ritual searches seem to be a national pass-time in Israel). I am offered coffee and sweets, which I decline.

My name is Dani. We are going have another conversation before deciding whether you can board the plane back to Canada.
When will I get my documents and my confiscated property back?

We don’t know anything about property. You will get your passport back from the flight crew. I am going to ask you some questions now. How are you feeling?
How would you feel if you’d been kidnapped, assaulted and robbed?

You were hurt? Can you tell me by who and when? Do you need anything now?
I was kneed in the thigh and bruised when I was removed from the Tahrir by force. I didn’t get any names or badges, it was dark.  What I need is our boat to be returned, can you arrange that?

I don’t think so.  What is the name of your organization?
The Canadian Boat to Gaza, this is a matter of public record, you can find us on the internet. Can I have my Canadian consular representative present for this interview? (Ehab and I had met with the vice-consult shortly before).

No, he has left already. How many people are involved in your organization?

What do you mean, enough?
I mean that we have enough volunteers to keep the organization running.

Where do you live?
Also a matter of public record: London, Ontario, Canada.We were told we would get our electronic equipment returned before we board our flight out of Israel.

I don`t have any information about that. Where did your boat depart from in Turkey?
That is public information, you can find it on our website and in our press releases. Do you need help with finding information on the internet too? I thought Israelis were supposed to be good with technology. 

I don’t have a computer here. Maybe you can tell me where and when you left from in Turkey?
You have my passport (he is holding it, I point and he opens it). There is a departure stamp in it: see, the port of Fethiye, November 4.

And is that where you arrived in Turkey?
This information is also in my passport:  see, an entry stamp on October 29. Can I have my passport back now?

No, not now. So where did you stay for the time between your arrival and your departure?
I stayed at a hotel between the airport where I landed and the port of Fethiye.

How far from the port did you stay?
It’s maybe 45 minutes or an hour’s drive.

How did you get there?
I shared a taxi with some others delegates, and some of the journalists.

You were responsible for getting the journalists to the port?
We shared a taxi to split the cost. People were responsible for getting themselves there.

You were in charge of contacting and organizing the journalists?
They didn’t need a lot of organizing, mostly.  Different people contacted different journalists and media outlets.

But you were in charge of controlling the messages to the journalists?
We don’t try to control what journalists say or write, unlike you. We just let them do their jobs.

He consults a yellow note pad. How did you learn so much about computers?
I laugh out loud.

Did I say something funny?
If you think I know about computers, your sources are even less reliable than I thought.

We know because we have this picture. (he shows me a print-out of this photo:

 which was published on Rabble on November 3 -- so apparently they did have people capable of searching the internet afterall).
That is a picture of me at a computer on the Tahrir. I think everyone on board used the computers at different times – you know, to send e-mail and stuff.

But someone must’ve been responsible for setting up the communications systems.
Different people did different tasks. We work as a team. Can I go now?

Not yet, the night is still young. Maybe you will make it in time for your flight. Do you consider your campaign a success?
At this point, yes. I will have a better idea when I see the media back home.

You successfully kept your departure a secret.
Wouldn`t you, considering the sabotage that happened to another boat in June?

We do not agree that was sabotage.
As I told one of your colleagues the other day, there are a lot of things we aren`t going to agree about.

He asked many more questions, some of them frankly bizarre: when and why I had learned French and Spanish, did I know much Arabic (almost none), then he offered “advice” about what variety of Arabic I should study. He asked about my colleagues at the University of Western Ontario French Studies Department, about why a university professor would be involved in challenging a military blockade, about my contacts with Gaza and my history with the peace movement.  I gave answers which were as short as possible, sticking as much as possible to publicly available information. He eventually came back to a question his colleague had asked earlier:

You do not look as old as the age shown in your passport.
(For that I had a variant of the same answer as earlier):
 Solidarity keeps us young, you guys should try it.
For which he had clearly prepared  a (somewhat menacing) response:
Maybe it would be safer for you to try something less dangerous to keep young, like sports perhaps.
He concluded:
Maybe one day there will be peace between our countries and you can visit Israel under different circumstances.

I hope one day to visit a free Palestine.

I was not taken back to the airport detention cell where I had left Ehab, Michael and Fintan, but rather directly to a jeep with screened-in back seats. My bag and Ehab’s were already there. I got in alone, then heard Ehab speak to me through the screen and I realised he was in the other rear compartment which I could not see. We were driven directly to the tarmac, our bags were taken out, then Ehab was marched up the steps to the airplane. After what seemed like a very long wait (was I going to be taken for questioning again?) I was finally ushered up the steps and on board. Ehab and I were seated together at the rear of the plane; we did not receive any word of our confiscated property, and we only received our passports from Canadian immigration officials at Pearson airport after being escorted there by a member of the El Al flight crew.

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