Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lies, misinformation and manipulations

Our very first contact with Israeli authorities involved them telling us what turned out to be one in a series of deceptions and outright falsehoods. Their initial radio hails suggested that they only intended to board the Tahrir and the Saoirse in order to inspect the ships, then if they found nothing that contravened their own (arbitrary and unilateral) blockade rules, they would allow us to continue our peaceful voyage. Of course, once they boarded us they clearly had no such intention: though they quickly confirmed (to no one’s surprise) that there were no arms nor munitions of any kind on board nor anything else that might violate their arbitrary blockade rules, they announced that they would be taking the boats to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

It was to be part of a pattern of lies, misinformation and manipulation.

When we announced Freedom Waves from international waters on November 2, an Israeli Occupation Force spokersperson said that they had known about our sailing for some time (funny how they never said anything until we went public that afternoon…  and how their forces seemed relatively unprepared for us a couple of days later). She also said that we were headed towards Israel. On this point either their vaunted surveillance systems are badly flawed or they were also lying. As shown here:
the course we set once we left Turkish territorial waters, was always through international waters towards Palestinian territorial waters off Gaza. At no time did we set a course towards Israel or towards Israeli waters – which of course never stopped the Israeli hasbara machine from lying about where we were headed.

When we were forcibly removed from the Tahrir on the evening of November 4, we were strip-searched and tagged with plastic ID numbers on wristbands (the historical irony of putting ID numbers on captives' arms seemed to be lost on our captors) and then told to identify our property from a table of confiscated satellite phones, cameras, computers, USB keys etc.  We were promised then that our property would be tracked by that ID number and returned to us when we left the country. Another lie: none of this property was returned when we left: they questioned us about some of the items but none of them has been returned, as we were promised. For the TV journalists from Al-Jazeera, Democracy Now! and PressTV, the stolen property is valued in the tens of thousands of dollars.

After being searched at Ashdod, we were taken to an immigration processing centre (possibly in Holon, south of Tel Aviv),  where we each were offered an “expedited deportation” process:  if we would sign a waiver giving up the right to a hearing before an Israeli judge, they would deport us within 24 hours. If we did not sign,  they said we would be deported after our hearing before a judge, in three days. None of us were interested in a hearing before an Israeli judge, but we nonetheless were not interested in signing their document. Only Canadian Ehab Lotayef from Montreal signed, since the document contained no admission of guilt, just a waiver of a right of appeal which he was not interested in exercising. Perhaps he could be deported to Egypt in time to celebrate Eid with his family on November 5? But the period of 24 hours came and went, with no expedited deportation for Ehab. After two days, Ehab signed another version of the same document. Still no expedited deportation. On the fourth day (not the third as we had been told) we were brought before an Israeli immigration judge. Asked about the expedited deportation for Ehab, he did not have any answer. He said everything about our case was more a matter of ‘policy or politics’ than a matter of law. Maybe we would be held for two weeks, maybe for two months—it depended on “up above”, not on him as a judge.

In the end, Ehab was deported on the sixth night of our imprisonment, just like others (Mike Coleman from Australia and myself) who had never signed any waiver. The whole “expedited deportation” offer was clearly bogus from the outset. Previous flotilla participants had been deported quickly because Israel wanted rid of them and the PR liability they represented; in our case, the longer detention and threats of extended detention were intended to try to intimidate future sailings that challenge the blockade of Gaza. During my second and final interrogation in the hours before our flight from Tel Aviv to Toronto, the security agent in charge of that “conversation” suggested to me that “maybe you will make the flight home with your friend, maybe you won’t, depending on how this conversation goes.” I eventually boarded that flight home with Ehab, but a similar departure-manipulation game was played out against the four Irish comrades who had been brought to the airport at the same time as us: they were schedule to leave on a flight on the morning of Thursday November 10, but their departure was in fact delayed until later that day.

Recent history suggests these attempts at intimidation will not work: there were only a few Irish and Canadian participants in the 2010 Freedom Flotilla, and despite the killings of eight Turks and one U.S. citizen on the Mavi Marmara and the detention of hundreds of Flotilla participants in Israel, the movements came back stronger than before, with an Irish boat and a Canadian one in 2011.

The deceptions and misinformation continued during our whole time in Israel.

Even on the most petty level of information, we became accustomed to assuming that whenever an Israeli official spoke to us, it was probably a lie or some kind of misinformation, at best a half-truth. None of us had watches or clocks with us (they were among the items confiscated) and the one clock in our prison block’s guard room would show random (clearly wrong) times throughout the day: when we asked the guards about the time they would just shrug or ask each other what time it was. A small matter for most of us, with prison time being marked primarily by meal-times and lock-downs in our cells for counting, but for the two Muslim men in our cell-block, knowing what times of day they should pray was a significant issue. At dawn and dusk we could hear the adhan (call to prayer) from outside the prison compound (the town of Ramla has a significant Palestinian Muslim population), but for the rest of the day we were left guessing about the time: completely unnecessary, but also clearly calculated to contribute to our overall sense of disorientation.

There were three payphones in our prison courtyard, and signs (in a number of languages) explaining that we had the right to buy phone-cards in the prison cantina or to have people bring us phone cards. We asked the Canadian consular to bring us phone cards: the prison staff told us they never came, but we later heard that the consular staff had brought them but they were not allowed to send them to us. When we asked about using the phones, we were told that we would have to take it up with the prison "manager" who was not around the prison at that time: moments later, when the block door was opened for someone else, we saw the prison manager standing outside in the compound. All petty, completely unnecessary  lies.

When we arrived back in Canada at Pearson Airport in Toronto, we were of course starved for news of the world: one of the international stories that week was the unintentionally published conversation between Sarkozy and Obama commiserating about what a liar Netanyahu is. This just confirmed our first-hand impression based on our several days of interaction with the Israeli state: all lies, all the time.


  1. I love reading these dispatches, but if I were interviewing you for a story, I would ask about what you leave out. Were you afraid? Did you fear you'd be held for a very long time, tortured, or both? Did you stay calm, and if so, how did you do it? If you were willing to share your feelings, I'm sure your readers would be interested. If not... I understand. :)

  2. Excellent questions all, Laura, and eventually I hope to address them as I work through my notes, and my memories -- a slow process, as life (and death) gets in the way....