Beating Israel’s activist deportation system, this time

On May 9 of 2003, Flo Razowsky was in the media office of the ISM in Beit Sahour when it was raided and ransacked by Israeli Occupation Forces. Flo was charged with being in a “closed military zone” and, after a legal fight, was deported back to the United States. Prior to her arrest, she was a member of the Camp Against the Occupation in which more than 30 ISM volunteers and hundreds of local Palestinians participated in actions against the Apartheid Wall. Above, Flo (center) on the opening day of the Camp Against the Occupation. (ISM)

On the 3rd of March 2005, I left my home in the United States for Israel.

This was my third trip of this kind, in order to work on the ground in Occupied Palestine, in solidarity with Palestinians and their allies opposing the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.

I was expecting trouble upon arriving at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, as I had been forcibly expelled by the Israeli Authorities one year before due to this same work against the occupation.

My expulsion at that time was based on false charges brought against me by the Israeli Ministry of Interior stating that I had resided illegally in Israel.

When I arrived to Ben Gurion on the 4th of March, I was pulled aside at passport control, as I had expected.

I was taken to a security room where my bags were searched for over an hour. The entirety of my belongings was gone through, including my toothpaste, books, and food.

After the search was over, I expected to be taken to an officer of the Shin Bet (Intelligence Agency) for an interrogation. I was looking forward to this interrogation, as I was planning to be open and upfront about my beliefs and opposition to the occupation, and expecting to have to fight their order to expel me based on that honesty.

To my surprise, I was never taken to the Shin Bet. After my belongings were searched I was told by an agent of some sort that I was not allowed into Israel because I had been there one year before without a visa.

I was then handed over to an immigration policeman and taken to the Ben Gurion Detention Center. This center is for individuals awaiting expulsion from Israel. I was put in a room with two Swedish women who were also being denied entry into Israel and were awaiting a flight out.

I was told by the head policeman at this facility that I would be put on an airplane at 5am the next morning. I told him that I had a lawyer, was fighting being denied entry and refused to willingly get on the airplane.

For hours, every time this officer would come near my cell he would repeat to me that I would be put on a plane at 5am the next morning. Every time he told me this, I would repeat to him that I would not get on that airplane.

At 4am the next morning, this same officer plus one, came to my cell and told me to get ready for my flight. Once again, I told them I would not be entering that flight and that I was only trying to save them time and energy instead of them having to drag me and all my luggage to the airport and back. Every time I reiterated that I would not be taking the flight, the officer became increasingly aggressive with me, yelling and threatening physical force. Being scared of the officers physically hurting me, and realizing that resisting them taking me to the plane would probably not work, I told them that I would go with them, but I would not take the flight.

In an immigration police van, I was taken to the airplane, escorted by two immigration officers up an external staircase and into the passenger entryway of the plane. My ticket and passport was handed to the flight attendant at the door, who seemed to be expecting my arrival. I immediately approached her and told her, in front of the passengers entering the plane, that I was being put on this flight against my will and would not cooperate with the rules if they kept me on the flight.

After moving into a quieter corner, the flight attendant asked me to repeat myself, and questioned what kind of trouble I would cause if I was kept on the flight. I told her that I would not sit in my seat, would not turn off my cell phone, and that I would talk loudly throughout the aisles.

She seemed taken aback and went to speak with the head flight attendant, who then came to hear my story. I repeated to him what I had told the first attendant and was told to wait while they spoke with the police who were waiting outside to ensure that I was on the flight when it took off.

During this time, I was shaking considerably as I was scared to not be refused by the flight crew. One of the other attendants seemed to notice my anxiety and gave me a glass of lemonade to sip.

I was called to where the head attendant and the immigration officers were talking and told by one of the officers that I had two choices; willingly go on this flight, or be put on a flight at 9pm that night in handcuffs and shackles with an armed guard sitting next to me. I told him that I would not be getting on this flight willingly. He repeated again that I had two choices, I again repeated that I would not willingly get on the flight.

The officers became angry with me at that point and began to tell me that I was putting myself in a bad position. They handcuffed me, shackled my feet and took me back to the detention center.

At the detention center, I was put into solitary confinement. It was dark outside, yet the lights in my cell were turned on and not shut off until midday. Beginning that morning, I was treated quite aggressively by the guards.

I was not allowed to call my lawyer at any point in time, I was not given food for a twenty hour period, the lights in my cell were only turned on starting at 2am, and every time one of the guards passed my cell, they kicked and pounded at my door.

I was told that I was to be taken to a plane at 4pm that day and there was no way I could refuse, that they would use as much force as necessary to get me on the flight.

I spent six hours in fear of that impending flight, not sure if I had the energy to withstand another attempt on their part to send me off, but knowing that I was not interested in leaving.

One hour before my threatened flight, my lawyers were able to get a freeze on me being kicked out without first seeing a judge. I was relieved that at least for a day or two, I would not have to worry so much about being stuck on a plane, although the immigration police quite often put people on planes while they are awaiting court dates.

I still was not allowed phone calls to my lawyers, fed nor had lights except after 2am.

I had been expecting a court date either Sunday or Monday, so was not surprised when the guard came and told me to get ready to leave. He affirmed that we were going to court when I asked him, but then told me to gather my bags. I became confused and asked him why I would take my bags to court, but he said we were not going to court, we were going to the airport. Immediately, I began to refuse, thinking that we were heading to another airplane. He told me that I had won, I was to get a visa and be allowed into Israel.

I was shocked. At first I didn’t believe the officer and though he was only trying to trick me, but I got in the van with him. We went to the airport, and after thirty minutes, I had a visa and was sitting in a car to Jerusalem.

My lawyers were able to get me in on a loophole that the Israeli authorities created for themselves. Upon my expulsion last year, the Ministry of Interior signed an agreement with my lawyer that I would be allowed back into Israel as long as they didn’t find new evidence of me being a security threat.

Over 130 internationals that work with the ISM and other international peace groups that work against the occupation have been black listed by the government of Israel for their peace work.

This tactic on the part of the Israeli government attempts to criminalize activists that do not agree with their policies in order to eliminate outside witnesses whom bring international attention to the daily atrocities created by the violent military occupation of Palestine.

This time around, I have been able to beat the system. Next time, I might not be as lucky as so many other internationals haven’t been, and as so many thousands of Palestinians aren’t every day.

Related Links

  • International Solidarity Movement

    K. Flo Razowsky is a Minneapolis, Minnesota resident and long-time peace activist.