Deported by Israel, but not discouraged

The hills of north Palestine as seen from south Lebanon. (Stefan Christoff)


Under an open morning sky, Palestine’s golden hills lit up the horizon. Fast approaching via taxi from Amman, Jordan, strikingly beautiful landscapes rushed by until Israeli military installations multiplied at the edges of the border line to the occupied West Bank.

The World Education Forum had just begun in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, where thousands of students, teachers and activists from around the world had gathered to express support for Palestinians’ right to education. More than fifty individuals traveled from Quebec, Canada to join the conference, including more than twenty members of Fédération nationale des enseignantes et enseignants du Québec (FNEEQ), a Quebec-wide teachers syndicate, and one of the first major unions in both Québec and more widely, Canada to back the growing global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.

I was previously refused entry into Palestine in 2003 when planning to join the International Solidarity Movement. My second attempt to enter Palestine via land borders controlled illegally by Israeli occupation forces was rooted in both my involvement in the World Education Forum but also to once again attempt to join in person Palestinian grassroots activists engaged in popular resistance to Israeli apartheid.

This time at the land border crossing, immediately after entering my name into the computer, Israeli officers told me the wait. After a while, I was taken to an interrogation room and questioned about my involvement in Palestine solidarity work, specifically the growing BDS movement. They asked me for the names and phone numbers of comrades in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere. After six hours shifting between waiting rooms, holding areas and interrogation stalls, I was told: “You will not be admitted entry into Israel.” With multiple bright red Israeli stamps reading “entry denied” littering my passport, I was put on a bus back toward Amman.

I was deported by the Israeli government for publicly expressing support for and participating in the growing global movement for Palestinian human rights and freedom. Israel’s increased deportation of witnesses and activists such as myself comes as the solidarity movement including the call for BDS gains momentum around the world.

Despite growing collusion with Israel by the minority Conservative government in Ottawa, a grassroots movement across Canada in support of Palestinian freedom is growing. In Montreal five hundred artists signed an open letter backing the cultural boycott against the Israeli government and a wave of major unions have endorsed the BDS campaign. In October, hundreds gathered for the first Quebec/Canada-wide BDS conference, pointing to the emergence of a vibrant social movement for justice in Palestine.

In the past decade waves of international solidarity activists have traveled to Palestine to witness apartheid first-hand. Solidarity visits and delegations have played a key role in shaping international solidarity with Palestine.

In response, Israeli occupation forces have blocked the borderlines and the state has deported hundreds of social justice activists to prevent them from witnessing the reality on the ground and building solidarity with Palestinians resisting the occupation in the West Bank. Israeli occupation forces have also systematically prevented leaders of the Palestinian grassroots movement from traveling abroad and telling their stories. Meanwhile, Israel has imposed severe travel restrictions on anyone attempting to travel in or out of the occupied Gaza Strip — Palestinians and international observers alike.

It is certain that Israel’s policies to limit access to international eyes and ears will crumble in the face of the ongoing steadfastness and daily resistance of the Palestinian people, supported by the global BDS movement. It is with hope and inspiration that we will continue to walk forward toward a free Palestine.

Stefan Christoff is a Montreal-based musician, journalist and social justice activist with Tadamon! (http://www.tadamon.ca/). His Twitter feed is http://www.twitter.com/spirodon.