(TORONTO (January 10, 2003) — Hi everybody. I’m writing this personal update from the local internet joint at the Peanut Plaza, just near my mom’s place in Toronto. I was deported back to Toronto from Israel, and arrived early this morning. Just wanted to pass along a quick update, in my own words. If you want some of my actual writing from Palestine, just e-mail me at email@example.com.
1) THANK YOU
Again, my thanks and gratitude to everyone who helped me after my recent nabbing, detention and deportation. I’m overwhelmed by your support and solidarity. Thanks to all of you, in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Nablus, Beit Sahour, Montreal, Toronto and elsewhere. I’d like to particularly thank the members of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) and the No One Is Illegal campaign in Montreal, and the incredible organizers involved with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Palestine.
2) THE NABBING
I was intending to return to Toronto from Tel Aviv this Saturday (January 11), on my original return ticket. The past few days I was wrapping up my visit in Jerusalem, conducting more interviews (especially with ISM activists in the territories, who were observing the recent Israeli clampdown firsthand; I left Nablus just hours before the recent Tel Aviv bombing), and finishing up a couple of writing pieces.
I decided to do a bit of sightseeing in Jerusalem on Wednesday (January 8) — my first break — away from the Arab Old City where I’ve been staying. I spent a couple of hours at Yad Vashem (the Holocaust memorial and museum), and wandered a bit through nearby Mount Herzl, where the main founders and leaders of Zionism and Israel are buried. I took buses around a few neighborhoods, and walked through the Mahane Yehuda market before heading to my friend Jonathan’s house in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Ever since my first release from detention here, I’ve not really been hiding from the Israeli authorities, but at the same time, I have not gone out of my way to announce where I am. Visiting Jono’s home was a risk, since it was the one address the Israeli police had in their possession — I provided it upon entry at Ben Gurion Airport. Still, I was at the end of my trip, and I really didn’t think the Israeli authorities would care enough to either stake-out Jono’s house, or tap phones to determine my location. I was wrong.
I walked towards Jono’s home around 6pm on Wednesday night. I actually wasn’t sure if I had the right street, and I asked someone at a nearby bus stop. He said, rudely, that he didn’t know. I walked ahead, and sighted Jono’s place. I was literally metres away from his door when the exact same man at the bus stop, and two others, in plainclothes, blocked me, grabbed my arms, and proceeded to take me to a nearby car. I just yelled Jono’s name over and over again, hoping he’d hear. Jono did come out, and we managed a few words to each other before the undercover agents (who I later determined to be Israeli police) forced me into the unmarked car.
3) THE BEATING
I was taken in the car to a police station (what I later learned was the Jerusalem Police Station in the Russian Compound). In the car, I asked the three men who they were, and they pushed their police IDs into my face. I asked why I was being arrested (knowing, of course, that they were probably nabbing me for overstaying my visa in Israel, and for “illegally” visiting the West Bank and Gaza), but they didn’t seem to know. They just knew they had to get some brown Canadian, and were quite concerned when they couldn’t find a passport on me. The officers in the back punched me at least twice, seemingly because I resisted getting into the car while trying to talk with Jono.
At the police station, I was taken up to an office, where the three officers proceeded to search all my belongings, looking for a passport, as well as anything they would consider incriminating. My bag had oranges, nuts and dates that I bought at the market, a booklet on the Holocaust from Yad Vashem, my notebooks, and a lot of literature about the Palestinian resistance struggle that I got from the Jerusalem Alternative Information Centre, as well as phrasebooks for Hebrew and Arabic, and a Lonely Planet guide.
It was a rough situation in the office. The police officials threatened violence, yelled at me, and treated me brusquely. I consistently repeated that I wouldn’t cooperate with them until I talked to my lawyer — Shamai Leibowitz — or the Canadian Embassy. After going back-and-forth like this for at least a few minutes, the police asked for “Aron”, in whose office we seemed to be. Aron, who was also in plainclothes (in a Nike shirt and jeans), was short, somewhat pudgy, and had stubble on his bald head. It was Aron who actually beat me.
He first came up to me and, biting his lips, proceeded to slap my face hard twice (hard enough that my glasses flew off my face). He pulled my hair back hard, and choked my neck with his other hand, all while trying to knee me in the groin (which I deflected with my legs). He spit in my face, literally millimetres away, and told me he’d could kill me if he wanted too. One of the other police officers, who I don’t recall, was holding my body as this was happening.
They demanded that I strip, and I again refused. Aron punched me in the stomach, and forced me to stand by grabbing my neck. I’m not sure how long this beating lasted, probably less than a minute, but it seemed longer. In any case, I was crying and shaking (in my underwear by that point, since I decided to comply with the stripsearch), begging for him not to hit me again. The police made me take off my underwear, and grabbing my hair, made me turn around and squat down.
Later, the police were jokingly calling me Gandhi, apparently since I never fought back (even if I did, and I had every right to do so, I was outnumbered and simply not prepared to fight back against police).
Later, Aron calmed down, and he actually sat and chatted with me for at least a half hour. He seemed to enjoy my company, since I spoke French, and he was a mizrahi (Oriental Jew) from Algeria who enjoyed speaking the language (he even offered me tea at one point). As long as the discussion was unrelated to me or my visit to Palestine, we continued talking about all sorts of topics (sports, Israeli politics, food, Algeria).
Aron’s beating, in retrospect, seemed controlled, done to force me to comply (or at least partially comply, since while I agreed to strip, I still didn’t answer any questions about my visit). His beating left no visible bruises or marks; it just left me hurt, shaking and scared. At the time, the beating seemed so abrupt and arbitrary, I was afraid it would happen again.
After at least two hours in the station, without being able to talk to anyone on the outside, including my lawyer or the Embassy, I was taken to the jail just beside the police station. Again, I was stripsearched, had my belongings searched, and placed in a cell with seven other inmates. We all had our own bunks. All the inmates were Moroccan Jews, and one of them spoke good enough English so that we could communicate. I ended up sharing the food I bought at market with them, and settled in for the night.
4) MINISTRY OF INTERIOR
The next morning, I was taken offices of the Ministry of the Interior somewhere in Jerusalem, this time handcuffed. Again, on leaving the jail, I was stripsearched, and had my belongings ransacked (in the neverending quest to find my passport, which I told them I didn’t have with me).
At the Ministry of the Interior office (I don’t think it was their main offices, but a subsidiary, perhaps to deal specifically with illegal immigrants) I was first put in an office waiting area full of people who, on appearence, seemed like they were of Chinese, South Asian and Eastern European background. They all seemed anxious and worried. I was soon moved to a private office, and this time Ministry bureaucrats were trying to get info from me, and I again refused.
One official, who spoke fluent English, was given the task of reading thru my notebooks (again, my belongings were searched). My handwriting is basically illegible to anyone but me, but she still took note of certain pages. At one point she asked me what was written on one particular page; I replied: “That sentence says “I would like to talk to my lawyer,” and that one says, “I would like to talk to the Embassy.”” She had enough of a sense of humour to laugh, and actually tossled my hair.
Actually, the whole Ministry of the Interior experience was surreal. On the one hand, a variety of bureaucrats, and sometimes police, came in and out to question me, sometimes quite aggressively. But all this was happening while the bureaucrats and cops were flirting with each other incessantly. Two people — a man and a woman — actually played with handcuffs in front of me, chaining themselves together in all sorts ofpositions. Another police officer was flirting with another woman in the office in his lap, partially undressing her blouse. At one point, three people were comparing their butts, commenting on their good and bad qualities. Eli Yishai, the ultra-orthodox Interior Minister, would have a heart attack.
By lunchtime, I was invited to join everyone in their conference room, which had a large screen television. I sat down and had lunch with them, and actually helped prepare an improvised salad with tomatoes and olives. They had an argument about whether to watch MTV, or a soap opera. The soap opera won out.
In the afternoon, a police official, who had originally questioned me, on my arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, arrived in Jerusalem. We were put in an office together at the Ministry offices, and he tried to interrogate me for over an hour. Again, as long as the topics had nothing to do with my trip, we talked. At one point, I managed to elicit from him that he was responsible for immigration matters. It was at that point that I began to speculate that my nabbing was done by a squad of cops that are dedicated to rounding up illegals, and that I was basically being dealt with like any other illegal worker, which is why I was in the Ministry of Interior offices.
The officer, named Tomel, was upset that I wouldn’t answer his specific questions, and promised that I would spend time in prison because I refused to cooperate. I napped alone in an office, until four rather young police officers came in towards the end of the afternoon. They placed leg irons on me, as well as handcuffs; I was put into a minivan and driven away.
5) THE DEPORTATION
The officers were taking me to near the city of Ramle, to the Maasiyahu Prison which is specially designated for illegal immigrants. I had learned about the prison while writing one of my first dispatches from Palestine — in reference to the case of the illegal Palestinian worker Jihad Abu Id — and now I was going to spend at least a few nights there.
The trip to Massiyahu was like a roadtrip. The four police officers, three men and a woman, blared music and banged heads, made a few stops for pop and cigarettes, and had a lot of fun making all sorts of dangerous traffic manouveres. One officer was trying out some new Nikes, and actually consulted with me about the special sonic arches that were included in the box. The instructions for them were in English, and I helped him figure out how to use them.
At Maasiyahu, we waited for at least a half-hour outside. Then, we turned out of the prison, and headed into Ramle’s city center. We parked in the garage of a shopping mall, and I initially thought that maybe these officers were going to do some shopping! I was led into the shopping mall, walking slowly in leg irons and handcuffs, just confused with the whole situation. The shoppers seemed oblivious to the presence of someone in leg irons in their midst.
It all made sense when I was taken into a police station connected to the shopping mall, and I was eventually told that I would be deported immediately. I was finally able to talk to my lawyer by cellphone, while six officers stood over me listening. Two Canadian consular officials, Perry and Tammy, came to Ramle to arrange for my deportation (specifically, a one-day special passport). I told both my lawyer and the consular officials about the beating the night before, the first people I could relate the experience to.
I was then driven to Ben Gurion Airport, by the same police crew, who this time had a more mellow ride with a Pink Floyd soundtrack.
At Ben Gurion, I was put into a special waiting area, which was full of at least 25 Chinese and Thai men who were to be deported. The waiting area was cut off from the public, in a separate building. Many of the men seemed devastated; one was in tears. Talking to two of them, I determined that most of the men had been picked up in police roundups in the past few days as illegal workers (ie. individuals who had overstayed their work permits). Some didn’t even have all their belongings. At one point, an Israeli co-worker of one of the Chinese workers came to the airport with a suitcase of belongings. They were both crying. There was also a separate section for women who were to be expelled.
I waited at the airport for hours, and had to submit to one of Ben Gurion’s notorious departure searches, with my belongings thoroughly ransacked once again. At least this time, knowing I was going to be deported anyways, I could be snarky and defiant. I got supportive nods from two other men who were being searched. I was eventually escorted, towards midnite, by two new police officers onto the Air Canada plane.
On the plane, I was introduced as “the deportee” to the head stewardess, who welcomed me to Air Canada and directed me to my seat like any other passenger. As it happens, the plane was full of Birthright participants (a programme that allows young Jewish students to visit Israel for free for 10 days). Some of them whispered that I was the Concordia guy as I walked down the aisle, but otherwise, it was an uneventful return to Toronto. I just read and napped.
6) A FEW POINTS
Please don’t judge my visit here based on mainstream media reports that have been really superficial and sometimes misleading. I came here to Palestine like many other people, to volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement, and to write about the situation here, from my perspective as a social justice activist and an alternative journalist (as I’ve done so before in India and elsewhere). My visit to Palestine is directly connected to the organizing work I’m involved with in Montreal, most specifically with the No One Is Illegal campaign, as well as support for Palestinian solidarity work with SPHR and a ISM-Montreal group.
I managed to write quite a bit in Palestine, and would have written more in my last few days in Jerusalem if I stayed. If you haven’t seen any of this writing, or heard any of the community radio reports I did, please get in touch and I’ll pass them on. That writing is how this visit should be judged, and not the fact that I was arrested, detained, nabbed, beaten and deported. The latter details are important, and I’ve had to deal with it, but the focus should clearly be on the day-to-day work of Palestinian activists and groups that confront and oppose the Israeli occupation.
7) FOLLOW UP
The ISM continues its anti-Apartheid Wall campaign, and I encourage everyone to check the ISM website for updates at http://www.palsolidarity.org. They are doing some crucial work.
In Montreal, activists involved with SPHR, ISM-Montreal, Jews Against the Occupation and other groups continue their Palestine solidarity work, and there are several events planned for the upcoming months.
My visit to Palestine was directly connected to the No One Is Illegal campaign in Montreal. There are several ongoing projects as part of the campaign, including ongoing ally work with the Algerian Non-Status Action Committee. For more info, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Ive been forwarding to most of you reports and dispatches from Palestine. I had been working on a major piece about the Balata Refugee Camp, as well as a dispatch from Nablus, but I’ll have to postpone these pieces as I wait for some of my belongings to be shipped back from Jerusalem (including several mini-disks of interviews that were the basis of those articles).
Ok, enough for a personal update. Just wanted to get some of the details out of the way, and process the recent couple of days. And, a lot of you have been writing to me, so Im responding all at once. Please stay in touch everyone. And I’ll be sure to forward some of those last dispatches just as soon as I get my minidisks back from Jerusalem.
— Jaggi (Toronto, January 10, 2003)