Monday, 2 April 2007

A frightening story from Israel

An academic friend of mine, Mazher, was invited to speak at an EU-organised conference in Bethlehem last week. However, he wasn't to reckon on the traumatic turn of events which occurred no sooner than he had arrived on Israeli soil. I don't know quite what to make of the way the Israeli security services treated him, or even of the underlying political climate. But what I do know is that this incident seems to be symptomatic of a wider disregard for justice and jus ad bellum. Just look at the treatment of Tom Hurndall.

"I went to Israel on Monday but unfortunately, the Israeli authorities refused me entry; I was interrogated for 12 hours and was racially abused, Islamphobic comments were made, they strip searched me and, they refused to give me any food to eat while I was detained, they threatened to charge me with terrorism charges, but eventually they put me on a BA flight back home".

The flight left at 10.30pm from Heathrow; we arrived at Ben Guerin airport for 4.20am on Tuesday morning. Everything went fine until I reached passport control where the Israel authorities came and took me and Dr.M. Siddque aside; they started to question us both separately. They were asking me why I was coming to Israel and how long I would stay there. I informed them that I would be staying till the 15th of April and that I had been invited by the EU to come and speak at a conference that was arranged by them at Bethlehem .

After this they made me go back to a waiting room, where Dr. M. Siddque was waiting for me. They informed that they wanted to speak to me again, but they told Dr Siddque that he could go I was then taken to excluded room where after this they interrogated me, for 12 hours.

Initially the interrogation was carried out by passport officers who behaved professionally but after four hours approx the interrogation was taken over by M.O.D officials.(as I was informed by them)

They accused me of lying and being un-cooperative and subjected me to a humiliating and unnecessary strip search, whilst I felt naked and vulnerable the officers began psychologically abusing me by insulting my race and religion in general and specific ways. For example, one officer said “All Arabs are barbarians” and his colleague replies “wasn’t Mohammed an Arab?” They made further references to Islam and the Prophet Mohammed suggesting that his wives were prostitutes and he was a child molester.

I tried to remain calm and dignified and told them “I am British.’’ They responded by calling me a 'Paki Bastard'.

I was very frightened by this point because it seemed likely to turn physical and I felt very threatened and vulnerable. Although the officers never became violent the threat of violent was implicit and the psychological torment continued.

They threatened to charge me with terrorism offences and told me they had informed my parents I had been held in Israel on terrorist charges. I was really frightened by this because I did not know how to disprove such an unfounded accusation and it made me concerned for the well-being of my family at being presented with such a shocking lie.

The officials from the Ministry of Defence (MOD) then went through my luggage, this must have taken about an hour they copied numbers from my phone and took photo copies from the documents that I had, these documents were from Parliament and the universities and the organisations that had invited me out there, also I showed them evidence of were I would be staying.

By this time I had not been to sleep for longer then 24 hours and could barley keep my eye’s open and I was very disorientated. Throughout my entire interrogation they refused to give me any food to eat.

Once the officials from the M.O.D had finished interrogating me they informed me that they had refused my entry in to Israel . They then handed me over to Immigration who questioned me for an hour with the same questions, they had 5 officials standing around me and two of them were armed. Whoever was interrogating me they always had a few officials standing around me. All they ever telling me was that I was not telling the truth and that I was holding information from them, and that I was lying.

Once they had finished interrogating me they put me in a back of a van and took me to a heavily fortified building. Here they interrogated me again for a while and then locked me up in a cell, after about an hour they took me to another building, we had to travel by van again, were they interrogated me again for about an hour and they then escorted me on to the plane.

The officials from the M.O.D let me phone my Consult, but they informed me that my Consult can not help me as I had not been given a visa, which turned out to be true".

Mazher tells me he's in the process of taking this to the authorities as I speak. Let's hope he gets somewhere.

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