Israel the prison screw keeps out visitors bringing books
DANGEROUS hidden message? "Teddy's House"
ISRAELI human rights activist Jeff Halper sometimes uses the analogy of a prison to describe the kind of freedom Israel at its most "generous" is prepared to concede to Palestinians. The warders will withdraw, leaving the inmates a series of cells, but of course keeping them surrounded, controlling their movements, and reserving the right to go in any time and punish them.
Israel's supporters insist it is "the only democracy in the Middle East", to which some wags have added "and it intends to stay that way by smashing any others". And then there are those who'll admit things aren't perfect, but admonish us against any interference with "academic freedom" and contacts, usually claiming a "rwo-state solution" is in the offing if we'd only give it a chance.
Which picture does this story fit?
British Labour MP Dr. Lynn Jones and eight other women have just been deported from Israel while on a trip to build links between Ramallah and Birmingham. The
Israeli authorities ordered them out after they arrived from the Midlands. In May 2005 some of the same group were refused entry to Israel.
The MP for Birmingham Selly Oak had set out with Yvonne Washbrook president of Birmingham Trades Union Council, and Respect party councillor Salma Iqbal
The trip aimed to build links with women in the region following a number of fund raising efforts by Birmingham's Ramallah Twinning Committee.
They were told they faced jail if they refused to get on a plane home.
Birmingham's Ramallah Twinning Committee chairman Kamel Hawwash said: "We are very shocked that this should happen again. The delegation's visit was discussed at length with the Israeli Embassy in London and details of the participants and their itinerary were provided to the embassy as requested. The women had gone to develop links between the citizens of Birmingham and the citizens of Ramallah and were due to meet Palestinian women and children's organisations. We had raised money for a children's library and nursery at a refugee camp in Ramallah and the women were due to check on the progress of these badly needed projects."
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/07/30 15:41:24 GMT
The delegation was deported from Israel, a sovereign state exercising its right to exclude people it doesn't like, right? Both sides did it in the Cold War, so don't say "the only democracy in the Middle East" is behaving like a dictatorship.
But Ramallah is not part of Israel. It is in Occupied Palestine. Under the international agreements which Israel has signed the city is the centre of the Palestinian Authority, since Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem. On May 24 the British Foreign Office condemned an Israeli military incursion into Ramallah which left four dead and more wounded. So Israeli troops can go to Ramallah, but foreign delegations can be stopped. Some earnest of a "two state solution". More like the prison regime described by Jeff Halper.
Why were Lynne Jones and her delegation stopped anyway? "Security Reasons" always used to be a good standby for excusing unreasonable behaviour and silencing further questions.
The Labour MP and the Birmingham delegates were attempting to deliver books to a children's library in Ramallah. They were turned away after exhaustive questioning.
"We were kept for 11 hours without being offered any food or drink other than water"., she told a Birmingham press conference. "It was quite outrageous to suggest we were in any way a security risk - our mission was of peace and reconciliation."
Dr.Jones said officials at Ben Gurion airport had even scanned children's books for explosives. The MP stressed that the Israeli embassy had been fully notified of the group's plans, even being provided with their passport numbers in advance.
"This visit has been planned since last year when a similar visit had to be cancelled because the same thing happened to the women involved. I got involved because of what happened last year."
Sitting near some of the children's books, which included titles such as Teddy's House and A Martian Comes To Stay, the politician said a variety of reasons had been given for the decision to deport them. "They said we needed a special permit to enter the Occupied Territories and then changed their tune. It was as if they were looking for any excuse."
Samantha Owen, who works at Birmingham's central library, said the children's books had been collected to help build a library for youngsters in a refugee camp who had "absolutely nothing". Kathryn Day, a children's centre worker from Birmingham, was the first to be quizzed by Israeli security staff.
As another of the women sobbed nearby, the 44-year-old said: "I was interviewed by a man who said his nickname was the Devil. "He told me that he knew why I was here and that I had to tell him. "I said 'We are just here for the twinning committee', but he just kept on and on at me.
"He threatened me with MI5 and said he was going to send me straight to MI5.
"I started crying because I really was terrified."
The twinning committee's chairman, Kamel Hawwash, said: "The delegation's visit was discussed at length with the Israeli embassy in London and details of the participants and their itinerary were provided to the embassy as requested.
"The women had gone to develop links between the citizens of Birmingham and the citizens of Ramallah and were due to meet Palestinian women and children's organisations.
"We had raised money for a children's library and nursery at a refugee camp in Ramallah and the women were due to check on the progress of these badly-needed projects."
A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in London said: "The group was informed verbally and also by way of written communication that we would not be able to guarantee their entrance. Nevertheless, the group decided to go."
In other words, if they feel like being bastards they will be.
Considering the times we heard about inappropriate old textbooks with anti-Jewish passages in use in Palestinian schools, and BBC Panorama's inspired (we can guess by who) expose on Hamas charities, it's worth noting how the Israeli authorities act firmly to guard against the threat from "Teddy's House", and the commandos from Birmingham central library.
It's probably not the most oppressive action taken by any state's security services this year. Just an act of petty spite which demeans and disgraces Israeli officialdom. If the British government cared about the dignity of its MPs and the rights of its citizens, let alone those of the children of Ramallah, it should protest and where appropriate retaliate. Israeli officials' movements in Britain could be restricted. But I am not holding my breath.
It will be left to citizens, here and in Israel, to find ways of acting, and undermining the authority of those who behave so abominably as to interfere with children's books. We used to call them Little Hitlers, but. I dare say there's a more pc expression for such an official. Putz, maybe.