Humanitarian Mission Obstructed: Detention, Interrogation, Deportation of two London surgeons
I was proud to share a platform with Swee at a Palestinian demonstration in south London, and she also spoke at a Jewish Socialists' Group meeting, describing how she came to be working in Lebanon, as well as her experience there.
Swee Chai Ang's parents, practising Christians, had resisted Japanese occupation during World War II. Swee and her late partner Francis Khoo, both of whom had experienced political repression in Singapore, were among the founders of Medical Aid for Palestinians.
A week ago Swee and another surgeon flew to Israel in response to an urgent call for surgeons to work in Gaza.
They were not allowed to proceed on this humanitarian mission. Here is an account of what happened:
On Monday 18 August 2014, Dr Swee Chai Ang, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon and Patron of Medical Aid for Palestinians was accompanied by Dr Asif Chaudry, an Oesophagogastric/ Upper GI Surgeon working at Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital and Chelsea & Westminster Hospitals, to leave for Israel. Both had responded to the call for surgeons to go to Gaza to help treat the wounded a few weeks earlier on behalf of a MAP initiative. At the time of their departure, fifteen London consultants had already applied to work in Gaza.
This initiative was broadly in line though not directly accepted as part of a broader platform supported by DFID and the UK Government in terms of the humanitarian disaster in Gaza. The overall initiative also had the personal support of the Prime Minister, David Cameron as reported by the national media. Whilst applications for Gaza entry permits had been made prior to governmental support, confirmation of approval had not been forthcoming. As both surgeons had arranged for leave from their NHS commitments as the first team, they left as scheduled with the intention of supporting the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza either through direct clinical work or the support of medical training of the doctors in Gaza. Both doctors are Specialist fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.
As there have been widespread reports of the Immigration authorities at Ben Gurion airport obstructing the entry of humanitarian workers to the occupied territories in general and Gaza in particular, and driven by the overwhelming imperative to assist the people of Gaza, the doctors proceeded to Tel Aviv with the intention of travelling to Jerusalem and remaining on standby to enter Gaza through the Erez checkpoint as soon as the permits were made available. The two doctors agreed among themselves that if permits were granted prior to arrival they would declare this at immigration, expecting this to trigger a thorough interrogation; on the other hand If there were no permits granted, they would simply ask for entry to Jerusalem and spend their week’s leave as “tourists” while on standby..
As the doctors boarded an Easyjet flight from London, Luton Airport bound for Tel Aviv, Israel, it was confirmed by Medical Aid for Palestinians that entry permits for Gaza had still not been granted, but the field staff of Medical Aid for Palestinians in Gaza were in negotiation with the Israeli Authorities. The flight departed at 11:10 am. The atmosphere on the plane was very pleasant and jovial, many of the doctors’ fellow passengers on-board were from Jewish families from north London, Eruv areas, and most had children and were in a holiday mood to spend the summer break in Israel.
1. The plane landed 17:40 18 August 2014 at Ben Gurion International Airport, Tel Aviv.
2. Dr Asif Chaudry and Dr Swee Chai Ang approached the Israeli passport control, a large open area with a high ‘modern terminal’ ceiling. Asif proceeded to the desk prior to Swee arriving at the border/passport control before 18:00.
3. From behind him in the queue, Swee could see that Asif was asked almost immediately to go to the security waiting hall for further assessment.
4. The officer at the first security desk, was young, presumably in her early 20s, she was polite, smiling throughout with an engaging manner: a little chatty. Her questions covered preliminary background information and the intended purpose of the visit: Name, Father’s, Grandfather’s name. Where are you going to go, which places will you visit? Asif mentioned various historical sites in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv/ Jaffa. Where are you staying? All questions were fairly brief and polite. Who are you travelling with? The officer seemed to scroll through details on a computer terminal and entered additional details. After a short period she asked Asif to go to a security waiting area/hall and he was told his name would be called. The waiting area was at the rear of the immigration hall, a small secluded enclosure with a few seats and a couple of drinks machines, this felt relatively open but had three uniformed security officers hovering around the entry point, all were relatively young possibly of Yemenite Sephardic background, all also wore IDF identity toggles. There were three offices along an adjoining open corridor. The one to the right had the most junior officers with the seniority of interrogators increasing as one sequentially progressed to the left. The general attitude also became somewhat more aggressive and restrictive as the person progresses towards the left office. There were bathroom facilities around the corner, with a water fountain, at the initial stage of the interrogation process it was possible to access this without any impedance, as matters progressed this was restricted.
5. Swee followed Asif in the queue and travelling as Mrs Khoo was given a B2 visa on a separate piece of paper in under 3 minutes. Swee then asked the passport officer for permission to join Asif in the security waiting hall since both were travelling together. It was granted by the passport officer who remained polite and friendly.
6. Asif returned to the waiting area to join Swee. Whilst waiting they both met two young American TEFL teachers who had intended to travel to teach in Nablus (African American man and White woman, both were subsequently deported). They also met two Italian young men who were questioned for over 4 hours as they had a single UAE stamp. There was also a Palestinian man originally from East Jerusalem who now resides with his Dutch family in the Netherlands. He had travelled to Tel Aviv with a Dutch passport and was desperate to visit his elder brother in his 80s who had recently been hospitalised in Jerusalem with a brain haemorrhage and had a terminal outlook. He had been held for 4 hours, and sobbing at his predicament that despite being in his own land, possessing a Jerusalem ID and a EU passport from the Netherlands he could not enter Jerusalem for just an hour to say farewell to his brother who had raised him. He had not visited Jerusalem for 12 years, and he just wanted to hold his 85 year old brother before he died. Asif later met him again in detention as he replaced him in his bunk later that night. He was being deported back to the Netherlands and had been told by the Israeli authorities he could try fly out to Amman from the Netherlands and cross the Allenby Bridge to get to Jerusalem. This alternative exercise would take at least 24 hours and his brother might have died by the time he made it.
7. After waiting for around an hour Asif was called in for a second interview: On this occasion he was asked to enter the first room on the right where he was met by a stocky young woman in her mid-20s, somewhat dishevelled, who essentially re-entered the same data he had been asked at the first Immigration counter. In addition he was asked to write his email address and mobile phone number in capitals on a pro-forma. This was all fairly brief, less engaging and matter of fact with no real cross examination. He was asked to write down the name of his ‘colleague’. Interestingly, no mention had hitherto been made about a professional connection between the two.
8. Asif returned to Swee in the waiting area. The two waited together for another hour.
9. Asif was asked to enter the third room from the right. He was met by a male security officer, in his early 30s, accompanied by a younger man in his early 20s, both looked tired, were in plain clothes wearing Chinos and casual shirts left untucked. The room looked a little rough, with a principle desk and a smaller desk in the back left corner for the younger officer. There were two separate desktop computers, both looking fairly old. On the wall to the right of the main desk there was a large picture bearing the official emblem of the State of Israel between a photo of ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu and Shimon Peres. The approach in this room was much more akin to a Police interview/ interrogation. The younger assistant took notes, subsequently looked through devices and cross referenced points on the internet.
10. Asif was questioned: So what’s this all about? Why are you here? Why now? Just tourism to Jerusalem? Which places are you going to visit? Why? What interest do you have in them? Are you married? Do you have children? Who are you travelling with? Write her name in capitals on this sheet of paper. Call her in, call her in now! Get out! Get out of this room!
11. Asif asked Swee to enter the interrogation room. The male officer repeated his questions about where the two doctors had intended to go. He knew that Swee already had a B2 visa. He referred to both as colleagues assuming that they were not friends. Asif mentioned that it was his colleague in the previous room who had used the term ‘colleague’, this made him somewhat irate shouting ‘I don’t give a damn about the woman in the other room!’.
12. The focus moved almost entirely to Swee and her activities during her last visit in May. Swee told them that she was mainly in Jerusalem visiting Christian churches, but she also visited the al-Makassed Hospital and a handicapped children’s school. This became a major thread that they probed extensively. He continued to question why Swee had become interested in Makassed, why should a tourist visit a hospital. She told them that she had stayed at the Meridien hotel during the last visit and bumped into some Doctors in the lobby who had suggested she might want to visit their hospital in the Old City, in any case her visit had only been for an hour or so and she had not conducted any clinical work. The interrogator appeared to get increasingly irate and said this was not ‘normal’ tourism, visiting a hospital. The presumption was that a one hour visit to Makassed hospital disqualified Swee as a tourist. Asif tried to explain that as doctors we often like to see hospitals and explore healthcare in countries we visit out of professional curiosity. They became suspicious and asked if the two wanted to volunteer to work Israel. Swee denied this by saying that she had no work visa, and Asif would really like to see the Old City and Jerusalem, this being his first visit. At this point Swee also remembered that she had attended a Thalassemia Conference in Ramallah and met the orthodox Archbishop then but they were not interested. At this point they were angry and shouted that we should make up our minds whether we were colleagues or friends. We tried to explain that we are colleagues but also friends. At this point they got really loud and angry and asked Asif to get out, and Swee asked them if they wanted her out too, and they said yes. They thought people who do not know the difference between friends and colleagues are liars.
13. Asif and Swee sat in the waiting hall, not knowing what to expect. Swee decided to go back in to the interrogators and apologise to them for making them so angry. They told Swee curiously at this point that Asif ”will have to calm down”.
14. Swee came out to the security waiting hall and told Asif that they wanted him to calm down though she did not think Asif was wound up at all. After some time and following discussion Asif suggested it might be worthwhile returning to apologise to the interrogator, he approached the office and asked if he could enter the response was ‘no!’ he suggested he just wanted to apologise, the Officer said ‘nothing happened, we are all fine!’
15. Asif was called in again. As soon as he went in he was asked to place his phone and wallet on the table. He was then asked in detail about the places they intended to visit, he suggested he was very keen to visit the old city, Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, the quarters, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Hebron for the Tomb of the Patriarchs, Masada and if time permitted Tel Aviv itself. They repeated the same question a number of times and sought further elaboration. They asked which hotel the two were going to stay in and whether he knew anyone in Israel, the West Bank or Gaza. He told them that he did not know anyone but his friend Mrs Khoo (Swee Ang) had made the arrangements as she knew Israel and Jerusalem in particular very well. They asked briefly about his previous visit in 2009 to Syria and family visit to Pakistan 4 years earlier, they didn’t seem particularly interested in this. The focus seemed to be on potential Humanitarian activities. Asif was told to ‘get out’ once again.
16. Swee was called in and they asked the name of her father and grandfather, and how did she book the flight ticket and how are they going to St George’s Hostel. She said they had a taxi and she knew the St George’s from before and it was not difficult to find it. The two of them told Swee that they needed to verify a few things and that everything would be alright.
She was told to go out to take a seat.
17. Whilst waiting for the next phase of questioning, Swee received a text from Mark McGuiness (a MAP fieldworker) who asked about progress through immigration. Swee replied with a text saying there had been some security delays and while pressing send, she was called back in and asked abruptly who she was she texting. The officers demanded her phone and her wallet. They were upset that she only had one visa debit card in her wallet. The next question was shocking as they asked if Swee had been imprisoned and detained before. This took Swee by surprise and she replied, ‘definitely not!’ as she assumed they were referring to Israel. The next question was if she ever worked in Beirut, Swee said ‘yes a long time ago‘. They then called her a liar and turned the computer over with 2 pictures of her with a caption below saying “I was arrested, and detained without trial”. Swee recognised that immediately and realised that it referred to her arrest and detention in Singapore in 1977. Amidst accusations of lying and insults Swee explained that her late husband was a Singapore human rights lawyer and they wanted to detain him, he escaped and a few weeks later they detained her for questioning about him and his whereabouts, and that episode was 37 years ago in Singapore and nothing to do with Israel. They then examined Swee’s phone and found Mark’s text and two missed calls from the driver waiting outside and asked who these people were. Swee said Mark works for MAP and they can call him to verify the fact. Instead they spoke to the driver in Hebrew. Swee does not understand Hebrew but picked up the words St George’s. Swee understood from this that they had figured out that Swee Khoo is Swee Ang and had Googled her, finding a plethora of information on the internet about her. They also asked about the cash she was carrying for the children of Gaza and asked where the cash was since it was not in her wallet. Swee insisted that she would not allow them to confiscate the money for the children and if she cannot get into Gaza, she will give the money to MAP. They then asked Swee, where was the third doctor? Swee told them there were only the two doctors. Swee told them she understood on the morning of departure that they had still not received formal confirmation for permits to enter Gaza, but since they had taken their leave to go to work in Gaza, they would still leave and since Swee had previously been to Jerusalem she could guide Asif and they should allow them entry to visit Jerusalem. At this part of the interrogation they were joined by a third person: a female who seemed to be their senior and they reported to her in Hebrew. The only question she asked Swee was her age. They then told Swee to get out and it was then Asif’s turn to be interrogated again.
18. Asif returned to the room, he encountered the original two male interrogators and a senior female officer who he had not seen before. After repeating the preliminary questions about his father’s name, grandfather’s name and the places he wanted to visit they asked about where he intended to stay, who owned the St George’s hotel, did Asif know anyone in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Iran, and Pakistan? He said no to the first four and said he knew many people in Pakistan; they didn’t seem very interested in that per se.
19. The female interrogator asked ‘how much money are you carrying’ Asif said £1240’ she
responded ‘just for a few days?’ Why are you travelling to Israel now? Why with Ms Khoo, there is a large age gap, are you married, do you have children? Asif said he was divorced and had children who lived predominantly with their mother but he had a week off from work and wanted to spend his annual leave exploring Jerusalem as he knew a lot about it from reading and friends, Roman, Byzantine history and Islamic history but had never visited and Swee would be a great guide. They asked who Mark is. Asif was surprised by this question and said that he had never met him and he was someone Swee knew. Asif was told to fill out another pro-forma listing all of his email addresses, home and mobile phone numbers. As this was happening, the younger male interrogator started to flick through Asif’s Smartphone; He looked up and said ‘who is Ayub?’ Asif said it was his younger brother, ‘why is his WhatsApp profile picture a Palestinian flag?!’ he shook his head with disdain! There was then a series of question, referring to anyone in the WhatApp contacts who might have a connection with activities in support of the Palestinians, ‘who is Monir’: a friend involved with a Muslim Professional Organisation called City Circle. ‘Who is Nizar?’: a friend who is the CEO of Kuwait Petroleum Company. They then interjected, ‘you know, we love good doctors who help, but we hate liars! Mark has already told us you have a permit for Gaza and that is where you are going tomorrow! We have no problem at all with that! Many Israeli doctors are there now, you would have been very welcome but you ‘fucked it up’ if you need any help knowing why you are here look at these messages to your work colleagues in London!’ Asif said that whilst there had been an interest in going to Gaza for humanitarian purposes and an application had been made for a Gaza permit, as this had not been granted and he had a week off work what he wanted to do now was to visit Jerusalem, something he had wanted to do for a long time. The summary response was: ‘You cannot enter Israel!’
20. Asif returned to Swee and told her of the decision to deny entry, but also that the Gaza permits had apparently been granted. Swee was called in yet again and was told by both interrogators that had she not lied they would have happily supported the two doctors to help children. Swee reiterated that she had not lied and as they had not received confirmation for permits the intention was to visit Jerusalem. One of the interrogators then said they have their permits. Swee told him it was not possible and she would check with Mark immediately. She picked up her mobile phone where it was positioned in front of the interrogator and dialled Mark and thankfully he picked up immediately. Swee told Mark they were being deported, and asked whether he actually got their permits. Mark said ‘not yet but he was pushing hard’ and ‘they might come through tomorrow (Tuesday) or the day after (Wednesday)”, At this point the interrogator became infuriated and told Swee to stop the call. Swee felt that she may have provoked him when she said Mark had denied the permits had been granted but might hopefully be available in a day or two and therefore she did not lie. By implication the interrogator was lying about the permits being granted. Of course he would also be angry that Mark was informed of the intended deportation. If Mark had not been informed there would be anxiety and confusion for the entire period until the doctors arrived back at UK and could call him. He then switched the subject and told her to provide personal details: home phone, mobile, and all of her email addresses. By this time Swee asked why she should do this since they were going to deport her anyway. He told Swee in no uncertain terms that if she did not comply he was empowered to put her in jail indefinitely until she changed her mind!.Swee complied thinking to herself, how futile since they already knew everything. They then asked about Lebanon, and she told them about the Sabra and Shatilla massacres of 1982 which took place before they were born. She also explained that the Israeli government of that era was somewhat different to the present time and had set up commission of enquiry into the behaviour of the Israeli Defence Force during massacre for which Swee was a witness.
The interrogators suggested that they were good people and would happily facilitate doctors going to Gaza to help children, but they demanded people be upfront about their intentions. They accused Swee of humiliating and insulting the chief interrogator by making him spend “more than two hours” finding out about her. Swee asked, ‘if other doctors arrived should they simply announce their intention to proceed to assist Palestinians in Gaza at the passport counter? Would they be granted entry?’. He said ‘yes’ and if it was his shift he would definitely help. “Israelis are good people, and we want to help children”. Swee explained that she was not in a position to have said that since she had not received a permit, and would have been deported immediately. He then said that she could have said she was going to Jerusalem to wait for her permit but it is too late now because the deportation order cannot be cancelled and that she should return to London and ask MAP to speak with the Israeli Embassy. His last sentence to Swee was -“I think you still do not trust me!” Swee nearly said ‘of course I don’t! Why should I?’ She was glad she kept her mouth shut.
The two were then asked to return to the waiting area again where they were now guarded more closely and had to be escorted to the bathrooms and to access the water fountain. The exact nature of the deportation was never clarified, for instance it remained unclear at that point as to whether they had been given an exclusion order rather than a simple denial of entry. Both Asif and Swee repeatedly asked the junior security staff (all were in a simple civilian uniform but wore IDF army metal tags around their necks, under their shirts) to see the interrogators for clarification but this was denied. Their passports remained with those officers throughout. At around 22:00 they were asked to provide their boarding cards for the outbound flight. Nobody clarified when their return flight would be or if they were at liberty to book a flight with an alternative airline or to another port to avoid a prolonged stay in detention. They were told that they would soon go to the ‘Motel’ where they would have a place to sleep, be provided with food and be able to shower. They were repeatedly told “We are Israelis, we are nice to people”.
After a very long wait, at about 23:00 they were escorted to an enclosed security room occupied by 5 security officers. All were relatively polite but it was clear that they were entirely under guard with no freedom of movement. They were not allowed to sit next to each other or talk to each other. The terminal was largely deserted at this time. Their luggage was taken away for some time. All of their personal items in their checked in luggage and hand baggage were removed, smears were taken for a mass spectrometer and passed through an X-ray machine. Asif was taken to a separate room and strip searched and both were frisked with a hand held detector. The two doctors were then returned to the waiting area again. Whilst in the waiting area they met a 23 year old TEFL teacher of Dutch origin from Washington also facing deportation. She had told the interrogators very clearly that she intended to go to Nablus to teach English, to the same school as the Americans mentioned previously. They insisted on flying her to Istanbul and she could sort herself out from there. The young lady was really upset since she lives in Washington and had no friends in Turkey and how would she find her way home from Turkey! They also met a British Pakistani Christian girl who had been held apart from her Christian pilgrimage group. She was very tearful as she saw no reason for what she described as a humiliating interrogation. She said that they made her feel degraded and treated her like an animal. One of the security guards sat with her and looked through her Bible.
After a further wait under guard they were told they were going to the ‘Motel’. They were escorted to a side exit of the Terminal by two guards in police type uniforms who had arrived from elsewhere. They were led to a heavily armoured van, the back door had been left open, and they were asked to leave their luggage including hand baggage in the rear hold that also had two seats. Additionally, they were told to remove their telephones and cameras and to place them with their baggage. They then found themselves being forced into a fully secure central holding area of a vehicle with two layers of heavy black steel armour plating completely encaging the area in which they were forced to sit. There was no lighting in the vehicle and as dark in the caged area of the van as outside. The atmosphere felt somewhat intimidating. Asif thought that they might now face further ‘enhanced’ questioning, long term detention, rendition or even torture ran through his mind.
After around 15 minutes of being driven away from the airport on Tel Aviv roads they arrived at a place they called the facility. In retrospect they found out that this was the detention centre in Ramle. This was a shabby two storey compound surrounded by high metal fencing, cameras and barbed wires. The area was also patrolled by dogs. They were led to a holding area where they could see lots of luggage. They were stripped of all their personal belongings. Asif insisted they should be allowed to take overnight clothes and reading material. A request to take any writing material was flatly rejected. They were told to take any money they have with them, lockers were available for other items of value such as mobile phones. Swee was not allowed her handbag and told toiletries such as toothbrushes will be supplied. Having been stripped of their belongings they were taken to a waiting area, a more senior guard was behind a glass screen in a room watching ‘American Jihadi’ on Youtube and ‘Suits’ on a flat screen TV on the wall. Next to this there was another LED panel with a listing of each of the individuals detained, name, destination etc in Hebrew and some English. The guard had their passports with multiple inserts that looked like notes from the interrogators. They were asked if they wanted to eat and were each handed a cold salami roll and given tepid water in an old worn plastic cup. Swee was told ‘your embassy representative is on the phone’.
An on duty Consular Officer who manned the appropriate desk in London was on the phone, she identified herself as Joanne and asked if they were being treated well and said that she could not do anything for them, and told Swee to phone Mark. Swee then explained to her that they were detained in some kind of facility and all their belongings including mobile phones were taken away, and asked her to please call Mark to let him know. Swee told her that they would be likely to be on the next Easyjet flight back to London hopefully the following day. They were told that they would be in separate parts of the building until the end of their detention.
They were then escorted to their respective areas.
The male section had 4 cells, each with 2 metal double-decker bunk beds, with the bed poles screwed into the wall. This was covered with a thin, hard pad with used sheets and a used blanket, no pillow. Each individual was given a toothbrush and toothpaste but no soap on entry. Upon entry the heavy steel cell door was slammed shut and it was clear that the two of them were formally under detention and they were not in a ‘motel’! The cells had a small window with two layers of heavy steel protection to prevent escape. There was a small toilet, shower and sink area that also functioned as the place where meal packages were placed. There was toilet paper in the toilet but no soap. There were three Georgian men in their mid to late 20s in Asif’s cell. Each had been there for two to three days and clad in the same outdoor clothes in which they entered. One of them was a professional footballer who had played for Israel. All seemed to spend most of their time lying in their bunks asleep. The sink area was covered in food detritus. There was no drinking water in the cell. The armoured lights were kept on until around 1AM and then switched off centrally. Asif performed his prayers and slept. There was no way of communicating with the captors and getting their attention other than banging on the glass portal in the heavy steel cell door. The back of the toothbrush proved to be useful for this. Unfortunately a request for soap and drinking water was met by an angry response from the middle aged, portly guard who shouted through the glass portal that ‘this is not a hotel’ and he better not bang on the door again!
The women’s cell had 5 double-decker beds screwed into the wall. Each bed had a thin pad, and an unwashed sheet. Swee had no blanket and it was very cold. Lights were controlled by the guards outside and on until 1 am. There was one toilet permanently lit and the window had security glass, heavy metal guards, no curtains so that that the security camera could see everyone sitting on the loo clearly all hours. The shower room was separate and also permanently lit but thankfully there were no windows for the cameras to watch. The toilet and the shower doors could not close and also had no locks. There was a separate sink with one mixer tap. The area around the sink was wet and food and half eaten sandwiches were around the sink, some soaking with water. Heavy steel cell doors ensured confinement.
Asif and Swee were held in this detention centre for 14 hours overnight while waiting for the next flight. The women’s side saw 7 Ukrainian women and Swee detained and deported. There were more from the men’s side.
The items Swee desperately needed but not there were ear-plugs since her lady fellow inmates snored loudly. They all slept in their outdoor clothes and from the odour had probably been there for some days. They probably could not shower since there were no towels, despite a few bits of dried half used bars of soap lying next to the sink! But the group were well dressed and polite though they spoke no English. They were taken out of the cell separately throughout the night - ?
Deported on different flights? After the Ukrainian women left Swee was in solitary confinement. Interestingly, following the departure of the Ukrainians she looked around and noticed the names and messages written by many previous detainees, with messages of solidarity. Some of the messages were written in tooth-paste, others with regular biro and there was one particular message that stood out as it was written in marker pen. It said “You are in good company. Signed Cynthia McKinney, US Congresswoman, 29 -30 June 2009; Mairead Maquire, Nobel Peace Prize winner, 29 - 30 June 2009 Free Gaza 21.” Swee thought if only she had her camera to photograph these writings. Swee had met Cynthia McKinney on several occasions and would like to send her a picture of her cell. There was also a heart wrenching message from another “You can prevent me crossing your borders, but you cannot prevent me loving and marrying a Palestinian ...signature illegible”. Did she try to enter to marry him? It must have been so painful for the doomed couple. Swee thought of what the woman security officer told her “we are Israelis, we are nice people”.
Food was in the form of cold sandwiches and a single ready meal. Swee recalled her detention in 1977 in Singapore, and agreed with the female Israeli guard that the current detention facility in Israel was definitely an improvement. She felt the ordeal must be a sanitised, “five star” version for foreign nationals, compared to the detention for ordinary Palestinians that would certainly include physical abuse and torture.
Swee and Asif were woken at 07:30, salami rolls and black tea in the same old plastic jugs was left in the sink area. After 2 hours a shabby, ill-kempt female guard in her 30s opened the door and saw Asif pacing, she shouted some commands in Arabic and seemed surprised when he responded in English asking if she would repeat that in English! She said ‘you, all of you must leave so we can clean!’ Asif and his cellmates were escorted out to exercise in the yard area. He encountered the other detainees, 8 Georgians and 6 Ethiopians, the Ethiopians had been detained for some time. Both groups sat in separate areas and smoked, as did the 5 security guards lounging and chatting, looking fairly bored next to the fence that enclosed the area, separating the yard from a cluster of old Palestinian date palms, their height declaring they predate the State of Israel and its war of ‘independence’, Asif wondered if the area might have been the site of a razed Palestinian village, perhaps one of the many mapped out for transfer (Palestinian ethnic cleansing) under the orders of David Ben Gurion.
Following the return to their cells after an hour or so Swee and Asif were called out to be examined by a Doctor, a man in his late 50s wearing a white coat in a small room next to the counter with the detainees information screen. The doctor was uninterested, had a vagueness about him, he asked if Asif had any allergies and how he was feeling. Asif said ‘thirsty’ as his previous requests for water had been rejected. The doctor replied, ’oh, sign here!’ Asif refused to sign the Hebrew form. Swee signed hers.
Asif and Swee were removed from their cells at 14:10 on 19 August, encaged in the same armoured
vehicle to Ben Gurion airport. The vehicle stopped at the plane and they were escorted directly on to the Easyjet A320 to Luton. They were asked to move their luggage that was put into the aircraft hold by the security guards which at this point also allowed them to take possession of their hand luggage. The security guards entered the plane with Asif and Swee and handed their passports to the pilot to be held on the flight deck. All of this was in front of a cabin load of Israeli passengers, many of whom took careful note of the humiliation. They were told their passports would only be returned on arrival. The Israeli security guards waited with their armoured deportation vehicle at the side of the plane until it took off. The cabin crew seemed blasé about the manner of deportation suggesting deportation is probably a routine procedure at Tel Aviv airport.
They arrived at Luton Airport to overhear one of their fellow passengers saying loudly “Oh they are firing rockets again. How I wish I had stayed another day in Ashkelon to experience the sirens, the bomb shelters and watch the rockets being intercepted”. They were to learn subsequently that 22 Palestinians were killed in Gaza while they were on the Easyjet plane, with 50 wounded. There were no Israeli casualties.