Israel’s program to deport activists will institutionalize old persecution

{Versão reduzida, em português}

An inter-ministerial team was recently established by Israel’s Government to formulate a program to deport activists. The growing international solidarity with Palestinians is framed as a risk to Israel’s national security. Here’s my own experience and a glimpse of what we are facing.

By Moara Crivelente

Cases of deportation and bans are mounting and a campaign starts to develop against what is a repressive policy. Like mine – I was interrogated, detained, deported and banned from returning for 10 years – numerous other cases reveal an ever more aggressive practice.

Right after arriving at the International Airport Ben Gurion, on July 23rd, I went through what so many have already experienced in Israel’s lack of hospitality with whomever is suspect of having an opinion about the occupation of Palestine. I was repeatedly interrogated for hours and later informed of my deportation and ban, which would not happen before I spent some time detained: nine hours at a facility of the Ministry of Interior’s Authority for Population, Immigration and Border Crossings.

Despite new developments, deportation of activists in support for the Palestinians’ rights is not a new practice. At least since 2002, many cases have been recorded. That was when Ariel Sharon’s Government created a deportation body to “prevent undocumented immigration”, especially deporting migrant workers. Afterwards, an already arbitrary mechanism was used for other purposes.

Hebron apartheid

Hebron’s segregated street. Photo: Moara Crivelente

In 2003, at least eight volunteers with the International Solidarity Movement staying in Palestinian territories were deported. In 2011, 200 activists were barred when participating in a “fly-in” campaign and sent back home. Israel’s Ministry of Transport had also delivered airline companies a list with the names of 342 people who should be barred from boarding planes to Israel those days. In July and August 2016, cases include those of around seven US citizens being detained, deported or denied entry and banned too. But these are only a few examples adding to the attempt at suffocating Palestinians and their resistance to dispossession, incarceration, humiliation and virtually all sorts of human rights violation which people from all continents come witness. 

The Israeli Government’s tightening ropes around solidarity are a new challenge, but also a platform. Its decisions have, even if mildly, embarrassed its own allies – the US and the European Union – and exposed its oppressive face so people can better grasp what the occupation of Palestine means. Israeli right-wing leaders are desperate to counter the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and overall international solidarity with the Palestinians.

The BDS National Committee has condemned the Israeli Government’s new program, considering that this systematic deportation “is not only anti-democratic; it is yet another incident of Israel shooting itself in the foot.” There is already a campaign called “Right to Enter”, through which people can document and seek information on how to deal with their cases. 

Hunting solidarity

The Minister of Public Security and Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan and the Interior Minister Aryeh Deri are leading the plan to deport activists or to deny entry to those who adhere to BDS. According to World Israel News and Haaretz, their inter-ministerial team’s aim is to formulate a program to “track down and deport anti-Israel activists who came to the Jewish State to cause damage”. There is no mistake: this is a program to persecute opposition to the Israeli Government and yet another offensive practice of the occupation, after all, activists use to stay in Palestinian, not Israeli, territory.

Al-Amari refugee camp Palestine

Al-Ama’ari refugee camp near Ramallah. Photo: Moara Crivelente

A legal team is supposed to oversee the joint program’s elaboration, which is a usual practice aiming to prevent the initiative from being exposed by its arbitrariness, disguising it with legal language. Haaretz quoted officials saying that “certain groups have already been marked” for deportation. These had been practices that an Israeli activist for BDS, Ronnie Barkan, denounced for being conducted in obscurity, unlike solidarity.

Hence, persecution of all involved in any sort of activism is bound to rise. Erdan was even seen in his Facebook account asking Israelis to tell on “suspicious foreigners” alleging to be tourists but that are actually activists, in a Fascist-style appeal for surveillance and spying by the very citizens. According to Haaretz, the Minister will propose changes in the legislation to “upgrade the struggle against the boycott of Israel.”

Intimidation and condemnation

Non-governmental organizations have denounced the Israeli practice and attempt of intimidating international solidarity with the Palestinian people. Likewise, the Governments of countries from which people deported for political reasons are should be questioned.

In Brazil, where we face a reactionary elite trying to cling back to power through a coup d’État, we have a right-wing, interim Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) that shows no sympathy for Palestine despite Brazil’s growing solidarity with Palestinians in recent years. When questioned about a possible response to my deportation, the interim MFA said Israel has the right to deny entry to anyone, even though it has a visa waiver agreement with Brazil and it gave me no plausible explanation.

Whoever arrives at International Airport Ben Gurion, in Tel-Aviv, is expecting to have their cellphones, laptops and profiles in social networks searched for any demonstration of solidarity with Palestinians, criticism to Israel or any hint of contact with a Palestinian – whose data will be collected for any sort of treatment. In the interrogation rooms, we see the agents’ faces changing to graver expressions, until they declare us banned “for security reasons”. Their still unsuccessful effort seems to be preventing us from visiting Palestine, or to isolate Palestinians. International solidarity is not intimidated, however. 

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