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Elke Zwinge-Makamizile is a member of the German Peace Council as well as The International League for Human Rights. She took part in the “Fly in” protest action to Palestine. She is being interviewed by Gitta Düperthal, a journalist for Junge Welt, in German. Translation by Cynthia Beatt.
Last Friday hundreds of activists attempted to travel to Palestine via Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. [Approximately 124 managed to do so]. You are one of those deported on Sunday. How did the Israeli authorities treat you?
It already began on Friday in Frankfurt/Main: as the plane was to start on time at 11 am, it suddenly braked sharply. After hours we were unloaded onto another machine and we were only able to take off around 5 pm – apparently due to an uneven surface area on the runway! Whoever wishes to believe this can do so; I rather believe this was to give the Israeli authorities time. Therefore we landed in Ben-Gurion Aiport at 11 pm, where they immediately took away our passports. The Israeli security officials seemed to know exactly who belonged to our group.
We had been invited by the Palestinian Peace Movements and there was a program prepared for us. The day of July 9th was chosen because this day in 2004 the International Court of Justice in the Hague declared the construction of the Wall on Palestinian Territories to be illegal. Amongst other activities, we were to visit the “Freedom Theatre”, to take part in the symbolic planting of olive trees and to visit a refugee camp. Instead we were forced to spend hours in detention rooms at the airport until we were taken in the early morning on Saturday to a prison van, in which other activists had already been sitting for four and a half hours. 23 women were inside and 16 men were penned in the other area of the same van. Around 35 security officials, whom we could see through the barred windows, stood outside. To pass the time we began to sing, upon which they threatened to use tear gas on us.
Where were you taken?
We were brought to the Beersheva Ela-Prison in the middle of the Negev Desert, where we were kept from Saturday morning until Sunday midday in a kind of luxury prison – not one of those prisons in which, according to Amnesty International, torture takes place. At our request consular officials of the countries from which the activists originate visited us; that was France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany. They noted our names and asked whether anyone should be notified. The Israelis were obviously at pains to ensure that no one would have reason to complain about their treatment there. Nevertheless we were under surveillance by video cameras the entire time.
How did the security officials react to you?
We used every opportunity to explain to them that we wished to make a contribution to easing the isolation of the Palestinians – the next step should be that Palestine must be recognized as a State and receive membership in the United Nations, to be voted upon in September. They did not comment on our views but my impression was some of them seemed to understand and did not show animosity towards us. They obviously had not been expecting people like us after the unbelievable propaganda campaign that Israeli officials started against us.
Israel’s Home Secretary Yitzhak Aharanovich, for example, described us as “extremists and hooligans”, intending to disrupt public order. On the Ynet internet page we were even denounced as potential lawbreakers.
The ships of the second Gaza-Flotilla have been detained in Greece since days and many “Fly In” demonstrators couldn’t reach their destination – the Israelis compelled international airlines to refuse to even carry certain passengers. How do you feel about the success of this action?
We used the situation to make the media aware of how bad the human rights situation is in the West Bank and in Gaza. Through this sharp and totally exaggerated reaction by Israel it has become evident to many people all over the world what the government is prepared to do to isolate the people of Palestine.