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This is a guest post from Ellie Clayton and Gordon Bennett, who've both worked for our Supporter Care team, currently under house arrest in Tel Aviv
We’re writing this from a flat in a Tel Aviv high-rise apartment block. We’ve been here since Sunday 22nd September, and cannot step outside until 4pm on Sunday 29th. Why…?
Both of us worked in the Supporter Care Team (SCT) at Amnesty UK, so are well used to regular controversies about Israel/Palestine. Each time Amnesty reports on the situation, SCT know to expect a pretty full inbox. And it’s one thing to read reports, go to talks etc, but we both wanted to come for ourselves to see the situation in the occupied West Bank – also to record what we see (check out www.ellieceeoverseas.blogspot.com) and show international solidarity with Palestinian victims of human rights violations.
So since September 3rd, we’ve been doing just that. First stop was the divided city of Hebron, where masses of Israeli soldiers enforce segregation of the city. A highlight of our time there was walking with a man down the street in front of his house, a street he hasn’t walked for years (it’s now reserved for Israelis only).
After Hebron, we spent some time visiting villages around Nablus – villages which experience harassment from both the occupation forces and Israeli settlers. On two successive nights we visited the same hospital to take testimony from different Palestinian farmers who’d been beaten by settlers - see here and here.
Each Friday, we’ve been to see close-up what happens when Palestinians choose to exercise their right to protest against the Israeli occupation. Last Friday, we went for a second time to Kufr Qaddoum, a village suffering from a road closure which doubles the distance to the nearest city – Nablus. The previous week there had been tear gas, sound bombs and soldiers invading the village, so we thought we had some idea what to expect…
This last Friday however, there was a whole new level of intimidation and aggression from the Israeli army. Before the demonstration had even started, we were tear gassed and chased. At one time, we counted a group of 24 soldiers together. An awful lot of heavily-armed soldiers to send into a small village. Anyway, after some to-ing and fro-ing of protesters and soldiers along the intended route of the demonstration march, the army divided into attack groups of 4-6 soldiers each, and stormed the village yet again, firing tear gas and causing havoc by cutting the demonstration into several parts. The two of us were captured by one group of four soldiers, who then variously proceeded to punch us, kick us, pull our hair and strangle us. It seems they’re really not that keen on having the outside world know what’s going on at such demonstrations (they deleted the footage we’d taken, and even used one of our phones to make personal calls!).
While walking us back to their jeep to take us in, we asked one of the soldiers, ‘why do you think we’re here?’/ After a pause, he answered, ‘I guess you care a lot’. He might be a candidate to post to Breaking The Silence.
After a surreal period standing at the side of the road in the illegal Israeli settlement of Qeddumim (which, not content with stealing Kufr Qaddoum’s land, also steals its name), including being photographed by children from the settlement, we were all transported to a military base for interrogation over the next six hours. To keep our spirits up on the way, we started whistling the Beach Boys song ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice?’. The soldiers told us to stop. So we started singing it instead. ‘SHUT UP!’ we were ordered. Cue singing at the top of our voices…
What followed our arrest was a 48 hour ordeal of detention - being split up, strip-searched, imprisoned in cockroach-infested cells with no idea of what was going on, threatened (‘they’re going to fuck you up when you go to jail, they’re going to rape you’), denied access to medication etc etc, you can probably imagine. After 48 hours, we were released to 24/7 house arrest in this flat in Tel Aviv.
The thing is though, we are lucky. And so are our fellow house(-arrest) guests Aimee McGovern and Lauren Siebert, human rights activists from the UK and USA, who went through the same ordeal. The four of us were arrested at the same time as two Palestinian men, Majd Obeid (23) and Abdelateef Obeid (25). There’s no way they’re going to get the chance of moving to house arrest after just two days inside. And for hours following arrest, the Palestinian men were kept blindfolded and handcuffed, and denied water and shade, despite our repeated complaints (which prompted a soldier to ask, ‘don’t you have enough of these in your own country?’). When advised that keeping the Palestinian men blindfolded for a prolonged period could be construed as torture, another soldier said, ‘ok, so I’m a torturer’.
What will happen now for Majd and Abdelateef? Well, Israel’s ‘administrative detention’ regime can mean being held indefinitely without charge for months. Or years. It’s a regime that has been criticized time and again by human rights organisations including Amnesty .
And we’re lucky too that we’re not Palestinian children – a recent UK government-sponsored report detailed how Palestinian children’s rights are flagrantly violated in Israel’s separate military justice system for Palestinians. From every village we’ve visited, there are children missing, in Israeli prisons.
Wouldn’t It Be Nice if Israel got rid of administrative detention and a two-track justice system…?
PS: Amnesty International UK & The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions are hosting an event on 16 October at 7pm called - Discrimination, Displacement & Despair: The Impact of Israel’s Prolonged Occupation - more info & book your tickets here.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.