Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Interview with Another French participant

A French participant shared her experience in Ben Gurion airport with Welcome to Palestine.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Invitation to Concluding Press Conference from the "Welcome to Palestine" Campaign

12 pm (noon) on Monday, July 18th, Alternative Information Center (AIC), Queen Shlomzion Street 4, Jerusalem
In response to a Palestinian invitation, hundreds of international visitors reserved flights to Ben Gurion airport for July 8th.  The Israeli government did everything in its power to stop them, including pressuring seven commercial European airline companies into abruptly canceling a huge number of the flight reservations.

The Israeli authorities detained and then deported en masse those who did arrive in Tel Aviv.  Only a few dozen international guests were finally able to come to Palestine and only after overcoming many obstacles: for example, Vivienne Prozsolt from Australia, who was with the Freedom Flotilla II, flew from Athens, was detained, but unexpectedly prevailed in her court appeal against the deportation.  The international guests who did get through to us participated in a week of fellowship and solidarity from July 8th until July 16th.
The organizers of "Welcome to Palestine" invite you to a press conference to review our accomplishments, despite the massive Israeli government obstructions, and to discuss future directions for international solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Speakers in Jerusalem:
- Lubna Masarwa, leading organizer who worked with both the flotilla to Gaza and with "Welcome to Palestine"
- Vivienne Prozsolt, of Sidney, Australia, a member of Jews against the Occupation and international guest of "Welcome to Palestine"
- Shireen Al-Araj, activist from Al-Walaja, who organized and accompanied the visitors who were with us in Palestine July 8th-16th
- Sergio Yahni, media coordinator at Alternative Information Center

Speakers available via Skype-Video:
- Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh, of Beit Sahour near Bethlehem, professor of genetics and author, and co-organizer of "Welcome to Palestine"
- International organizers of "Welcome to Palestine," including, among others, Elsa Rassbach of Germany and Karin Pally of USA
"This was not the first or the last project we, civil society in Palestine, do to shed light on the illegality of occupation and colonization," says Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh of Bethlehem, a leading organizer of the initiative.  "More and more people are becoming aware, and our next projects will build on this momentum until Palestine is free."
Laura Durkay of New York, who was detained at Ben Gurion airport on July 8th and then jailed and deported says: "Everyone I have spoken to has come back to their home countries more determined than ever to continue the struggle for Palestinian freedom and equal rights."

Media Contacts:
GENERAL: info@palestinejn.org
JERUSALEM: Sergio Yahni, sergioyahni@gmail.com+972(0)526375032
BETHLEHEM: Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh, mazin@qumsiyeh.org+972(0)598939532 (English and Arabic), and Fadi Kattan (French)press.welcometopalestine2@gmail.com   +970 (0) 595 754 100
FRANCE:  Nicolas Shahshahani, bienvenuepalestine@orange.fr +33(0)1 42 94 39 94 and +33(0)673 38 24 84
GERMANY: Sophia Deeg,  sophia_deeg@yahoo.de+49(0)88 007761,+49(0)1799878414 and Elsa Rassbach (contact information below)
UK: Sofiah MacLeod, secretary@scottishpsc.org.uk,+44(0)7931 200 36100,+44(0)131 620 0052
USA: Karin Pally, myizzy@gmail.com or kpally@earthlink.net+1 310-399-1921
INTERNATIONAL Media Coordinator: Elsa Rassbach, elsarassbach@gmail.com+49 (0) 30 326 01540 or +49 (0) 170 738 1450 Skype: elsarassbach

Friday, July 15, 2011

Interview with an American Participant

A Jewish-American participants gives Welcome to Palestine an interview at a demonstration in Bethlehem.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Interview with Munther Amireh

Munther Amireh gives a brief interview to Welcome to Palestine at a demonstration in Bethlehem.

Israeli Judge denies "Welcome to Palestine" participant's appeal of her detention by the Ministry of Interior

Deportation of Angela Seyfrid to Germany is imminent

Tel Aviv and Bethlehem, July 14, 2011 -- This morning Judge Avraham Yaakov of the district court upheld the Ministry of Interior detention and deportation order for Angelika Seyfrid, a 50 year old German citizen who resides in Berlin. Ms. Seyfrid has been in Givon prison since July 8th, when she flew to Ben Gurion airport with hundreds of other international participants of the "Welcome to Palestine" initiative in the hope of joining in a program of events organized by Palestinians in the West Bank.
Attorney Omer Shatz and Attorney Iftah Cohen challenged the Ministry of Interior's deportation order on behalf of Ms. Seyfrid. The German section of Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East – in a coalition of many German NGOs – paid her court and attorney fees for the hearing. Michal Livne Kaiser, President of the German section of Jewish Voice, stated:  "We support these peace activists who assert their internationally recognized right of freedom of movement and thereby demonstrate solidarity with the isolated and disenfranchised Palestinians in the territories occupied by Israel."
Yesterday, in what Attorney Shatz called a "precedent-setting" decision, Judge Avraham Yaakov had ordered two Australian participants of the "Welcome to Palestine" initiative to be released on the grounds that the Ministry of Interior was overstepping his authority by ordering them deported. The two Australians had stated that they were not planning to visit Israel, but were only planning to visit friends in the West Bank as part of the "Welcome to Palestine" initiative.  Therefore, the Judge gave them the "opportunity," after posting bond, to request permission from the Israeli military to enter the West Bank.
However, in the case this morning, Judge Avraham Yaakov ruled that the Ministry of Interior had the right to detain and deport Ms. Seyfrid on the grounds that she stated that, in addition to hoping to join the "Welcome to Palestine" events in the West Bank, she also planned to visit Israel. Some of the "Welcome to Palestine" events are taking place in the Negev desert to help rebuild a Bedouin village that the Israeli forces have many times destroyed. According to Judge Yaakov, the Ministry of Interior does have authority to deport persons who plan to come to Israel.
During the hearing, the attorney for the Ministry of Interior asserted that "Welcome to Palestine" was "intended to arouse disorder and violence" and stated that, even though Ms. Seyfrid has a legal right to challenge the deportation order, her use of that right is in itself "a provocation."
In his petition on behalf of Ms. Seyfrid, Attorney Shatz stated that "the Ministry of Interior has acted arbitrarily and discriminatorily."  The arbitrariness is evident, he stated, "in the way her entry was denied, as well as in the manner of her arrest and in the attempt to deport her , without telling her anything, not even regarding her legal rights." Attorney Shatz argued that "tourists not regarded by the Ministry of Interior to be 'pro-Palestinian,' but instead as supporters of 'Greater Israel,'  not only receive permission to enter Israel with no disturbance, but are also not even required to obtain an entry permit to visit the West Bank."
In addition, stated Attorney Shatz, "there are grounds for reasonable doubt that the decision against the plaintiff was even made by the Ministry of Interior. Publications in the public media on behalf of the Government of Israel reveal that the prime minister himself decided to sabotage, collectively and overwhelmingly, the tourist arrivals to the territories of the Palestinian Authority. This is based only on the assumption that the tourists are "pro - Palestinian" and that their support of a nonviolent struggle for liberation of a people that suffers from the burden of a prolonged military regime -- is a provocation that in his view is somehow threatening to the Israeli public."
In the end, it turned out that Judge Yaakov had already prepared his order, which he then read to the court secretary.
It is believed that Ms. Seyfrid will be placed on a flight back to Germany this evening.
Media Contacts:
PALESTINE: Media Center, press.welcometopalestine2@gmail.com   +970 (0) 595 754 100 /
Sheerin Alaraj, sheerink@yahoo.com, +972(0)522054595

FRANCE:  Nicolas Shahshahani, bienvenuepalestine@orange.fr +33(0)1 42 94 39 94 and +33(0)673 38 24 84
GERMANY: Sophia Deeg, sophia_deeg@yahoo.de, +49(0)88 007761,+49(0)1799878414 and Elsa Rassbach (see contact details below)
USA: Karin Pally, myizzy@gmail.com or kpally@earthlink.net, +1 310-399-1921
INTERNATIONAL Media Coordination:  Elsa Rassbach, elsarassbach@gmail.com, +49 (0) 30 326 01540 or +49 (0) 170 738 1450 Skype: elsarassbach
Law Firm:       Shatz & Cohen – Iftah Cohen & Omer Shatz – Tel +972 (0)3 5186642

Please stay informed through our websites:
- http://palestinianspring.palestinejn.org
- http://welcometopalestinenews.blogspot.com/
- http://ahlanfefalasteen.blogspot.com/
- http://bienvenueenpalestinepresse.blogspot.com/
- http://www.kopi-online.de

Al Dameer Lawyer's Reports on Detainees

Al Dameer, an organization concerned with the providing care legal services for prisoners and upholding human rights, has visited more than 80 foreigner prisoners in Ramla and Beer Al-Saba. These detainees were arrested last Friday, July 8th 2011 upon their arrival to Tel Aviv in hopes of visiting Palestine and standing in solidarity with its people in their struggle against the occupation.

Al Dameer strongly condemns Israel’s actions and their arbitrary restrictions on the rights of individuals for freedom of movement, association and expression. This situation has proved that Israel has in fact imposed a blockade not only on Gaza, but also on the West Bank by imposing constraints on the entry of foreign peace activists and detaining them without clear legal grounds.
In addition to the arbitrary restriction of movement, these foreign activists were treated very poorly. 

As part of the Welcome to Palestine initiative, the first group of the foreign delegation reached Ben Gurion on Friday, July 8th 2011. Organized by the Palestinian Civil Society, this intiative aimed to welcome hundreds of international activisits to visit the occupied Palestinian territories. However, a very limited number of foreigners managed to reach the Palestinian terriorties, while a very large number of acitivists were detained upon their arrival and later transferred to prisons in Ramla and Beer Al-Saba’.

Between the 9th and 12th of July, Al Dameer lawyers (Annan Odan and Samer Sema’an) visited these detainees, who had reported to them that they were not provided with neither food nor water. Fadwa Al-Atrash, a 19-year old student reading French, reported to the lawyer that she had not had any food or water between 15.30 until midnight, when she arrived to Ramla prison. Further, Fadwa was detained in a military vehicle with other foreigner for approximately one hour. Despite the hot weather, the soldiers deliberately turn on the heating in the car. Additionally, according to Fadwa,  the authorities beat some foreigners during the detention at the airport. Fadwa was beaten on the legs, punched on the face and back by 3 security officers at the airport. Muhammad Najjar, a 33-year old Belgian citizen, was beaten twice at the airport. When 4-5 Israeli officers forcefully took him to the plane to return to Belgium, Najjar refused. As a result, soldiers kicked and punched Najjar. When he later tried to protect Fethiye Abdul Albardali from being beaten, approximately 10 security forces attacked Najjar.

In contradiction to Israeli law, the Israeli authorities informed Al Dameer lawyers that the foreigners are not entitled to receive visits by their lawyers. After extensive discussions with the office of the general attorney in Tel Aviv, the lawyers were allowed to visit the prison at 14.00. As another violation of the law of entry, the international activists were not provided with justification for the denial of entry into Israel. Further, they were not allowed to contact their families, causing the hunger strike by the prisoners to demand the full implementation of the law. It was only after the strike that the authorities promised that they will be allowed to contact their relatives. Despite these promises, very few prisoners were allowed to make phone calls.

Further, the authorities used tactics in order to prevent detainees from using their right to appeal the decision of deportation. The men and women were place in separate sections in order to prevent them from communicating and coordinating their responses. Additionally, the authorities reportedly tried to convince the detainees to leave voluntarily. The authorities dealt with these detainees as criminals by confiscating their belongings and forcing them to clean cells and corridors.

Al Dameer Foundation encourages the international community, particularly the embassies and consulates to immediately intervene and condemn Israel’s actions. Israel has imposed a restriction of entry to the Occupied Palestinian Territories and hindered the right to freedom of expression, opinion and association with the Palestinian cause. 

INTERVIEW with Ms. Sylvia Hale, Australian participant of Welcome to Palestine initiative

Sylvia Hale, a 69 year old former parliament member and former counsellor of Marrickville provided a statement to the Media Center of the Welcome to Palestine initiative on Thursday, July 14, 2011

Vivienne and I are both here in Tel Aviv, finally freed from detention -- though not after long delays that verge on contempt of court.

 The conditions of our release are:
1. We each lodge bail of 2,500 shekels (the prosecution asked for 50,000!);
2. We lodge an application with the military for permission to enter the West Bank within 24 hours;
3. We agree to leave Israel within 24 hours of entry permission being refused;
4. We have the right to appeal any refusal of permission to enter the West Bank.

One possible fly in the ointment is that we've been given only a 2-day entry visa to Israel, so we may be forced to leave before we receive an answer to our request. We'll be discussing with our lawyers tomorrow whether this effectively subverts the court's discussion.

We will meet with our lawyers to discuss tactics on the best way to proceed from here. Because the Israeli weekend covers Friday and Saturday and we won't lodge until late Thursday, we may not have a response to our entry request until Monday or Tuesday, if the bureaucratic wheels grind slowly.

We've nothing but praise for our lawyers, who gave us sound legal and political advice. They were really delighted (and surprised) at the court's decision - possibly even more than we were.

The Australian embassy has also been particularly helpful, attending court and providing us with ongoing, 'unofficial' translation of the proceedings, booking accommodation this evening, transporting us from the airport into Tel Aviv, and providing useful advice.

I cannot, however, say the same for the immigration detention officers. Our requests to speak to lawyers and consular officials, for showers and food were constantly brushed off with 'in a few minutes’, ‘soon' etc. When we complained about the delays and banged on our cell door, we were threatened with handcuffing.

We returned from court today to the airport's detention centre at about 2pm, but were not transported to the airport proper to sign relevant undertakings and deposit bail until 7pm, and then only because there had been a change of shift and the new officer in charge realised that they were not complying with the court order that we be permitted to do these things. One of the excuses offered to the Embassy was that, because the court had ordered that its decision be given to us in English, Immigration was waiting on the Embassy to do the translation!

When we first arrived at the airport and were asked what we wanted to do in Israel the only response we gave  was 'We want to go to Palestine' and nominated Bethlehem and Ramallah as places we wished to visit. The consternation on the officer's face was quite amusing to see. We were not asked to sign any documents and declined to answer any questions, saying that all the information they required was in our passports, which they held.

As we were being conducted from passport control to a holding area we yelled 'Free Palestine', 'We want to go to Palestine', and 'Free Gaza'.

The prosecution argued in court that this caused a disturbance but, as the judge pointed out, we had received no prior warnings that shouting slogans was a forbidden act and in any case we did not refuse to cooperate thereafter.

We did, however, not go completely quietly. We were refused permission to reclaim our luggage from the baggage carousel and were assured that it was completely safe. However, when we were finally taken to retrieve it, my backpack was missing. We spent a ludicrous 90 minutes searching for it, with a police officer vainly assuring me that we were going to be deported and that my pack would be sent on after. I refused to budge, they threatened to drag me (bluster on their part, I think), until the pack was eventually found in Lost Property. The whole thing had a Keystone Cops air about it.

With the baggage eventually retrieved, our bags were thoroughly searched and we were closely patted down. In all, it took from 4.30am, when we arrived in Tel Aviv, until about 8am when we landed in the detention facility.

So, one could conclude that, for the alleged 'crime' of saying 'We want to go to Palestine', we spent 36 hours in reasonably unpleasant and frustrating detention, were threatened with deportation, and have spent about $4,000 on legal fees.

I'm delighted that we took on this challenge. From the larger perspective, we've established a precedent, so that anyone may now go to Israel and then request entry to the West Bank. I anticipate possibly thousands of people availing themselves of the opportunity and wonder just how the Israeli authorities will deal with that! I'm delighted, Vivienne and I could not have asked for a more successful outcome. We now see how unjust Israel is and it's not just a blockade on Gaza but a blockade of all Palestine.