Thursday, July 14, 2011

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.

1 comment:

  1. Never, never ever say that you are going to the West Bank this is what happens.

    You're dealing with liars, thieves and cheats. It is not appropriate to tell these people the truth