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Ha’aretz: “Arrest of the Piano Tuner”

By No’am Ben Ze’ev, Ha’aretz Gallery, 12th June 2006. Translation by Rann.

Paul Larudee, an American who came to tune pianos in Ramallah and Jenin, refused to board a plane against his will and is now waiting for a court decision regarding him.

For a week now, the American piano tuner Paul Larudee has been sitting in a jail cell in Ben-Gurion airport and waiting for a court decision in his case. On his way to tune pianos in Ramallah and Jenin, his entrance to Israel was prevented and a deportation order was issued against him. Larudee, 60, has a PhD in linguistics from Georgetown University and has been coming to the Israel and the OPT regularly for the last 40 years. He is a peace activist and a member of ISM – the International Solidarity Movement – that promotes non-violent resistance to the occupation.

“I came to bring harmony to the region, and I have no idea why they arrested me,” says Larudee in a telephone call from his cell, “if I committed some crime I surely would know about it.” Despite his cell phone being confiscated, he managed to discretely talk using his cellmate’s phone.

Were you surprised? “Not at all. I expected it. People connected to ISM get entrance-prevention and deportation orders all the time, so I knew that sooner or later this would happen. Thus it is not the details of the case that interest me, but rather the principle behind such a policy. If the reasons behind [the policy] are security-related, I would like to engage in a debate on the nature of a threat to security and what constitutes such a threat. Maybe that way it would be possible to prevent others from being deported.”

Activists in the organization in the OPT verify his words, and testify to a increasing number of cases of activists with foreign passports being prevented from returning to the OPT, including some who have made their home there.

Larudee refused to board the plane leaving Israel against his will and called lawyer Gabi Laski, who obtained a temporary staying order against his deportation until the state responds. As of now, the order has become permanent and valid until a verdict is reached. “We are asking the court for the soonest possible date for a trial,” says Laski. “It’s absurd. Despite the fact that the responsibility for entrance to and exit from Israel lies with the Ministry of the Interior, the security authorities decide these matters and the Ministry remains a rubber stamp of the GSS. No one doubts its recommendations until the matter arrives in court.”

Sabin Hadad, a spokeswoman for the Population Administration in the Ministry of the Interior, confirms that the prevention of enterance was done due to security considerations. “When the GSS gives a negative recommendation we don’t get involved,” she says “a person entering Israel first passes through the border authorities, and if they become suspicious they contact GSS
directly. It has nothing to do with us.”

The Prime Minister’s office responded: the Ministry of the Interior denied Larudee, one of the leaders of ISM, entry to Israel, on the recommendation of security bodies. “He participated in illegal activities as a representative of the organization, stayed in a suicide bomber’s house and participated in a violent demonstration against the separation fence.”