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Released to be arrested again – activist detained during Sheikh Jarrah protest held for 40 hours

C N Longevity

11 December 2009

The drums beat in their normal cadence as I approach the Al-Kurds. This cadence was lost as I reached the home. It quickly devolved into a beat that described not the jubilant emotions of collective resistance, but one of collective disdain and disgust.

One person was being dragged by three police officer into the street; their clothes in tatters. The demonstrators quickly followed and rallied around the abuse. The situation was reduced to bedlam by the police officers. They were pushing, pulling, punching and kicking the demonstrators. As the police attempted to take the two demonstrators to the police station, nearly one hundred attempted to use their bodies to block the police cars movements. This attempt was in vain. The police grabbed protesters one by one (usually needing three officers for every person taken).

As I was in the back watching the madness, two border police grabbed me by my lapel and viciously dragged me into the usurped, front partition of the Al-Kurds home. The settlers had been here for nearly two weeks already, but the conditions were anything but inhabitable. A layer of water and mud covered the gutted home. This confirmed my suspicion that home take-over was not for actual living space, but instead a war-like act of conquering more territory.

About 20 other activists and seven police greeted me as I entered. They were mostly Israeli activists with less than a handful of internationals. I was hand-cuffed to a Canadian man and would not leave his presence for the next forty hours. He was Quebecois and spoke perfect French. We chatted in his native tongue as there were no police able to speak French. We waited in the house for close to hour, seemingly until the police had cleared the streets of all the demonstrators. We were then hastily whisked off to the Jaffa Street police station.

Upon our arrival, we were made to sit in the parking lot of the police station. As the sun had set, it became quite cold quickly. But this would be our resting spot for the better part of the next seven hours. Some arrestees were uncuffed shortly after our arrival. I wasn’t this fortunate, so I became quite close to my Canadian counterpart; holding each other gently and whispering sweet things to one another. There was a severe shortage of cigarettes and my pack was gone in less than 20 minutes. Soon the others joined us and brought more cigarettes. One by one we were taken in and interrogated. Their tactics were somewhat lacking in comparison to their American counterparts. Their questions and follow-up questions were banal and didn’t seem to probe much beneath the surface. I had yet to speak with a lawyer and there was definitely a language gap. These factors may have contributed to the ineffectiveness of the interrogation. It was a welcomed respite from the cold, in any event. But this respite was short-lived as I was returned to the night air after only a few fleeting minutes.

We waited more. Another half-hour. Or was it an hour? Or two? No one had a watch so the concept of time was purely relative and not measured with any degree of certainty.

Our next stop was to be fingerprinted and photographed. Like the other processes, this one lacked fluidity, order and reason. One person was taken completely through. I and three others made it half-way through, sent outside and made to wait a few hours. In this time the rest of the gaggle of arrestees were fingerprinted and photographed. I attempted to convince my cohorts that they had taken my footprints in addition to my hand and fingerprints. They all believed me in the beginning, but the constant succession of “Really? Really? Really?!?!” always made me crack a smile.

Once this process came to an end, we were paraded back to our guard rail along the prison wall. Some comrades from the outside were able to slip falafel sandwiches filled with notes of solidarity through the fence. Here we waited for our strip-search. The hours wore on and everyone smoked cigarette after cigarette. As the time slipped by so did our warmth; 10 degrees, 9 degrees, 8 degrees. We sang songs softly. The Beatles, the Flaming Lips and old union hymns filled the cool air. I waited patiently for my search and found myself last in queue. There were three others in various stages of nudity. The door was slightly ajar. This left no respect for any semblance of dignity.

I was next in line, but was skipped due to another being dragged about by the police. He wasn’t with the folks from Sheikh Jarrah. He was Palestinian. The officer minding him had the hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his head and was leading him about by the strings of his hoody. It was reminiscent of a farmhand leading cattle about a bull-ring. The police had stripped him not merely of his clothes but also of his humanity; completely and utterly. As he undressed, I noticed why they had his hood pulled tightly over his head. There was a four inch gash on his right cheekbone. The police surely didn’t want many people to be privy to their rapacious brutality. He was dripping with blood and he was in dire need of medical attention, but

I felt he wouldn’t receive any for some time. I looked at the other Israeli activist. The need for language disappeared. His eyes spoke volumes. Fear, guilt, remorse, disgust, helplessness. I wanted to scream and liberate this young man. Whatever he did wasn’t worth this experience. Whatever he did wasn’t his fault. Whatever he did was because of the conditions that the state of Israel had forced upon him, his father, his grandfather. He couldn’t control his situation enveloped in injustice. He was merely an innocent actor in this twisted play that Zionism has been scripting for decades. We, the Israelis and myself, knew we would be out soon; safe and without any long-term consequences. The young Palestinian, on the other hand, was now caught in their “justice” system and likely doomed to a constant cycle re-arrest. The other activist and I could only look at one another dumbfounded and inept.

It was my turn. The officer pointed to various articles of clothing and I took it off until I was completely naked. I was made to lift my penis and testicles and spin around. He mumbled something in Hebrew and left the room. I stood there naked for a minute and began to dress after it seemed as if I was able. But the insecurity lingered as I was unsure if I was allowed cover my nude body.

I made the right decision and was taken back outside with the other men from the group. We were marched about 50 meters to the jail. They called us in a few at a time; 3-4 usually. But the hours dragged on. Was it 1 or 2 or 3am? Finally the last three men were taken in. We were examined by a doctor and stripped searched again (“take this off, take that off, lift your thing up, spin around”) and our possessions were bagged and tagged. We were taken to our cell and picked up another Israeli along the way. He had been in a cell all by himself and was white with fear when we found him. On the way I noticed a clock. It was 3:30am. They lead us to our cell. It consisted of two bi-colored double bunk beds made of concrete, a bathroom, a plastic table and two plastic chairs. Some jelly sandwiches and two loaves of bread were thrown onto the bed. I brushed my teeth and went into a deep sleep.

I was awoken from a dream by deep, hoarse yelling in Hebrew. The two Israelis interpreted for me. Apparently they were doing a count of the prisoners. I wondered where they thought we would go. Plots of escape were far from mind. I was too tired and had just arrived. I was undecided if I liked this place or not and needed some time to explore if long-term living situation was a possibility. I guess this is just how fascism works. I dozed another two hours, but roused shortly after our breakfast was delivered. Although the living conditions were sub-par compared to other jails I had frequented, the food far exceeded my expectations. No empty calories for us. The case was quite the opposite. Fresh green peppers, yogurt, cheese and good bread.

Perhaps they were over-compensating for their vile behavior. Possibly they had some sub-conscious intuition that what they were doing was completely wrong and the good food was a way to apologize. But I’m sure everyone in that jail would trade all those peppers and yogurt for dirt if it meant complete and true liberation.

The rest of my cellmates roused. Two Israelis, a Canadian and I began to get to know one another. The elder of the two Israelis took command and flaunted his knowledge of the political situations in the Arab world. He exuded confidence and charisma. His charm was definite and he won over his three other cell-mates quite quickly. The other Israeli was rather quiet. His head seemed heavy with thought.

“When are we going to get out of here?” was the line that broke his silence. It seemed like a passing question prima facie.

But as we began to answer, it became apparent that he had real fears about rotting in this hell-hole. We had to hug him for a while to calm him down. He told us his dreams surrounded having internet access in the jail cell. He would become quiet for minutes or close to an hour and chime in with his familiar question: “When are we going to get out of here?” When this would happen, we’d try to talk to him concerning his feelings. He was at the brink of giving up on activism. This being said, there were some wonderful respites to this agony. They came from our interactions with another; the only escape we had. But it was more than enough. We gave each other laughter and comfort and support.

We were told that we were to see the judge soon. Our situation was coming quite close to illegality. It was nearly 3pm and, I was told, that Israeli law stipulates that those placed under arrest must see a judge within 24 hours of their arrest. That time was nearing for us.

We waited for nearly an hour and then we taken to the entry-way, shackled, placed in a van and driven 50 meters to the courthouse. We were then taken out of the van, thrown in a cell, unshackled and met the rest of the male cohorts we were arrested with. We were split into two cells. They were very close to one another. The cell that I was not in had a monopoly on cigarettes, so we would have to reach through slats in the doors to get our fix. We passed the smokes to each other and all shared our nicotine.

I think I may have seen the Palestinian man who I encountered the night before. Or did I? The one that was before in the courthouse cell had a bandage on the same part of his face. But he had many more; on the back of his head, on his neck. He looked thinner than the man I saw the night before. Had he become more frail and acquired a limp while in prison? I thought not. The beatings that the Israeli police forces dole out must mirror one another with striking similarities. I fell into a deep sleep on the concrete floor.

It felt as if I hadn’t slept more than a half-hour, but I was told I was out for quite some time. The jubilant voices rang through the cell walls from the outside. A demonstration had erupted in our honor. Those voices were very inspiring. Although they were in Hebrew, their energy carried through those prison walls. It encouraged us and let us know that things would be ok and that we were loved and that our misery was not naught.

Soon the Israelis let we internationals in on a secret. They had heard the guards discussing what their plans were for the foreigners. They intended to separate us from the, kidnap us, and send us off to the department of immigration. Here we would spend more time in jail. I was excited. They had been plotting though. We were to stay close to them and be a part of the first hearing, so the police were unable to split us off before the judge could make his decision and therefore, legally, we would have to be released. I was skeptical about what “legally” entailed in this country, but they knew better than we did.

We wedge ourselves in between the Israelis and were filed by the police into the courtroom. There were two beautiful young Israeli men dressed in white shirts and black ties who were to represent us during the proceedings. The judge entered and began in Hebrew. I knew nothing of what was happening. My cohort sitting next to me began to speak to me softly.

“The police are going to try to take; don’t go with them!” he whispered. Just like clockwork, one of the police came to me.

“It’s not your turn. Come with me,” he said. I pretended not to understand. This was happening while the judge was addressing the other defendants. Twice more different police came to me and tried to drag me out of the court, telling me it wasn’t my turn.

The judge was demeaning and condescending to the lawyers. I still didn’t know what was happening beyond a heated argument between our counsel and the judge. Finally the lawyers stood and began to speak with restrained anger. The judge scolded them and they began again, but the anger and disgust was still apparent. The judge roared in Hebrew and the lawyers were broken.

They finished the sentence they began two times before, but this time they did without any show of emotions. Their dignity to be angry in the face of in justice was stripped from them. They exited the courtroom.

The police attempted to remove me from the courtroom for the last time. The judge noticed it now and scolded them. The police wore faces of defeat. The Israeli defendant next to me gave me a confident smile. But that smile seemed to be too confident to me. I had no faith in these proceedings and the police began furiously texting on their cell phones. They were hatching some devious plan. As the texting stop, their faces of defeat morphed into solemnity. I surmised that it didn’t mean anything good for us.

The Israelis left the courtroom and we internationals remained. We were without lawyers and attempting to free ourselves from this vile system. As our (the internationals) proceeding began, the police withdrew their request to arrest us. Then the judge began to question us. For each of us he asked if we would agree to be interrogated by the Ministry of the Interior. His questioning of each of us lacked cohesion. When it was my turn, I told him I had yet to speak to a lawyer and would only agree to questioning after I had consulted my legal counsel.

“Your honor, I haven’t had access to a lawyer, everything has been in Hebrew, I don’t have a formal translator, I don’t know what’s going on. I will not agree to an interview at this point. I will consent only after speaking to a lawyer,” I said.

“How can I guarantee you will return for the interview?” he asked.

“I can give my word,” I replied.

“I’ll need more than that.”

“What can I give you?”

“Money or an Israeli to sign for you.” There was a woman who had been giving us legal advice through the proceedings and she leapt up upon hearing this. She returned with an Israeli citizen quite quickly.

“I think this man will sign for me, your honor,” I said, motioning to the man who had just entered. The judge silently filled out his paper work.

“You’re free to go. You may be arrested again,” the judge said and exited the courtroom. Pandemonium erupted upon his exodus. The scene devolved in blatant and rapacious. The police nearly pounced on us and our lawyers burst back into the courtroom.

“You’re free to go! Do not cooperate!” The lawyers kept shouting. Being that this was the first legal advice I had received, I was obliged to follow it. I sat on the floor as the police were shoving our lawyers about. One lawyer was shoved into the lectern in the middle of the courtroom. I fell over with a thunderous crash. The police twisted my arm painfully and haphazardly put me in handcuffs. They did the same to the rest of the internationals. I was dragged/carried to the basement holding cell and thrown in with the rest of my cohorts. I feverishly explained the situation. They were convinced that we would all be deported.

“When you get back! Tell your stories! Tell them all what happened!” This was the general fervor that came from the cells. In less than a minute, the police came a dragged us into the hall. The quickly and nervously shackled our ankles. We were brought out to a police van. Shouts and cheers of love greeted us from the demonstrators outside. That warmed the cockles of my heart, but I wasn’t free. And now, I was separated from all those I’d grown close to over the past two days, separated from anyone who understood Hebrew. Alone, cast off into the ether.

We began to drive and the demonstrators followed us for a hundred meters or so. Then we entered a highway and drove and drove and drove. Mad thoughts raced through my mind: “Are they taking me directly to the airport for deportation? I didn’t matter much to me at this point. Whatever was to be would be very soon. At least the veil would be lifted and I would know my fate.

It looked as if we were approaching Tel-Aviv after an hour’s drive. We turned and turned some more. Finally, we approached an industrial zone. I’m still not completely sure where I was, but I think it was an immigration office of some sort.

Upon our arrival, I told one of the officers that we hadn’t eaten or had any water in 19 hours (there was a clock on the wall that read 4:15am (where did the hours go?!?!)). He found us six slices of bread and chocolate spread. We were taken to the bathroom and told we would be deported. Each of us began to relate a story to the gentleman taking our photographs and fingerprints (again). This process took nearly two hours, but we found ourselves waiting for interrogation in another room at the end of it all.

Before we were interviewed, the man in charge of this madness came to speak with us. I relayed my confusion.

“The police withdrew,” he looked confused, so I began again.

“The police took back our arrests and then brought us here. I don’t know why we’re here and I haven’t spoken to a lawyer,” I said. I thought this was a good way to frame the interview and it seemed to make the wheels spin inside his head.

“You were released so you could be arrested again and brought here,” he replied.

“But if our arrests were taken away doesn’t that imply that the police made a mistake and were trying to rectify their misjudgment?” This line of logic seemed to trouble him. He retreated to his office with a puzzled look.

We were called in one by one and interrogated. It was a fairly scripted interrogation. They began tough. At one point they shouted they didn’t believe us and then they told us how tired they were and tried to convince the white-faced people to become citizens.

We were released into the morning air. We had no money, no phones, no passports, no possessions, save one person. It was 7:30am. The sun was low and cool, yet. But it was a welcomed sight nonetheless, as I hadn’t seen it in nearly two days.

“Have a nice day,” the officer said closing the door behind him. And that was all. Our freedom regained to a certain extent. Fatigue dragged my feet as we meandered through an industrial zone in Tel-Aviv. Was this defeat? Was this victory? I didn’t feel either of those words fit my mood. But dawn had just broken. And although we didn’t know where we were or where we were going or how we would get there, our legs were unshackled.