Yesterday (Sunday), peace activist Ariel Gold was deported from Israel by the immigration authorities at Ben Gurion airport – despite having a visa for studies at the Hebrew University, issued by the Israeli Consulate in New York.
How could this be? This all circles around her support for civil and peaceful protest against Israeli policy, and her support for BDS, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, targeting Israel for its human rights violations. Gold is a leading member of the feminist peace activist group CODEPINK.
I was texting with Ariel already on her deportation flight back to US, and we then spoke on Messenger right as she landed. I will be providing excerpts from that further below, but first, the background of the case.
The current deportation was singularly a result of Israeli top ministerial intervention:
– After several hours of interrogation at the airport, Minister of Public Security and Hasbara Gilad Erdan issued a ‘recommendation’ to the border authorities, wherein he wrote that “Gold has distributed videos on social networks, in which she harasses IDF soldiers and Border Police officers in Hebron, accusing the soldiers of apartheid and oppression, and that their actions do not conform to Jewish values”, that in connection with a campaign against Hewlett Packard, Gold is re-posting posts by the BDS movement “calling for a boycott of the company”, and that “Gold is not only an activist, but aggressively active in Israel and abroad.”
– Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri revoked her visa, saying: “I am again using my authority to prevent the entry into Israel of a woman who came to act against Israel and call for its boycott. This is a Jew who tried to abuse this fact. Those boycott activists must understand that the rules of the game have changed. We will no longer be allowed to enter the country to harm the state and its residents.”
– Erdan added: “The policy I have set is clear: Whoever consistently acts to boycott Israel will not enter here. The rules have changed, and the State of Israel will not restrain itself against those who try to harm it.”
Gold says that the only reason cited for refusal of entry was that she “lied,” but Israeli authorities officials who spoke to her refused to say what she had lied about. “I didn’t lie and they wouldn’t explain what it was that I had lied about,” she said.
This whole charade has roots in an occurrence from about a year ago, where Ariel was assaulted by a settler in the occupied West Bank town of Al Khalil (Hebron). As I had reported in the coverage of that incident, officials from the Ministry of Public Security were already vowing then that Gold would not be allowed to enter Israel in the future due to her support for BDS. So upon exiting Israel last summer, Gold was asked to sign a form which was produced by the Population Authority, in which she declared that she would only enter Israel with an approved visa. Despite having issued the visa, Israel has now deported her.
Erdan’s claim that “Gold has distributed videos on social networks, in which she harasses IDF soldiers and Border Police officers in Hebron, accusing the soldiers of apartheid and oppression, and that their actions do not conform to Jewish values”, seems clearly to be based upon the Hebron encounter. Gold says she is “as certain as I can be” that this is the incident Erdan is referring to
So here is the double irony: Gold did not “harass IDF soldiers”. In fact, it was she herself who was being violently harassed by a settler woman as well as a child, and the soldiers stood by and did nothing. She was asking for protection in order to get to the bus at the other end of the street, which the settler was blocking, but the soldiers did not help. Ariel was not “accusing the soldiers of Apartheid and oppression” or that “their actions do not conform to Jewish values”. That part of the conversation was actually initiated by the soldiers, who were asking Gold where she comes from. Gold answers that she’s from New York, and tells details about her Jewish congregation. At this point, the soldier seems to be really surprised (Minute 16:20). “Oh, you’re Jewish?!”, he utters. Then, another soldier says “why are you going against the Jews?”, to which Ariel answers: “I am going with the Jews, I’m going with human rights and Jewish values, these are my Jewish values”.
“To protect killers??” another soldier asks. “To protect our souls, to be on the right side of history”, Gold answers. This is where the soldier provides a longer rendering about what “being Jewish” means:
“If they [Palestinians] have the chance to hurt me, they do this, ok? If I have the chance, and I had the chance, to hurt them, ok, and I didn’t do this, ok? I treat them as nice. If something’s not good, ok, always trying to be a good person, ok? You always trying to paint us like a bad man, or we did bad things, ok? But you talking bullshit, ok? Bullshit. You are a Jew, you need to stand with the Jews…”
That was pretty much the conversation. It was very far from “harassment” – it would actually be more logical to consider it harassment by the soldiers. And Gold was hardly accusatory. She is very mild in her suggestions, very personal. To consider such a conversation criminal would require a rather fascist mind.
It would also appear, that Erdan is applying a notion wherein the mere fact that Gold has distributed a recording of the incident and the conversation on social networks, is criminal in itself – because it supposedly makes the IDF look bad. This seems to be a rehearsal of the legislation promoted by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, making it a crime punishable by 5 years prison to film soldiers with the purpose of “destabilizing IDF morale and the morale of Israeli citizens.”
So, here are parts of the interview with Ariel Gold, where we start with what happened last year:
JO: You actually managed, with the help of Rabbis for Human Rights, to get a restraint order [against Hebron settler Anat Cohen].
AG: Yes, I took her to court in Jerusalem, I filed for a restraining order, because she had physically assaulted me, and was granted the restraining order. She was not allowed to come near me, she was not allowed to be in any area where I was. And I also spoke with the soldiers afterwards, who had been there, when she assaulted me and had refused to intervene, and they told me that they had been punished for refusing to intervene – essentially for making the Israeli army look bad, and for refusing to protect a Jew, protect an American Jew. So they were forbidden from, I think it was for the rest of the duration that their unit was on duty there, they were forbidden from having coffee at her coffee shop – she used to give the soldiers free coffee. And they were told to not repeat such a thing [refuse to protect an American Jew].
JO: In the video you sent live at the time, it’s only after the violent assault itself, after about 16 minutes, you’re having this conversation with the soldiers, and it’s only then that they actually realize you’re Jewish.
AG: Yes, they realized I was Jewish, and they still refused to provide me any protection and stop the assault, and then they in fact detained me, and kicked me out of the Jewish section in Hebron, and told me that I would have to take the Palestinian bus into Jerusalem, where I was headed – I was headed to an appointment to meet with Rabbis for Human Rights at the time. So that was part of the court case as well, that they kicked me out of the area, which was considered, in Israeli, in their definitions of things, that they had put me in an unsafe circumstance by sending me into the Palestinian area.
JO: So that was on Shuhada Street?
JO: And so Anat Cohen, the settler who attacked you, she has this café there nearby, and the soldiers were simply punished by not being able to get free coffee at her café.
AG: They were quite bothered by that punishment.
JO: It was basically said at the time by officials in Erdan’s Ministyr of Public Security, that you would be barred entry in the future.
AG: Yes, well, [they said] that for future entry I would need permission in advance. It specifically didn’t say ‘barring’.
JO: So you got this visa from the Israeli Consulate in New York, this student visa for your course at the Hebrew University…
AG: Yes, I followed all the procedures appropriately and accurately to apply for a visa, and got one – it was actually a one-year visa for multiple entries in and out of the country. So I had every reason to believe that I could enter the country.
I asked Ariel about her questionings at the Ben Gurion airport. She says there were three questionings. The first quite friendly, where they said she would likely get her entry pass in a moment. Then came the second and third rounds of questioning:
AG: Then I was pulled into a different office for another round of questioning. This questioning was quite angry, and they were yelling at me: ‘What organizations do you belong to, why are you here, what Palestinians do you know, who’s Issa Amro [Palestinian activist], how do you know him, why do you talk to him’… and just kind of on and on… they demanded to see my phone, look through my contacts, they wanted to look at my Facebook pages… and they sent me back out again. Finally, later, they called me back again, and this round they yelled at me that I lied, and [that I] know Palestinians, and finally said ‘you’re being deported’. Oh, and at one point in this round of questioning they started screaming at me ‘how do you have this visa? Where did you get this visa?’, and I said I got this visa from you. Through the proper channels, from your government, from the Consulate in New York City. Which made them unhappy. We now know that two ministers were heavily involved in getting that visa revoked.
JO: Did they give you any official document mentioning the reason for your deportation?
AG: Yes. Well, they verbally told me that the reason for my deportation was that I lied, which I had not done at any time, and [that it was because of] what happened last summer – that was the verbal reason. The paper says ‘immigration risk’.
JO: Immigration risk?
JO: So, the risk that you might want to stay, or something?…
AG: Uh, yep. Which is absurd in so may ways, beginning with their ‘Law of Return’, which says that all Jews are welcome there, to the fact that I was there for a specified purpose, had a return ticket, have children in the US, you know… so, ridiculous on all fronts.
Ariel Gold says that she will be trying to contest the decision with the help of an Israeli attorney. But she’s not very hopeful.
We had to joke a bit about all this:
JO: I’m happy they let you back into the US…
AG: I know, these days…
JO: Before you know it you’ll be stateless!
AG: Living in airports!
But more seriously:
JO: So what does this mean in terms of your plans now? Obviously you can’t do the course at the Hebrew University…
AG: Or visit any of my friends in Palestine, or support work on the ground taking place in Palestine for freedom and equality. I feel the sense of isolation, and a sense of strangling upon activists in Palestine. I mean, you can’t have people like me come in and visit and support. And I think that’s the real purpose of banning me in. Having the ban of the 20 organizations, it’s to isolate a movement and separate and divide, just like Israel does, separating Palestinians in the West Bank from Palestinians inside of 1948 [Israel ‘proper’], Palestinians in Gaza, and for many decades not letting Palestinians in the diaspora in. So this is the next level of isolation and divide for those struggling on the ground.