Introduction: Expulsion of Foreign Workers and Israeli Apartheid (January 30, 2005)
On December 14, 2004, after spending most of a year and a half living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, I was arrested at a demonstration against the Segregation Wall* in Belain, Ramallah. It was my first time in that village. I was arrested along with another U.S. citizen, Kelly Minio-Pallueto, and a British guy named Tom. Four Israelis were also taken on the charge of being in a closed military zone.
The border police there were primarily interested in getting rid of the Israelis. Kelly and I were both filming, were in fact the only two people who were. We were filming the soldiers attacking Israelis, internationals and Palestinians, and especially the severe beating of a teenage Palestinian. The soldiers took Kelly, and Tom tried to stop them. I filmed their arrest as well. The soldiers ignored me completely, even when I grabbed their batons to keep some of the blows from hitting the youth. Some time later, while the boy was still being abused, a man in plain clothes and a Police hat came and asked for my ID. He said I needed to go with him because my visa was expired. I told him I had a valid visa, and offered to show him. He wasn't really interested. It seems likely that both Kelly and I were targeted because we were recognized as having been in Palestine before, not because of anything we were doing at that time. I was arrested with my camera and tape, and the police did not attempt to look at them until hours later. I gave the tape to Tom to take out when he was released.
After questioning by the secret police (SHEBAK), Tom and the Israelis were released, and Kelly and I were taken to the immigration police station at Talpiot, Jerusalem to be deported. Kelly was told she was being deported because she had signed an agreement when she crossed the border not to go to the West Bank. I was told that I was being deported because I was demonstrating in a closed military zone. This seemed odd to me, since obviously I was not demonstrating by myself; was I in a closed military zone and no one else was?
We spent that night at the immigration detention center at Ben Gurion airport, where Jamie, Ann and Christine were imprisoned over the summer. The next day, we were transferred to Michal Immigration Prison at Hadera, where I was incarcerated for just over a week one year ago. After five days in Hadera, we were transferred to Tsochar, a new immigration prison in the south, near Gaza. At the time of my arrest, I had planned to leave the country in two weeks. I thought I would try to get out on bail and have a few days to say goodbye and get my things together. The judge at Hadera, who almost never releases anyone and seems hell-bent on deporting people (nearly all foreign workers, not activists) as fast as possible with as little due process as she can spare, denied my bail. I decided to appeal and try to make a case in court that I should not be deported for trying to stop the state from committing violations of international law. I knew that the appeal had virtually no chance of success, but I felt it would be a good media tool to keep the issues of the Segregation Wall and the International Court of Justice ruling in the public eye. I also felt that since this was my last chance to do anything in Palestine, I wanted to feel that I gave it all I could.
I decided to represent myself, first because I didn't want to spend the money for a lawyer, whether it was my own money or money raised from other people, when I knew there was little likelihood of winning, and anyway, I had been saying for a long time that I was through with my work in Palestine. Secondly, since I was primarily interested in using the court proceeding to make a political statement, I felt that I could present my argument better, or at least more freely, than a lawyer, who might be inhibited by her knowledge of what are and are not valid legal arguments. It was a fascinating process figuring out just how much the system could be used in this way. Gaby Lasky, the lawyer who nearly always represents ISM and other international activists, was really generous and helped my friends file all the documents we needed to file to get the hearing. Yonatan Pollack and Susy Mordecai translated and filed the papers for me; if I had not had them to do it, it seems unlikely that I would have been able to file an appeal at all, casting a lot of doubt on how much the appeal process is actually available to foreign workers facing deportation. It seems almost for sure that someone who is not literate in Hebrew could not do it; and even if someone is able to read and write Hebrew at a level competent to file legal papers, it is not clear how they would ever get them to court. I have heard that the Migrant Worker Hotline helps people file appeals on their own behalf, but they actually seemed surprised that I was doing it and kept asking why I didn't have a lawyer.
I wrote the appeal in English, and Yonatan translated it into Hebrew and filed it on December 21. On December 28, the judge issued a decision saying that there would be a hearing on January 16. The state attorney had argued that there should not be a hearing, because the appeal was without merit. The main reason the judge gave for granting the hearing was that I held a valid visa at the time of my arrest. Given this, I thought it was a little strange that the hearing was scheduled for January 16, when my visa expired January 15. I asked Gaby about it, and she said we should petition to move the hearing up. I filed that request on December 30, pointing out the date that my visa would expire. On January 4, the judge denied the request. When I got to court on January 16, the judge informed me that I no longer had a right of appeal because my visa had expired the previous day. When I protested that my petition to change the hearing date had been denied, he said, "Yes, that was a mistake."
I ended up spending just over five weeks (37 days) in custody. I learned a lot about the so-called legal system through which 100,000 foreign workers have been deported from Israel in a year, and about the worlds that these economic refugees from all over Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe inhabit. I also learned a lot about myself, about time, about my friends, about the human psyche, and about the concept of freedom.
I wrote an article after I got out of jail last year, which you will also find on this site, called Banot Behind Bars which explains some of what I learned at that time about Israel's huge sex trafficking trade, one of the biggest in the world. Interestingly, fewer of the women I met this year were part of that world; more of them were domestic workers, hotel workers and farm workers, more of them had come on work visas which were expired, rather than on the treks from Egypt and Jordan, and more of them had been living on their own or with Israeli partners, rather than in houses with other migrant workers.
Last year the average time people had been in the country seemed to be about two years, and this year it was probably four or five. It makes sense, that when they began this massive deportation effort two years ago, they went after the people who were easiest to get, in the brothels and the areas known for foreign worker residences, the African churches, the Filipino restaurants. Now, 100,000 workers later, they are reaching deeper into the Israeli communities where people have been living anonymously and relatively safely for years. Maya, a friend from Gruzia (Georgia) said, "Two years ago, I was always out on the street, going to cafes, to the beach, enjoying myself. The last year, I stayed home all the time. I was afraid to be on the street." Lydia and Jenny belonged to the same church in Tel Aviv. They said that a year ago, there were 120 members. Now, there are only six left. Everyone else has been deported. Nora watched the Filipino community dwindle from 60,000 legal residents to maybe half that. She always thought it could not happen to her, because she had been here seven years, was living with an Israeli citizen, and spoke fluent Hebrew. I have heard that savvy workers refuse to take jobs in apartments with windows on the street, because the immigration police patrol the streets, looking into windows to see who is cleaning or playing with the kids.
The mass importing of migrant workers from Asia and Eastern Europe coincided with the closure on the West Bank and Gaza associated with the Oslo "peace" process. According to an online fact sheet, "Employment Under Oslo," http://220.127.116.11/search?q=cache:DWm_4eLz0V8J:cesr.org/filestore2/download/689+foreign+workers+israel+oslo&hl=en, there were 116,000 Palestinians working inside Israel's internationally recognized borders in 1992, and by 1996 that number had been reduced to 28,000. Since the Intifada began in September 2000, the number of Palestinians legally working in Israel has dwindled to a trickle, though thousands are still crossing the Green Line illegally, risking both prison and serious injury from the border police if they are caught. The Israeli government, in keeping with some of the new trends of "globalization" sweeping other Middle Eastern countries and the rest of the world, made deals with the governments of the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India, Nigeria and other countries to import large numbers of workers for specific low-wage jobs, especially care giving, agriculture and construction work. Even more arrived illegally, or on tourist visas which technically do not allow them to work. Hana Zohar of Kav L'Oved says "the Israeli authorities want guest workers because they do jobs Israelis refuse to do and because they do them very cheaply."
The mass deportations began about two years ago, in part because of a report issued by Amnesty International at the end of 2001, criticizing Israel for not taking action to crack down on trafficking in humans. As in the U.S., the response has been to crack down on the workers, while leaving in place the systems, both legal and extralegal, that keep them flooding into the country. "Zohar says the deportations should be seen as a way to guarantee cheap, exploitative wages. 'Unlike in other countries, illegal workers here actually earn more not less than their legal counterparts. The legal workers are tied to an employer however badly he treats them and however poorly he pays. An illegal worker, on the other hand, can search around for much better pay and conditions." http://www.bambili.com/bambili_news_en/katava_main.asp?news_id=2430&sivug_id=2
It was clear to me immediately that the war to expel the foreign workers is part of the same agenda as the war to expel the Palestinians which I witnessed at such close hand for two years. The longer someone is able to remain in the country, the more Hebrew she speaks, the more roots she has, the more of a threat she is to the prized demographic superiority (read, ethnic purity) of the Jewish state. An apartheid state cannot tolerate the kind of multiculturalism that I was surrounded by at Tsochar and Hadera. Says Kav L'Oved, "First, pressure from powerful religious parties in Israel has been building to expel the swelling number of foreign workers because they are seen to undermine the Jewish character of the state. Guest workers now comprise more than 5% of the population and many are settling down and want to assimilate."
In the walls of the prisons, I saw a microcosm of the beautiful place that Israel could be: a rich, vibrant world in which people from so many different backgrounds, speaking so many languages, coexist and learn from each other. When we would go out into the small courtyard every day for an hour, I would encounter Efi, an Ethiopian domestic worker who had lived many years in Sudan, and Katya, a Moldovan prostitute. "Kif halik?" I would ask Efi (how are you? in Arabic), "mah shlomeych," (how are you? in Hebrew) to Katya, and both would answer me, "Baruch Hashem," bless The Name, the same response I would hear in the orthodox synagogue we belonged to in Richmond, Virginia.
The complete journal I started in Hadera and continued in Tsochar is found on the iwps website (click here). It begins with the entry called Back in Hadera, dated Friday, December 17 and ends with the one called "Distanced," dated January 20. I did not write every day; rather, I tended to write when something had happened that I found noteworthy. On the other hand, sometimes I tried to just keep track of the changing cast of characters, people's comings and goings, the intrigues of their cases, their relationships inside and outside the prison, and mine as well. Some excerpts read like articles, with a clear point to the stories I tell, and others are more just ramblings or jottings or recollections of random events. Also included are some of the other writings I did while in prison, in particular, an op-ed that was published in the Oakland Tribune on January 15, and the statement I prepared but was not allowed to give in court.
I wanted to publish this journal because it documents a little known side of Israeli apartheid. I also wanted to publish it because I think that, unfortunately, more activists and immigrants are going to be spending time in prison in the next years, as the world hurtles toward fascism. Already, thousands of Arab and Muslim people, activists or not, are sitting in indefinite detention scattered around the U.S., without much noise even from the human rights community. Attorney Lynne Stewart was actually put on trial for "aiding and abetting a terrorist organization," i.e., for doing her court-appointed job in representing Arab clients. Only a few days after I got home, my friend Patrick, who did media support while I was incarcerated, was arrested in a serious manhunt just for him, falsely accused of having a fake passport, and is now imprisoned in another immigration prison in Israel. I include in this journal some honest feelings and thoughts that I am not so proud of. I decided to put it out there in its raw form, because if some of you end up in this situation, maybe it will help you to feel you are not alone.
For more information about the situation of foreign workers in Israel, see: http://www.hanitzotz.com/challenge/68/arenson.htm, http://www.kavlaoved.org.il/katava_main.asp?news_id=844&sivug_id=4
* I first heard Mustafa Barghouti, founder of Palestinian Medical Relief and Palestine Monitor and recently the most successful opposition candidate for President of Palestine, use the term Segregation Wall a year or so ago when he spoke in Berkeley. I really liked that phrasing, because it is accurate, it demystifies Apartheid (which means Segregation), and invokes the memory of segregation in the U.S. I feel it is important to remind U.S. Americans that Israelis have learned at least as much from us about how to drive people off of their land as from the South Africans, and probably more. In fact, I always think that Manifest Destiny Wall would be more accurate. But I have adopted Segregation Wall, as a good compromise.
Press Statement on my arrest in Belain
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
On Tuesday in Bil'in, a village between Budrus and Ramallah, I witnessed the brutality of the Israeli military suppressing a peaceful Palestinian protest. Villagers were protesting the construction of the Apartheid Wall on their land. I was arrested while filming an unprovoked attack on a teenager, who was repeatedly kicked and beaten with clubs by a group of border police. Two other protestors were also wounded and soldiers then fired hand grenades at those carrying the injured to the village. Later they fired sound bombs and rubber bullets at a crowd including small children.
Work on the Wall began in Bil'in on Monday. Villagers succeeded in blocking the bulldozers which had begun to tear down their olive trees. Work was ordered to stop on Tuesday because of a pending appeal in court. Despite this soldiers came anyway with surveyors to demarcate the path of the Wall. The Wall will imprison the village in a small area, destroying the chance of a normal life.
I was arrested with four Israeli's and two other internationals. The Israeli's and one international were released without being charged. Two of us are being singled out for deportation because of our history as activists against the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
I came to this activism in part because of my identity as a Jewish American. The major financial support that the Isreali government expansion of illegal settlements in the Occupation of Palestinian territories and the Apartheid Wall comes from two communities who claim to speak for me.
Isreal claims to be a home for Jews, which is used to justify racist practices and brutal dispossession of the indigenous Palestinian population. Apparently Jews who care about human rights and justice are not welcome here. This is a dangerous policy which makes the world unsafe for Jews everywhere.
I demand to be released to continue my work to dismantle Israeli Apartheid and replace it with policies that promote freedom and security for all!
I demand that the US government impose sanctions to force Israel to stop building the Apartheid Wall and destroy the section already built as decreeed by the International Court of Justice!
Friday, December 17, 2004
It's a familiar setting. We sit on our bunks, talking in a cacaphony of multilingualism, to each other, or on mobile phones with friends, family, employers, organizations, people who can help or who cannot help.
We watch out of the barred window for visitors or newcomers, lawyers, family members bringing belongings of deportees. And we talk, obsessively, about our situations - how we got here and how and when we will leave.
There are 48 women here in this no-person's land. We are Romania, Nigerian, Moldovan, Filipina, Uzbeki, Sri Lankan, Indian, Chinese, Colombian and Ukrainian. Then there are Kelly and me, the anomalous Americans.
Kelly and I are the latest casualties of the SHABAK's (Israeli secret police) campaign to rid itself of the threat to Israeli security known as ISM (International Solidarity Movement) - ironic, since at the moment neither of us is working with ISM. So our expulsion will do little for them.
The other women here, along with the men across the asphalt yard, are casualties of the Prime Minister's war on foreign labor, which has resulted in deportation of 100,000 workers in the last year, a stunning statistic. At the same time, a steady stream of new workers arrives each day, on flights from Romania, Thailand, Moldova and China, on treks through Egypt and Jordan. Most come legally, with six-month work visas meant to maintain the revolving door system of cheap labor. Some of the new workers are the same as the old workers, having returned home and received a new identity and a new ticket. Anyone who remains only six months will go home owing money, because what their "agencies" take for facilitating their travel is more than they can earn in six months. [Later, I was told that it costs a Chinese worker about $8,400 to come without a visa through Egypt, and about $9,200 to come through the airport with a visa. In Georgia, the rates are about $4,500 with visa and $1,500 without. The Chinese workers do not pay this money up front, but rather over time by working, usually at least one year, for free. Some of the Europeans have the money to put out, and then when they get here, they can look for a job that will pay them decently and give them some freedom.]
Yu Se Fung had a one-year work visa, but she had lost her job and been given a deadline by which she had to find one. She was eight days past this deadline when the police raided the apartment she shared with other Chinese workers. She was so badly beaten at the time of arrest that now, two weeks later, she still clutches he stomach when she walks. Her left side shows an angry purple bruise the size and shape of a fist. At night, she shivers and cries. She cannot sleep.
Natasha, from Yugoslavia, is married to an Israeli Jew. She has lived here for five years, and ben married for two. She was arrested a few days before she and her husband were scheduled to meet with the Ministry of Interior to regularize her status. The police showed up at her house at 4:00 a.m. with a warrant for her arrest. Lilia from Moldova is also married to an Israeli, and has an 18-year-old daughter who is an Israeli citizen. She cries nonstop. Linda has been here eight months. an Uzbeki Mslim, she has lived in Morocco and speaks Arabic well. She has been married for six months to a Palestinian from Haifa.
When they are arrested, the women are immediately stripped of their mobile phones, so they cannot contact Israeli employers or anyone else who might help them. I, on the other hand, was allowed to keep my phone - why? The captured workers are not told they have the option not to talk to the police, or the representative from the Ministry of Interior; no one comes to talk to them in their own language, at least, not if they are Sri Lankan, like Djinie. The police who were more or less civil to me were yelling at her from the start, though I was much less cooperative than she was and she speaks better Hebrew. Only after they have been questioned and the Ministry has decided to hold them for deportation - if that was ever in question, are they shown something available in many languages (though certainly not all; the Madagascarian women requested it in French, but they couldn't find it and kept trying to give it to them in English), which tells them they can have a lawyer. Some of them do find lawyers, but generally these lawyers charge them tens of thousands of shekels for the chance to be released on 15,000 or 30,000 shekels bail. Most of them do not hear about the organizations that exist to help them, such as the Migrant Worker Hotline or Kav L'Oved, until they are already denied bail and on track to be deported.
After 24 hours in Hadera, we wait in line to see the judge. The attorney that Kelly and I are lucky to have is not allowed to be present during the hearing. When the police see her talking to me outside the judge's office, they summarily escort her off the premises. When I ask the judge why I cannot be represented at this hearing, which is to decide if I can be released on bail, she says that my lawyer can write her a letter explaining why I should be released. She listens quite a bit to a policeman who lectures me on how much worse the U.S. war crimes in Iraq are than Israel's actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (he gets no argument from me, but that doesn't stop him), and how much worse we treat our political prisoners. Then the judge says to me, "You will stay here until you are deported." I mention that she has not even received my lawyer's letter. She assures me she will read it and if there are "new facts" in it, she may reconsider. I say she has asked me for any facts. She says that the facts the police provided are enough for her. I am dismissed.
When other women come out of the hearing, they have agreed to pay for tickets out of their scare earnings, to expedite their departure. Otherwise, they are warned, they will sit in jail for months waiting for the Israeli government to buy them tickets. Most of them are Christian, and anxious to get home for Christmas. Most of them will not make it.
Monday, December 20
Sunday morning, Eli Levy, the head of the prison, returns from his weekend ready to fight. This ritual I remember from last year; he always picked fights on Sunday morning. I have been dreading encountering him. We had battles of will last year, and I know he will not let my return slip by unremarked. The other police who were here last year have been mildly curious about how I returned, but when I chose not to answer, they let it go with a shrug. Eli would not do such a thing.
He comes in at 8:00 a.m. with Ruth and the small blonde girl. When one of the women calls my name, and I mumble sleepily in reply, he asks, "Where are you from?"
I answer, "The States."
"You have a passport?"
"Do you have a ticket?"
"Have you been arrested before?"
"Why do you ask?"
"I'm in charge here. Answer my question."
"It's in the papers. Read them."
"No, I'm asking you. Have you been arrested before?"
"Why does it matter? I'm here, I'm going to be deported. That's all you need to know."
Restrained violence projects in his voice. "I'm in charge here, and I need to know. You're a prisoner. You have to answer me."
"I already answered these questions for two other policemen. I don't know that much about Israeli law, but I believe I have the right not to answer your questions." I have a tactical advantage, because I am up on my top bunk. I stare him down, literally. "Don't I?"
Everyone else in the room is breathlessly silent, watching the conflict unfold like a bad melodrama. I meet Kelly's eyes and she slightly shakes her head. It's a costly mistake. Eli speaks in Hebrew to the policewomen, who nod obediently. I understand enough of what he says: "I want these two separated."
I feel betrayed by Ruth, who knits while we exercise and usually tries to help. She is the one who brought me Shelly's gifts Wednesday night, even allowing in the forbidden milk, and let me talk to my friends through the gate. I remember that she reacted negatively the other night to my wearing a keffiyya as a blouse and wonder, have my politics cost me a valuable ally?
Eli says to me, "Pack your things, you are moving."
"I'm taking you somewhere else."
"I don't have to tell you. Get your things together."
"Well, I won't go."
"Well I'll take you by force."
He has been waiting for the opportunity to say this, and I regret giving it to him. I think he hopes it will come to that.
Kelly asks, "Where are you taking her?"
He says, "I'm moving her to another building."
"In this prison?"
"That's all you had to say."
He looks down for a second, conceivably he thinks, yes, I could have told them that. But of course, that wasn't the point. The whole interaction was set up to make me say, "I won't," so he could say, "I will force you." I think maybe I should say, "Don't worry, I know I'm in prison, you don't have to prove it to me." Instead I say nothing. He says, "Hurry and pack, you have five minutes."
When he leaves, the room explodes with suppressed rage and fear. I slowly gather my things. I don't want to be rushed, but I do want to have all of my few belongings with me, and I will not make them drag me, it's not worth it and I won't give him the satisfaction.
Maria is near tears as she says, "I think he will take you to Ramle, to a real prison. You should go and tell him you want to go home."
Mariana, who is not so mentally stable anyway, puts her arms around me, shaking. We are not too close, but I have become part of their world and a threat to me is felt as a threat to them all.
It's amazing how quickly bonds can be forged in jail, especially this one, where everyone is so transient. You will not have time to build the deeper relationships and cliques that are the cornerstone of life on other prisons. Cliques here are based first on language gropu, then on age and occupation, only then on having anything in common.
I finish packing and decide to shower, alkthough I fear they will come before I am done and I will be dragged out wet and naked. That does not happen. An hour later, Ruth comes to let us out in the yard. She tells me, "After you go back in, we're going to move you." I say okay. She hears me talking about which coffee drink doesn't have sugar, and takes me over to the machine to show me. I understand she wants to show me she does not share Eli/'s animosity toward me. I ask her if she will let me fax my appeal later. She says sure.
By 5:00 p.m. I am still in our room. I have seen Ruth a few times, she has brought me juggling balls from Shelly and given her the appeal to fax to Yonatan, because I have not been able to do it myself. She has said nothing about moving, and I have stopped worrying about it. I am worried something worse is in the works. I know Eli is not the type to get over his annoyance or cancel a punishment. I fear he really is arranging for me to be moved to Ramle, where they make you stand up for count three times a day and you can't have your phone.
At 11:30 p.m two women cops come to count us. After they do, they tell Mariana that at 7:00 a.m. she'll be taken to get her bags from home. Then they call my name and Kelly's. "At 7:30 tomorrow you move." We are shocked. Where are we going? we demand to know. The airport? Kelly asks. No, they say, another prison, like this one.
"Ramle?" I ask with trepidation.
"No, not Ramle," he blonde guard says firmly. They consult a minute. "Tsochar," says the blonde and the tiny brunette nods in concurrence.
I ask why. She shrugs. "It's normal. People who are here a long time, we move them there." I wonder, does she mean, people who have been here a long time or people who are going to be here a long time? Why does she think we are going to be here a long time?
Jenny grabs me in the bathroom. "Kate, they say they are moving me in the morning." I am relieved to learn this is not something special for us. "Yes, me too." I tell her. She looks frightened. I know she is calling on God for strength.
We text all our friends who planned to come Monday for visiting day, telling them not to come, we will be gone. It seems to me like spite, moving everyone on visiting day. And visits start at 9:30, so by moving us at 7:30, they assure that people cannot get their things, things they might need to go home with or see their friends to say goodbye. It feels even more spiteful at 8:20 when they tell us we'll be leaving at 9:30. We've been up since 6:30 to be ready. Our friends could have come after all. Dorothy and Shelly make it for a brief visit, bringing coffee, pretzels, chocolate, and balloons.
They call us to come and we do, 25 of us or so, dragging suitcases and tote bags. We hug our friends who are staying behind. Yu Se Fung clings to me, crying a little. I put her number in my phone. We crowd into the exercise area, a cage about 40 meters square. Looking around I flash on scenes I have seen from Ellis Island: deportees with their scant belongings, all they have to take with them from the land where they tried to make a better life. Police sort our paperwork, trying to match it with our faces. They yell at us to close our phones or they will take them away. We all obey without protest. Your phone is your prized possession in prison.
They load us onto a bus and our bags go on another van. I feel silly with my balloons, as if I'm going away on the Love Boat or something, but it's amusing to watch the policeman bump their heads on them all the time.
At 2:30 we reach Tsochar. It's a brand new facility - about a year old. It's built with some of the special grant money given by the US government to help Israel rid itself of the menace of so many maids, construction workers, elderly care workers, and prostitutes. (Israel has deported 100,000 foreign workers in the past year alone, and is planning to deport another hundred thousand this year.) Tsochar looks just like the pictures I have seen of immigration prisons along the US-Mexico border; possibly it was built by the same company. There are two huge watchtowers with bright lights next to them that shine in our windows all night. It is a series of cages within cages, chicken wire topped with barbed wire. Wherever you look is a cage.
In Hadera, when I complained about men coming into our room, I was told that the rule was that they always had to be with a woman, which they were not. But here at Tsochar, it is almost always men who come in alone. Most are Russian speaking and the story is that they have a liaison with the Russian speaking prisoners, exchanging food, cigarettes, and favors for information and sex. My observation of their behavior together makes me suspect the rumors are true.
I asked the men why they didn't come with women police and they said, "We don't have enough women." But since they've hired 500 new immigration police in the last 2 years, couldn't they hire some women? There are no doors on the cells where we sleep or on the shower, though the toilets have doors that lock. Well, one locks and one is broken. All the plumbing is faulty; there's a leak in one of the toilets and another under the sink. The floor is always wet in the bathroom area and as in Hadera there are only the bathroom sinks to wash dishes in though we always eat in our room.
When they came it at 7:30 this morning and yelled "USA!" I replied, "That's not anyone's name." This is how they refer to the women here: China! Romania! USA! If there's more than one from that country, they expect everyone to get up and then they will sort out who they want. Sometimes when forced they come up with a descriptive designation: "Ayfo China Hahadasha?" (Where is the new China?) When I hear them calling, "Mongolia, boi!" (come), I'm reminded of the Woody Guthrie song: "You won't have your name when you ride the big airplane, all they will call you will be 'Deportee.'"
Thursday, December 24
When I came to Tsochar, they did not take my camera away. It was on the table with everything else, and the guy got tired of searching stuff, after throwing away my little tape measure because I could measure the cell with it. He said to pack everything up quickly, there were other people to search. So I just put the camera in the bag with everything else.
Yesterday, I decided to throw caution to the winds and shoot with the camera, because I did not know how long I will be here, and I thought I could wait and lose my chance. I didn't get anything so great, but it will make two minutes' amusing footage, it's different, and at least it shows what the place looks like, how small the space is, that you can barely move around, and the diversity of the women here. I guessed I would be reported, and I hid the tape just in time. When the police came in, about 10:30 p.m., I was on the phone, and Sharon just said, not looking at me, "Bring me the camera." I took it out and handed it to him, without even hanging up.
Alex took the camera out of the bag and handed it to me. "Turn it on." I did and handed it back. "No, play." I turned it to play and switched to the card. He looked at the snaps of Lydia and Nana that I had shot so I would have something to show them (the other card was tucked in my pocket), and said, "Not stills. Tape."
"No, there's no tape. Only the card."
He knew the camera. He deleted the images and showed me, triumphantly, the little readout, "No images."
I said, "No problem. I just wanted some pictures of my friends."
"Well, you're not allowed to do that here."
"Okay, I didn't know that."
"Okay, now you know." Then he changed his mind. "You knew. Same in Hadera."
"In Hadera, I didn't have it."
"Well now, we take it too."
I followed them to the office to sign the receipt with my name and "Dai L'Kibush" (End the Occupation in Hebrew). He asked me again about extra cards. I said no, there was only the one. He asked again about the tape. No tape, I said, I had no blank tapes with me. He didn't believe me, but he accepted it. He looked at the signature and laughed.
"You think you're joker. Like clown, you know?"
"No," I said, "I don't think the Occupation is a joke."
I asked him, "How did you know about the camera?" He did not answer.
I have to say, I was surprised at the mildness of the response. In any prison in the U.S., they would have torn my stuff and the cell apart looking for the tape. I would have been punished for having the camera and for using it and for not giving them the tape. I was restless all night worrying that there would be repercussions, but I suspect that one, they are embarrassed that they missed the camera in the first place, and two, they don't really care.
The women in the room were furious that someone had turned me in. They all wanted to know how they knew, and they think they know who told them. I don't bother trying to figure it out. Maya brought the cheese and coffee that I had put out on the table to share with the others, and said I should keep it in my room. They are much more upset than I was.
Friday, December 24
Freedom is an odd concept. In a way, we are free here. We don't have to work, to follow any special time table. We can have most of what we want if we came with it, or have someone bring it to us. We are fed, we are warm, we have hot water to wash ourselves and our clothes. We can talk to our friends here and on the phone. We can say what we like, even to the police if we speak their languages. Perhaps we are freer than the boys I see now on the other side of the fence, making their way home from school. We cannot go out to the cafes for lunch, but how many of the women here could afford to do that when they lived in Tel Aviv or Eilat or Manila or Tbilisi?
But we are not happy, because we feel we are unfree. When the door opens at 10:00 or so, and the man says, "Mishehu rotze bahootza" (anyone want to go outside?), something inside us opens. We rush out to stand in the sun, to inhale the air, to see the different faces from the room next door. When our hour ends and the bolts of the lock click-click behind us, we feel the misery settle into our souls. The world goes darker. We are robbed of the sun and sky. When we look out, only cages and watchtowers meet our eyes.
If I were home, I might spend a day in the house and not venture out, and feel it as a break, not a deprivation, because I chose it. How often have I dreamed about spending a week or two just reading, sleeping, drinking coffee? And I admit, I am not unhappy here. But the unfreedom is a weight on my heart, makes me long for things I never do outside. Three different women cleaned the floor this morning; it gleaned for a few minutes. But yesterday when the policemen came to yell at us about cleaning, none of us wanted to respond.
It has taken me a week to get myself back. Now I am ready to fight, in small ways, only for what matters. In mid-afternoon, Tanya brought me her phone to talk to Natasha. She was in the same cell with Kelly, and Tuesday night they were inexplicably moved en masse to the men's side. Natasha said they hadn't had hot water or soap for three days. An Israeli friend had put her in touch with a journalist, but I thought that would take a long time to help. There are only four of them there now, and there's room for four here. I called Khulud, who works for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and she suggested I call Dan Goldenblatt, who works for Knesset member Roman Bronfman. Dan called the commander, who said he didn't know what I was talking about. When Dan called me back he said, "Your word is as good as his, and his is as good as yours right now." I was annoyed. If the guy doesn't know what I'm talking about, it's not a big mystery. He can go from room to room asking, "Do you have hot water?" I told Dan it wasn't my word, that I'm not there, but that he should talk to Natasha, and that she had reported it to the prison. I gave him her number.
An hour later I heard the door unlock, and a man called loudly, "Shalom! Ma shlomchem? Yesh baayot? Rotzim mashehu?" (Hello! How are you all? Are there problems? Do you want something?). I texted Dan: thanks. A few minutes later Tanya came and whispered that Natasha said "thanks a lot." I felt happy, always happy to make prison authorities squirm a little. I had been afraid that I would get into trouble, but now I find I am not scared. Whatever happens, it would be worth it to say to them that we are in fact people -- with rights, with names, with friends, with human needs, even human dignity.
I am making a promise now: If they call "Artzot Habrit" or "USA", I will not answer. They have to say my name.
Saturday, December 26
Nora says to Tanya, you are always happy. They are speaking Hebrew; Tanya does not speak English. Nora is fluent in Tagalog, Hebrew and English, plus several other Filipino languages, and is picking up Arabic from her common-law husband, a Jerusalemite Palestinian.
Yes, Tanya agrees. She would rather be somewhere else, but this is her life right now, she can read, she has what she needs, friends (gesturing around her to include all of us), she is happy enough. She is a woman a few years older than I, six years in Israel, extremely competent. She always has a book in her hands, except when she is on the phone, speaking Hebrew to her friends and family.
Nora is a small bundle of energy, probably in her late 30s. She misses her boyfriend, Charlie, especially their planned trip to Bethlehem for Xmas Eve, but she is cherishing the experience of being in jail and hearing the horror stories. She was a nurse in the Philippines, but she did not like hospital work - it upset her too much. "Especially the kids," I say, and she laughs. "How did you know?" Here, she is often in tears when she is talking to other women. She gave the gold earrings she had bought for her mother to Clemencia, from Bolivia, who was caught as soon as her three month tourist visa was up. Nora is right, Clemencia will go home in debt. But I warn her, she cannot solve everyone's problems. She says she is going to ask her boss to bring clothes for Theresa, from Nigeria, who has no one to bring her things from Rishon l'Tzion. Nora wants to know what I will do to help Theresa, who is trying to get refugee status from the UN. I say I can ask Israeli friends to call the UN and make sure they are working on it. I doubt that Theresa will qualify. I do not believe the story she is telling. I explain to Nora, if someone just wants me to listen and sympathize, I do not worry about whether their story is true or not. There are all kinds of tragedies. But if they want me to do something, then I need to check it out. From here, I cannot do that. I don't have so much faith in the UN, but this is their business, not mine. I feel callous and heartless. This is part of what two years in the OPT have taught me.
Nora tells me the story of two Thai women in the next room. They were brought by an Israeli trafficker to work on a farm. They worked the first year for free, to pay back their transport, and after that they were promised a salary of $1,000 a month. The trafficker kept their passports. At the end of the second year, they received their salary. Then their house was raided. The police had their passports in their hands. Only they were taken, out of ten people in the house, none of whom had a passport or visa. Obviously, their employer had turned them in because they had become too expensive.
Another woman, from Madagascar, was promised $200 a month. $70 was paid into an account in Madagascar each month. She was told she would receive the other $130 in a lump sum when she left. She has a lawyer and had one court date to get the money. The employer did not show up, nor did a lawyer representing him. In the States, that would mean she would automatically win, but for some reason, here they set another court date to give him another chance to contest it.
Sunday, December 27
I am frustrated and sick of people's demands. Why can't people accept that I cannot help them? I try to remember how desperate and upset they are, but why do they assume I am not? We (activists) come in here with the attitude that we know so much, we can solve any problem, we are advocates, and then when people want something from us, we fail them. But really, I do not know what to do.
Nora was standing by my bed talking to me. I was wishing she would go away; I wanted to read. My phone rang, an international call. After that, another one. I was talking to my mom, when I saw people running. Maya was sitting by Nora's bed, fanning her with a book. Then the police came in with a doctor, looked at her, went away, came back and took her out. Nadar helped her to the door.
Not half an hour later, Nadar collapsed, shaking. Maya was prying her jaw open, as people lifted her to the table. Sveta was screaming, "Shoter!" (Policeman!) out the window. The police came in and were brusque with Nadar, telling her to be quiet, it would be okay. They took her with them, and Maya went too. Nadar does not speak Hebrew. She and Maya are both from Gruzia (Georgia), so they are friends. They came back in half an hour. Nadar did not look well. She sat in the living room shaking, and women made her tea and brought blankets to cover her.
After fifteen or 20 minutes, she exploded in seizures again. This time, I was near her, talking to Maya. I helped splash her face with water, lift her limp body to the table, hold her mouth open, put her shoes on when the police came. It thought it was ironic that Nora, the nurse, was in the hospital; she would have known what to do for Nadar.
Nora has hyperthyroidism, hypertension and palpitations. Nadar has epilepsy. Nora should be eligible for bail and to remain, as the common law wife of an Israeli citizen. She is waiting for a space on the crowded court calendar in Beersheva, so she can be released. Nadar has a passport, is willing to go home, but the government wants her to pay for the ticket. She has waited here three weeks. There is one flight a week to Georgia, on Monday. Tanya bets that tomorrow, they will find the money to put her on it.
I am not so sure.
Lydia told me about an Ethiopian woman who was arrested when she was six months pregnant. She was here two and a half months, and at eight months, she had to be rushed to the hospital. The judge refused to release her to leave on her own. The government insisted she pay 3,000 NIS for her ticket home. Yet they were willing to pay to keep the baby in prison. Why?
None of the women here, except me, is accused of any crime against the state. They are only "status offenders" - contributing members of society who have no rights because they are the wrong religion and ethnicity.
Cissi, a Venezuelan woman, came here at 20. She is now thirty. Her mother is here too, as a live-in housekeeper. Cissi does not live in, she has her own apartment. She is always bubbly and happy. She said she used to go to a salsa club on the Tel Aviv beach every Friday night, and they would dance until morning. Her friends at the club raised $11,000 for her, $1,000 for the ticket, the rest for her to take with her. She has two kids in Venezuela she looks forward to seeing. She is happy that she will be home for New Year's.
People imagine that I can do things for them, much like some of the Palestinians do. They think I can help them get to America, or to Canada, or get refugee status or action from he UN. Occasionally, I actually do have access to something that can help them, like the translation for Yu Se Fung. More often, though, I can do nothing, and as in Palestine, I find myself getting pissed off at them for making demands. I want to say, "If I had so much power, do you think I would be sitting here?" They ask me over and over, "You are American, why are you here? Does your embassy know you are here?" I assure them they do, but they don't care. They cannot beleive that I am as powerless as they are, as powerless as I am, against the leading beneficiary of my government, the most powerful in the world.
Even one of the police asked me, "You are American, what are you doing here?" I asked him, "Don't Americans overstay their visas?" He shrugged. "I never saw one here before." I do not understand what happens when they stop an American or a Western European who has an expired visa. I don't believe they just let them go.
Every woman here has a tragic story. Tanya's husband died in the aftermath of Chernobyl. Maya is an economist by training. Her husband in Georgia (Gruzia) was shot by a mugger and lost his legs and could not work. She had no work either, so she came here five years ago to work as a maid. Her oldest daughter, born when she was 16, is studying now in New York. Her youngest is 11; he was 6 when she left. She has a boyfriend here too. He cannot visit her because he also does not have papers. She cries nonstop over him, but she is happy to go home to her villa on the Black Sea.
The Chinese and Filipinas always seem in good spirits. Tsung is 42, and Nana 25. They have a sweet relationship. Tsung gives her massages, they laugh and sing and juggle and talk. I am jealous of their closeness. I miss Kelly, though it is easier in a way not to be worrying about what she thinks of me. But there is no one here that can understand what I am trying to do, and I am lonely.
I asked Sveta why she has been here so long, almost three months. She is waiting for her passport, she says. She says the Russian consulate is only open once a week for three hours. People line up from 5:00 a.m. to get numbers. "It's like the old days when people lined up for food rations," she says. Nora says the Filipinos would never stand for it. They would write articles in the newspaper, and the people who worked at the consulate would be fired.
These places are such a waste of human potential. Maya with all her intelligence sits and broods all day. Sveta's pent-up energy is released in alternately flirting with and yelling at the cops. Tanya at least reads, but I can tell that outside, she is someone who gets things done. Lydia too. Here, what can they do? Even the cleaning, that we do willingly and the police think they have to force us to do, takes only a few minutes. Yet the days pass. Ten days in custody, and what have I done? In ten days outside, I would have cut a movie or two, traveled up and down the West Bank a few times, pulled off an action, fulfilled errands, had meetings, helped Fatima and Ridwana get settled in the house.
From Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell
"The jails were places that could only be described as dungeons. In England, you would have to go back to the eighteenth century to find anything comparable. People were penned together in small rooms where there was barely space for them to lie down, and often they were kept in cellars and other dark places. This was not as a temporary measure - there were cases of people being kept four and five months almost without sight of daylight. And they were fed on a filthy and insufficent diet of two plates of soup and two pieces of break a day."
"...Though I was technically in hiding, I could not feel myself in danger. The whole thing seemed too absurd. I had the ineradicable English belief that 'they' cannot arrest you unless you have broekn the law. It is a most dangerous belief to have during a political pogrom."
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
It was a disappointing day. I found out that my hearing is not until January 16. So if I want to stay for it, I will miss the IWPS team meeting in France. At first, I was so relieved that there will be a hearing at all, that I was not so upset about the date. Then later, it hit me that it means I will be here at least three more weeks, or a total of 5. That's longer than I've ever been in prison, and here it is exacerbated by the fact that I have to function all the time in a foreign language, and it's not even the foreign language I've been studying recently. Plus, language aside, no one here can understand what I am trying to do. In an American prison, there would more likely be some politicized women, or at least the potential for people to understand. Here, we are not even watching the same news. It is isolating. The women here have been in Israel for three, four, six, ten years, and they do not even know the Wall exists. It is like we have not been in the same country.
I feel abandoned. No one called from home, and it was a tough day to feel so alone. To make things worse, tonight, everyone decided to go on an anti-lesbian rampage. They were joking around, calling each other lesbians and then making fun of what lesbians do, and it went on and on for hours. I went to my bed to get away from it, and then Anya came and got on the bed with Tsong and Nana and they started again. And Nana said, "Mah zeh, lesbiana?" and Anya explained it in pidgin-Hebrew, and then Nana said, "Oh, lo tov, lo tov," (not good). And I exploded, "Lama lo tov?" (why not good?) Nana was confused, and said, "Bseder?" (okay?) I said, "Ken, bseder. Im at lo rotzah laasot oto, bseder. Aval im mishehu acher rotza, mah zeh bishvilach?" Yes, it's okay. If you don't want to do it, fine. But if someone else wants to, what is it to you? They shook their heads, not really understanding, but they stopped. I felt miserable and a little scared. If they told everyone I'm a lesbian, I don't know what would happen. This is a very small space.
Thursday, Dec 30, 2004
"Ochel" (food), someone calls. All activity ceases. The 15 women interrupt their conversations and surge toward the door. "Lo maspik" (not enough), I hear. "Od paam lo maspik?" (again not enough?). We crowd around the women who are dividing up the small bowls of spaghetti onto 15 trays. Everyone gets about 2 spoonfuls of noodles and 5 slices of tomato and cucumber. We have margarine but no bread; we ate what we had left from lunch and they didn't bring any more.
We eat in depressed silence. I remember being in a jail once where you got 8 minutes to eat. Here we can take as long as we like but it doesn't take anyone 8 minutes to finish. Because we have nothing else to do, food takes on an enormous importance in our lives, and when there is not enough, fights can break out. Some of us have friends who bring us treats -- coffee, sugar, chocolate, fruit -- and most of us share with everyone, but it is not enough to supplement the diet for 15 people. Some people take more than their share, but the ones who complain are often the ones who have more. The Nigerian women in particular, who are large and came with nothing, are always hungry. It's like a low-stakes version of "Survivor."
Many people have bad news today. Tania is waiting for her passport to come from the Ukrainian consulate. She has lived in Israel for 6 years. Her first husband died in the aftermath of Chernobyl. She will go back to Ukraine, and her Israeli boyfriend of two and a half years will follow her. They will get married there and after four or five months she can return as his wife with a residency visa. Two weeks ago the consul told her that her passport was ready. But yesterday when the police went to get it, the consulate said no, it was not there. The police brought her a new form to fill out, exactly the same as the one she did three weeks ago.
Some women, like Theresa, fall victim to unscrupulous lawyers or pseudo-lawyers who charge them thousands of shekels and do nothing to help. Theresa and her husband are Nigerian. They are trying to get refugee status, but yesterday the UN turned them down. They paid a lawyer 5000 shekels to help them, but she says he didn't do anything. A human rights group talked to the lawyer, who now says he is not their lawyer, just a friend who was helping them. Her husband found another lawyer, who will try to make the other man give back the money and handle her bail request.
Dagi is 7 months pregnant. She has been in Tsochar for over a month. She has insurance but has not seen an OB since she was arrested. Now the immigration police want to send her home to Mongolia, but she is afraid that the flight will cause her to go into premature labor. She had problems when her first child was born nine years ago. [Note: Today, January 2, Physicians for Human Rights and the Migrant Worker Hotline got a judge to agree to release her.]
Nora has been living with a Jerusalem Palestinian for 7 years. Since he has Israeli ID, and under Israeli law she qualifies as his domestic partner, she should be eligible to stay. The man whose twins she has cared for for 2 years is trying to help. She hired a lawyer who got another Filipina out on bail very quickly. She has medical conditions that make it dangerous for her to stay in jail. She has been hospitalized once in the two weeks she has been in prison. Her bail appeal was transferred from Hadera to Beer Sheva. Now she hears it is back in Hadera.
Nora said that the police told her when she was arrested, "The Chinese and Nigerians are dangerous." They said the Nigerians drink bleach to kill themselves. I would bet that one person did that once, and they happened to be Nigerian, so the police generalized. Lydia, who is close to 60, was handcuffed when she was arrested, and they told her she was lying about being from Ghana, that she was really Nigerian. They locked her in a cell by herself for three days, and she couldn't eat.
Jenny was depressed earlier, and told me she wanted the world to end, that there were no good people in this world, only wickedness. I asked her to tell me about Nigeria. She told me how they live in the city but maintain homes in the villages, that the middle-aged people go to work in the city, that they send their children to stay with their grandparents in the village, and the children call their grandparents Mama and Papa, and their mothers Auntie.
Her eyes and voice got soft as she told me about how the grandparents told the children animal stories. Theresa chimed in when Jenny said that if you leave your husband and come home everyone welcomes you back. "Unless you offended him," she said, and Jenny agreed. If you were wrong, they will not take you back, they will tell you to go make it up to him. It sounds very beautiful there.
Friday, New Year's Eve,
my second New Year's in Israeli custody:
About 9:30 this morning, the door unlocked. A woman cop came in and called in Hebrew, "Who here is from Yugoslavia?" Natasha exploded from her bed. She'd been expecting the call, but didn't know when, and anything can go wrong. She packed quickly, with Tania's help, and before 5 minutes passed, she was kissing us all goodbye, and walking out to meet her husband, who had finally decided to bail her out after more than three weeks.
"She will have a good New Year's Eve," someone said, and everyone laughed. Natasha had a raunchy sense of humor, and we all know a lot about her sex life.
Tania told us how she and Natasha became friends. They lived near each other in Holon. Natasha was arrested first, at 4 am, and then they went to Tania's house. They gave each of them 5 minutes to pack. They didn't even have time to pee. They drove them around for hours, looking for others to arrest. They weren't allowed to go to the bathroom for 11 hours. They were ordered to sit still and the officer told them, "You go to the bathroom when I want." It's like the Gestapo, and for what? Arresting middle-aged women living with Jewish Israeli right-wing assholes doesn't strike me as the way to get elected.
At 4:45 I was talking to Jenny when we saw people crowding at the window. Jenny got there first. She said, "Kate, come here, they are making a party." The police had put tablecloths on the little tables in the courtyard, and put out bottles of diet malt soda and grape juice. Not what I would have picked, but people's spirits rose, and they ran to change into the best clothes they had with them. I got excited when I saw the food: hummus and bagdonasiya, lots of it. I laughed to recall that three weeks ago, I swore I would not eat hummus again. Funny what 2 weeks of white bread and sour cream will do for you.
The police took pictures of us toasting the New Year. I said, "I bet they're going to print them in the paper." Jenny thought I was worried that my friends would see me in prison. I explained, no, there was already a whole article about my being in prison. I am proud of it. But I don't want them making propaganda about how well they are treating us. During the evening police came in every half hour and said "Shalom. Hag sameach" (Hello. Happy holiday). I was annoyed. No one else seemed to be.
Jenny, Theresa, and Lydia announced that they were making a vigil starting at 10 pm. They started with a healing ceremony for Maya who is racked with
depression. Their healing energy was strong. We stood in a circle with Maya sitting in the center and they chanted and we clapped. The chants were about
Jesus, but it was the same kind of ritual I would do -- powerful magic -- and it seemed to work. When it was done several of the others were crying too, especially Tsung, from China.
We sang and chanted for a while longer, raised some energy. I started the Brigid chant, and the Africans chorused "FREEDOM!" Suddenly, at about 11, we heard shouts from the next room. Sveta yelled, "Rossia!" and turned on the TV because it was nearly midnight in Russia. The Africans got angry and wanted everyone to continue their ritual, but the Russians (I shouldn't say Russians, because they were actually from five different Russian-speaking countries) were bringing out sweets and candles for a party. I tried to say to Jenny and the others that we all have our own traditions, which should also be respected. The three Africans and Nora stormed out and went to our corner. I went with them at first because they are my friends and they were upset. But then Nora said, "This is our chance to rise above and show our strength as Christians." I left because I'm not a Christian and also because I felt they were being judgmental and superior, and I didn't want to be that way. And anyway, the party seemed like fun.
Maya moved the tables so we could put out all the food and juice. Her boyfriend, who has no papers either, had paid 500 shekels to send her cakes and sodas for New Year's in a taxi. Tania had three little candles, two of them broken, that she had brought from Jerusalem. We toasted with mango nectar and ate chocolate cake and the fruit salad Nana made with 3 days' scavenged leftovers, using the pop top from the cookies Susy brought me for a knife.
We watched the show in Moscow, and danced to "I Will Survive" in Russian. About 12:30, the Christians emerged from their prayer meeting smiling and hugged and kissed everyone, and we all danced together to Russian music. Almost everyone got phone calls at midnight here and at midnight at home. I was kind of sad because I got neither. But on New Year's night, after everyone else went to bed, I turned on ESPN, and watched the last half of the exciting Rose Bowl game between Michigan and Texas, and imagined myself home in California. Then I sat in the dark for a little while, enjoying the quiet, and sang to myself an old Holly Near song about getting one year wiser, and getting all our freedom fighters out of jail.
Wishing for a year when we increase freedom in the world.
From Tsochar prison,
P.S. For those of you who have asked, I do seem to have succeeded in getting them to use our names.
Monday, January 3, 2005
Anya's Israeli boyfriend came to say goodbye, because she leaves tomorrow for Uzbekistan. The police tried to tell her that she couldn't have visitors because she came in through Egypt (two and a half years ago). We think they want to punish her because she was cooperating with them (presumably in a trafficking case) and she stopped and decided to go home. We got her friend to call the Migrant Worker Hotline and they told the prison they had to let her have a visit, but they only gave her five minutes instead of the usual 20.
Tuesday, January 4, 2005
A day of struggle and small triumph.
This morning, as the last few, people slept late. I was one of the first to get up. I noticed that no one had cleaned and I thought maybe I would, but I
wanted to grab the shower, and anyway I always think we should wait until after everyone eats to wash the floor. Otherwise it just gets dirty again right away.
The police came to let us outside about 9:30. I knew Eva, Raz and Dafna were leaving Tel Aviv at 8:00 to come visit, so I thought they would probably
arrive soon. A policewoman, Maya, who is about 26 or so with long hair and the heavy eye makeup I associate with Israeli policewomen, came to bring us
soap. Nora started to argue with her about not giving us bleach. Maya demanded, "Why aren't you cleaning?"
She went and woke those who were sleeping, ordering them to get up and clean. Jenny came out fighting, challenging Nora, "Who told them I'm not cleaning?" Nora reassured her, "It's not you, it's all of us."
Nora, Jenny, and Teresa washed the floor with loads of soapy water -- Nora said, "So the police will see we're using lots of soap" -- and arguing about how to do it.
I went over to Maya and asked her, "You speak English, right?" She said yes.
I said, "We clean all day, every day. Two or three times a day people clean. We don't need you to tell us to do it. Why do people have to get up at 9 to clean? Why can't they sleep until 11 and then do it.?"
She kept arguing with me that we should want the room to be clean, we live here.
"Yes," I said, "we do want it clean. We clean it all the time. We are the ones who live here."
She said, "Well I don't see you cleaning."
I said, "How often are you here?" Really, the police come in very rarely, and usually just the men.
She said, "I'm here a lot."
I said, "Okay, give me your number, and when we're cleaning, I'll call you."
She said, "You think this is a hotel? You're in jail. I tell you to clean, that's when you clean."
I said, "Oh, so that's what this is about, to show us you're in charge? We know you're in charge."
Other people joined in the fray. Nora and Sveta said in Hebrew exactly what I had said in English. Then Tania brought up the lack of good drinking
water, which they had at Hadera. Someone else mentioned that in Hadera, they gave people cigarettes. Another woman brought up the lack of sanitary pads
or tampons, which we can't even buy.
A few minutes after they locked us back in the room, Eva called and said they were outside, but the prison people were telling them they had to wait hours
and they couldn't come in. While I was talking to her, Maya came in and motioned to me to come. She took me to the office, to a room where two men
were sitting, and said, "Hinei ha'amerikayit" (Here's the American). The man behind the desk said, "Boi, tishvi" (Come in, sit down). Maya left me with him. I felt slightly nauseous, like I've been in these situations before. The man behind the desk, I gathered, was the prison commander, though he did not introduce himself. The other man was Moshe, who often comes to deal with things like tickets and passports. He is generally pretty nice, very handsome, and looks Arab. Obviously, he's an Arab Jew, with a name like Moshe. The commander is about my age, not so tall, stocky with dark hair, olive skin, and a receding hairline.
He started with the usual, "Hello, how are you?" in the slightly menacing tone guys like him are so good at.
I answered, "Fine."
"You have a problem here?"
"You told someone the food wasn't enough?"
"Yes, because it was true."
"Every day it's not enough?"
"For a week we were hungry. We told you about it. The police themselves agreed."
"For a week. Breakfast and lunch were okay, but at night it wasn't enough. But the last two days, it's better."
"Yes? It's okay? You're sure?"
"Yes, it's fine."
"You told the girl you didn't want to clean your room?"
"No, I did not say that, and she knows it."
Apparently Moshe was there as the translator, although his English is not so great either. Shai, the young skinny dark-haired officer who always says to me "Arafat is alive" has the best English, but I suppose he's not high-ranking enough for a meeting like this. The commander asked Moshe, "What did she say?" and Moshe translated and the commander ordered, "Call Maya."
Maya came in and we argued about what I did and did not say. She insisted that I told the others not to clean.
Ultimately, the point of course was "You're in jail. If we tell you to do something you do it." But for some reason they spent a lot more time saying it than prison officials in the States would ever do.
I said, "You only let us outside one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon, it's not a lot. Why do people have to stay inside and clean and then those who are outside come in and make it dirty again? Why can't we all clean when we go back in?"
Moshe said, "Well, you can rotate, so only one or two people have to suffer."
I said "Yes, we do rotate, but why does anyone need to suffer?"
The commander kept getting annoyed because he couldn't understand and kept asking, "What did she say?" Moshe told him I said the time outside was not enough: lo maspik.
I said, "No, I said it was not a lot." Moshe translated again: lo harbeh. Then he said to me, "The law says you only get one hour outside. He" -- pointing to the commander -- "gives you two."
I repeated, "I did not say it wasn't enough, I said not a lot."
Maya said, "In Hebrew it's the same."
Moshe agreed. "If you learned my language, you would know."
"But of course they're not the same, that's why you have two words."
The big shot asked, "How long are you in Israel?"
I said, "Eight months, but I was not living in Israel, I lived in Palestine." He seemed surprised. I was surprised that he was surprised.
I said in Arabic, "If you want to speak Arabic, we can." He answered in Arabic, "I speak Arabic," and Moshe said he did too, so I said, "Tayib, nihki Arabi" (Great, let's speak Arabic). It was fun for me to speak Arabic, and an added bonus was that Maya couldn't participate because she doesn't speak it.
As soon as we switched to Arabic, their tone got more Arab. Where are you from? Oh, San Francisco is nice. Yes, very beautiful. So San Francisco isn't good for you? Why did you come here? My work is here. What work? Peace movement, harakat assalaam. Oh, harakat assalaam. You and I can not make peace, only George Bush can make peace. George Bush will never in this life make peace. Sah, true.
Moshe suddenly asked in English, "Do you have a lawyer?"
"No," I said, "not now."
"Well, how did they stop your flight?"
"I did it myself."
"Yourself? From here?" He was incredulous.
I said, "Are you telling me people can't file appeals for themselves from here? Because it is our right."
"No, no, of course I'm not saying that."
The commander made a little speech in Arabic: "Whatever the court decides, that is fine with me. If the court says you stay here, fine. If they say you go back to the States, fine. If they say you go to Ramallah, fine. But if you don't win your appeal, you go back to the States." I couldn't figure out what his point was. Then he said, "I want everything here to be good, the very best. The state of Israel pays 300 shekels every day for each of you -- for us, for the food, the hot water, the electricity." They had a little discussion about whether kahraba was the right word for hashmal, electriticy.
"If you have a problem, come to me, you don't have to go outside."
I said, "It's not so easy."
He terminated the interview abruptly. Maya took me back to our room. Before she closed the door I asked her, "Why didn't you talk to me? Why did you go to them?" She repeated that I had told the others not to clean, and I said I had not.
I called Nora, thinking maybe she could tell her once and for all in Hebrew, but Nora said, "Oh, she speaks English." Nora said to her, "We are not criminals."
Maya said, "I never said you were criminals."
And Nora said, "Well that's how it felt. Criminals or kindergarten children." She pointed out that all the women here (except me and the prostitutes) have been cleaning houses for a living.
Then Eva and Dafna started calling. They were being told I wasn't there, then that I was working, then that they needed to wait until after count - which they were not doing - then that they had to wait until after lunch, then they were checking the things they had brought. They sent the books to be authorized because they are "political." This went on for an hour or so. They told them they couldn't see me, that I had visitors yesterday, which I did not. Then Dafna said a commander was helping her and they were getting in.
Shai came in with two plastic bags full of food and two books. He put them on the table and said, "Call your friend." I called Raz, and he said they had taken the translation of the state response to my appeal to read it, and it would take them forever because they don't know English. Then Eva called and said the commander flipped out because Yonatan had put "israHELL" in place of "Israel." Not only could I not have the document, which he said was "inciting," but they could not come in. Plus they rejected a lot of the food, including a lot of things they let in all the time.
Yonatan called and I told him to call the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) about the document.
Dafna called and said that the commander was now threatening to have them arrested if they didn't leave right away. Suddenly the door unlocked and the commander walked in with Maya, Moshe, and another guy. This is the first time that most of the women have ever seen him. Writing this, I realized that they called before entering, "Efshar l'kanes?" (Can we come in?). It's the first time I've ever heard that here. The commander asked, "Does anyone have any problems?" People started talking to him about money people owed them, and he wrote it all down. He told some people he would look into it, and others that they could come to the office and they could call about it. Tsong started to cry and tear at her face. He grabbed her very roughly and sent her outside with Maya. I tried to get Nana to go with them and he said no, which was stupid because Tsong speaks little Hebrew. But somehow Maya did calm her and said they would try to get the 14,000 shekels her employer owes her.
Before they left, I told him in Hebrew, "I need to send something with my friends to Tel Aviv for Lydia." I showed him it was just keys, and to my surprise he said, "okay."
I said, "I'll give it to them?"
"No," he said, "I'll give you another envelope." I decided I would have to trust him, because I had promised Lydia to send the keys to her friends to collect her things and get some money which her employer won't turn over until she gets her key back. I called Dafna and asked her to wait. She said she was in a hurry. I told the police, "She wants to know when I can send it because she needs to go." They let me out, and the commander said, "I need to check these." I walked with them back through the front office and out the door.
Suddenly the commander shrieked, "Habayta!" (Go home!) as loud as I have ever heard it. He reminded me of a terrier. I couldn't even see who he was yelling at, but I assumed it was my friends. I had never heard any Israeli official talk to an Israeli like that. Only rarely have I ever heard that tone directed to a Palestinian, and usually, someone was about to be beaten or shot at. Then he turned around and walked back inside without checking anything and I went to the fence with Moshe, and Eva came and kissed me through the chicken wire, and I gave her the keys, kissed Dafna and Raz, and that was it.
When I got back and told Lydia I had handed it to them personally, she was visibly relieved. A group of women were sitting around Nora's bed and they all congratulated me: "Kol ha kavod" (Good for you). Nora said, "Because of you and me, they have the confidence to stand up for themselves." Everyone was so jazzed that I couldn't be too depressed about not getting a visit. Plus I have two new books about the occupation and a bunch of avocados.
With all this drama, the news that I did not get my hearing moved up barely penetrated my brain. I imagine two more weeks could start to seem long, but now I feel okay. Maya (our Maya, from Georgia, not policewoman Maya) kissed me and said, "I will stay here with you, I'm such a good friend."
Not all of today's news was good. Lydia's bail was refused. Jenny's boss turned off his phone after the police called him about the money he owes her. They say there's nothing they can do. But it doesn't make any sense that people can get out of their obligations just by turning off their phone.
Leila from ACRI called the commander about the translation. She pointed out that he actually doesn't have the right to block me from getting the documents because he doesn't like the spelling in them. She also mentioned that I hadn't done the translation, I'm not trying to make trouble, and I need the documents for my case. Maybe she should have said that I would not be likely to make any more trouble because I received something with "israHELL" in it. She said she didn't get to say much because he kept yelling at her. He said he was sending it to someone else to decide. He wouldn't say who. Suzy thinks he didn't send it anywhere, just kept it on his desk to show he could.
Whatever, Wednesday after lunch someone came in and gave it to me, and I said, "Yislamu ideek," the Arabic greeting for someone who gives you something. (Days later, I discovered I did not get all the pages; it might have been intentional or maybe not.)
Friday, January 7
Yesterday was good news day. Tsong's boss actually sent the money he owed her to a Chinese bank account, after the police visited his shop. Lydia's husband said the machine she sent so they can start their garage arrived in Ghana. He friend got the keys from Eva and went to get her things together. Tanya got her passport, and Maya did too, so they can fly Sunday and Monday. Alvira got out on bail, went home to Bat Yam, after over a month in prison.
Tsong was so happy, she stared and stared at the bank receipt. She called her husband in China. She ate, which she had not been doing.
Maya said to her, "If you have a problem, we all have a problem. Now you are happy, we are happy."
Speculation swirls around Sveta. There is a rumor she is getting out to go work with the police. She says no, she got her passport and now is getting deported. Her relationship with the police is strange, but I do not think she is here voluntarily. It is true that she has a lot of special privileges, but they also treat her in a particularly humiliating way sometimes, yell at her, make her do menial work.
Anya and Marina left, and one new woman, Urika, came yesterday. She is from Moldova, and was apparently here with a working visa. She had a job as a metapelet (caregiver for older person), but she left it and the employer turned her in. If she finds new work, she can get out.
The only Palestinian policeman started a conversation with me today. He called, "America," so I ignored him, but eventually I decided to see what he wanted, which was just to know my story. Probably someone told him I spoke Arabic. He offered to speak English, but he didn't understand me in English, and I was glad to speak Arabic. His name is Qasem. He's from Beersheva, 28, doesn't like police work, wants to go to Canada and study veterinary medicine. Doesn't know what he thinks about my activities here, but was very curious why I specifically wanted to come to do this.
Last night we again did not get enough to eat. People put a spoonful and a half of rice on every plate with a few pieces of cucumber, and no one ate it. We just left it there for the police to see. The girl who came in agreed it was not enough. We were even out of bread.
About 10:00 p.m. a woman cop came in and checked the bars on the windows. We all laughed. Then this afternoon, Lydia went to the doctor and she saw two men, one Chinese, one Russian speaking, brought in in shackles. We suspect they tried to escape and the police beat them up.
Saturday, January 8
Yesterday afternoon in the yard, a young policewoman I had not seen before came up to me. She is tiny and waiflike, with dark hair and lots of eye liner, and could be one of the young sex workers imprisoned here. She has been here less time than some of them; she moved here by herself 8 years ago from Latvia. She asked for my help with a form. Her bag was lost when she returned from a vacation in "my country," Latvia, and she didn't understand how to fill out the claim form for the airline. I helped her, and asked her a little about herself. Then she said, "You look like a Jew."
I said yes, I am. She asked, "So why didn't you come to Israel?"
I thought that was funny, because obviously I did, but I understood she meant, why didn't I move here. I tried to explain it, why I think Israel is not such a good idea. When I said that people hate Jews because of what the state is doing to the Palestinians, she was shocked. She honestly didn't understand why people might feel that way.
"Even in the States?"
"But how can they hate Jews?" she asked. "Don't they remember what they did to us in Europe?"
I said no, I don't think they do remember.
How can they not? she wanted to know. I said it was rather a long time ago, even I was not alive then, and that people don't care. But, I said, people also feel that that does not justify what Israel is doing now to the Palestinians. How does what the Europeans did to us make it okay, what we are doing to another people?
She said, "Well, it's not that it justifies what we do to the Palestinians, but how can people not remember what happened to the Jews?"
I saw an interesting parallel, and asked if she had heard of Deir Yasin. She had not. I was just starting to tell her the story, which was fresh in my mind because I just reread it in Uri Davis's book. But then we had to go it. She said, "I'll see you tomorrow," but today when I saw her, she avoided my eyes.
Sunday, 9 January 2005
This place is such a rollercoaster. Friday and Saturday, after hearing that her boss had sent the money to China, Tsung could eat fruit and smile for the first time in weeks. She cleaned all day Friday. She looked younger than her 42 years. Her spirits were contagious.
Yesterday Tania asked one of the police when she would be sent home to Ukraine. He answered, "In two or three days." This morning he came in at 7:15 and called, "Tatiana!" I noted with some satisfaction that he didn't call "Ukraine!" He told her that she would leave for the airport in an hour. She grabbed her toothbrush and flew into the bathroom. She quickly sorted through her belongings: what to take, what to leave here for others to claim or throw away. She was taking only a small suitcase with her; she has a house full of things waiting for her in Ukraine, and she only plans to stay there a few months, long enough to marry her Israeli boyfriend and get a visa. She resolutely refused our exhortations to take some food with her. "Ani b'stress, ani lo ochelet" (I'm stressed, I don't eat). She took scarce minutes to make herself a cup of coffee, offered us the cookies and peanuts she had been saving, and called her boyfriend to give him the news.
It is always bittersweet when someone goes. We are happy for her if she wants to go, as Tania did, but we will miss her, and it reminds us we are still stuck here. The warmth of the sun and the fact that the last two days they have given us extra time outside cheered us up.
In the afternoon, the commander, Yuval, decided to grace us with another visit. When I saw him, I got nervous but quickly looked back at the notebook I was writing in. As he passed my table, he said, "Mah nishma?" and I answered "B'seder, kif halak?" okay in Hebrew, how are you in Arabic, and looked down again. To my chagrin, he sat down.
"Ayn b'ayot?" No problems?
I thought, then said in Hebrew, there was again not enough food last night and Friday. He said, what do you mean, not enough? I said it was enough for 8 or 9, but we are 12. He said the policewoman had told him when she came in in the morning that there was cheese left. I was pretty sure there wasn't, and anyway, there was no bread.
He said, "Why are you the only one who said there is not enough food?"
I jumped up and ran into the room and asked in English and Hebrew, "Does anyone think there is not enough food in the evening? Come here."
Nora, of course, came out and so did Jenny. They stood there a while and Yuval ignored them, talking on the phone and yelling things at the police. Finally, I told him, Nora wants to talk to you.
They went off together, and I heard them arguing about the doctor. Then Nora came back and said he had told Sarit to hurry and get her on a plane, and Sarit had to tell him no, she has a court injunction. He even called her lawyer, demanding to know why she is here so long, saying, "Why doesn't she go home to the Philippines and get married there?" Like it is his business whether she gets married or not.
I felt bad at dragging her into it. I felt he'd manipulated me into revealing fellow troublemakers. (On the other hand, my experience suggests nothing will happen because of it.) Why did I not say, "I didn't come to you, you came to me. If you don't want to know, don't ask." or "They don't talk to you because they don't know you,. You can ask them."? But as Dorothee says, you always think of the good responses later.
While we were outside, Maya talked to Moshe about buying a ticket on tomorrow's flight to Georgia. When she came in, she packed her bags, small like Tania's; she also wants to return here, but it will not be so easy for her -- her boyfriend is not Israeli. She gave away some things. Nora and I both had a bad feeling that packing so early could be a jinx. Sure enough, about dinnertime, I heard Maya talking on the phone about one-way tickets to Georgia. The police could not find a seat on the plane; even the business class is full. Maya shook her head in befuddlement. In five years, she's never heard of the plane to Georgia being full. She wandered restlessly, refusing to unpack her things. Lydia told her not to worry, "It's God's plan." Nora, who is a staunch Christian too, disagreed. "It's human error," she said. The police should have made the reservation as soon as she got her passport.
About 8:30, Qasem came in with a beautiful girl cop I never saw before, and they asked us all for our phone numbers. I asked the woman why, but she wouldn't say. We were all uneasy when they left. Nora speculated it was so they could find out who she and I are calling to complain to. I said it was too much trouble for that, and they already know the answer. I told her it's more likely so they can trace people's calls, to find other illegal workers. When I mentioned this to Lydia, she got very upset. "I will go home to my country," she said. "I will not go out from here and lead them to others." Yesterday, she heard they had taken a whole busload of Africans. The day before, they raided a house in Tel Aviv where Ghanaians live. Her husband back in Ghana heard the news and told her.
Tuesday, 11 January 2005
Yesterday and today are awful.
Yesterday I yelled at everyone on the phone. The time here, and the fact that it's been nearly a month, the isolation, and the fact that I am totally dependent on my friends outside for stupid stuff like tampons, starts to get to me. I miss having a community where I am comfortable, where people understand me. I know part of my frustration and exhaustion is because I was already exhausted and sick of traveling before I got arrested.
It's ironic that Tsochar is the place I have stayed the longest in a year and a half.
Tsung and Nana abruptly moved to another room, because another Russian speaker came to our room. Her name is Katya, she's from Moldova, a chain-smoking sex worker; she seems nice enough. The Madagascarians and Filipinas in Room 7 kick out all the Russian speakers and sex workers. I say that means they have the problem, but for some reason, the police accommodate them. So now we have apartheid Tsochar -- one room all Asian, one all Russian, with the Africans scattered between them. The Filipinas pressured Nora to move to the Asian ghetto, but she said no, because she hopes to get out on bail today.
Charlie called Nora last night and said he was coming to get her out today. I woke up Ridwana to ask her to send me tampons with him. Today Nora called
him at 10:30 am. He was still asleep. He went to the bank, and found out they are on strike. He didn't try another bank. He told Ridwana he would make it tomorrow.
Nora said she wants to go back to the Philippines right now. She threw away some of her clothes and demanded the police take her to a regular phone, so she could call her mother and tell her she was coming home. Maya and I tried to calm her, "Wait a few hours, you've been together such a long time, give him a chance." A while later, she came and told me, "Do me a favor: send him a message and tell him, just get me my medicine. I can stay here another month, but I need the medicine." Last night she came out into the living room late looking pale and her eyes were sunken. She said her pulse was low, and she was afraid she would pass out. She says Charlie doesn't believe her, that she needs the medicine now. I sent Charlie a message saying, "She really needs her medicine! What is wrong with you? Do you love her or not?" He called her right away, "What did you tell Kate?" Nora called Lydia's pastor, who had taken $200 from her to get her a lawyer. She asked him, "What is this lawyer doing? She has been here for two months. He needs to get the money her employer owes her, "chik chok" (quickly) so she can go home." The pastor told her to call the lawyer. Nora was furious, a little tornado of outrage. She told him, "You made the deal, you're supposed to keep in touch with the lawyer. In all the little churches of Jerusalem, if someone is in trouble, they take up a love offering for her. Why haven't you done this for Lydia?"
Nora and Lydia both see themselves as having a mission here, to solve everyone's problems -- Lydia through her communion with God; Nora through
her constant calls to hotlines, lawyers, and consulates. People come to Lydia with their questions. Even Sveta, the spy, who hangs out with the police chatting out the window in Russian, comes to her to ask, "Do I stay here or go back to Russia? What does God want from me?" Lydia prays on everyone's questions, but with Sveta, she never would give her a direct answer. One day she would say, "You go to Netanya," and the next day she would say, "Maybe you go home to Russia." She told Maya, "God wants you to go now," and Maya bought a ticket two days later.
A Filipina who was arrested yesterday moved to our area today. She came from the other side, where she was housed with young, Russian speaking prostitutes. She says that the policemen were always in the room socializing. We've noticed that they don't seem to count us as often anymore. We assume that the police are trying to keep the Russian speaking sex workers in a separate section, away from other women who might talk about what the police are doing.
The really surprising thing about this experience is that it gets easier. Of course, there are worse days. But the things I used to dream of doing when I get out, now I don't. Even the lack of space doesn't drive me crazy anymore. When the door opens, I don't run outside. I feel lucky to have met some great women, and some I wouldn't really choose to know, but would certainly not have met anywhere else. It is great to see that so many different women from so many countries in such difficult situations can work together in relative calm and support each other in so many tangible and intangible ways.
Thursday, January 13, 5:00 p.m.
The last two days I have worked very hard on the argument for my hearing. My friends outside have worked hard too - Lisa and Susy collecting documents I want to have for support, Patrick and Uri and Rachel on press, Koby and Shai on the tape, Yonatan and Susy looking things up on the internet, Neta getting the letter from Qadura Fares inviting me to the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
I've been stressed out - ani b'stress, I said today, quoting Tanya, and I'm premenstrual which exacerbates it, so I have been snapping at people on the phone. People who are helping me, so it's not good, but they are also pressuring me in a way, and I was disappointed not to get a visit for two weeks, even though I realize I am one of the luckyt few who has gotten even one, and I got three and would have had four if it were not for last Tuesday's screw-up. On the other hand, that's what being part of a movement is supposed to do for you.
Nora went home yesterday, after more fits and starts and games from Charlie's family. She was so happy, she put on makeup and sunglasses and the clothes she was arrested in. Shimon came to get her, and he likes her, so he made a big fuss over it and made her take one of the "I Love You" balloons I have blown up to play ball with. She called this afternoon, with the number of the phone card we bought for Lydia. She said she took a two-hour bath and ate shawarma last night, but couldn't sleep at all. I said it was because she missed us.
There are two new women here. Andrea, in the next room, is from Slovakia. She speaks lots of languages - Slovak, Russian, Czech, Hungarian, German, Hebrew, English and a little Thai. The Thai is because of her boyfriend of three and a half years. There are 300 Thai workers on the moshav where she worked. She was working by herself for one family for four years in a bunch of different jobs - field work, housework, child care. They underpaid her, and she was suing them, so they turned her in to the police. But, she said with a big smile, "It will be very nice for them because I will make a big noise about them and tell everyone." She is confident she will get out on bail Sunday. I hope she is right. She refuses to speak Hebrew to the police, bichlal (at all). She said, "To fuck them, you know?" She won't wash her hair or clothes either, until Saturday night, to prepare for court on Sunday.
The other new person is Linda, from Ghana. She is a friend of Lydia's and it is wonderful to see Lydia happily speaking her own language with her friend. She convinced Lydia to be a little patient with her lawyer, telling her about what happened to her when she tried to rush it. She says the judge decided she must go back, and they took her right to the airport without her luggage. Her lawyer told her to do something to convince them not to take her, like faint. She decided she would go into the bathroom and take off her clothes, and then they would have to bring her out naked if they wanted to make her go. It didn't come to that. She just managed to stall them, and then they told her, okay, we are taking you to a real criminal jail. She was shocked when she got here; compared to Ramle, where she has been for a month, she says, this is like a guest house.
Linda is a good influence on Lydia. Her drive and self-confidence are infectious. Under her tutelage, Lydia called her boss, who doesn't want to pay the money he owes her. She told him that she was coming to their house tomorrow with the police to get the money. He was so frightened, he hung up. But then she called him back and reached him and said if he gives the money to her friend tomorrow, she will not bring the cops to his house. He promised he would do that. I've never seen Lydia laugh like that. She laughed so hard, she ran shrieking to the bathroom, and we all thought she'd gone nuts.
They didn't bring enough lunch - maybe enough for five people. Sveta threw a tantrum about it; I didn't even go into the room. But a while later, I was on my bed writing and a woman cop came in and asked me in Hebrew, "Did you eat?"
I said, "I have food."
She had a bowl of meat in her hands and she kept demanding, "Did you eat?"
So I elaborated, "I don't want to eat now, I have food, I'll eat later."
She wasn't satisfied.
I said, "That's meat, right? I don't want it; I don't eat meat."
Then she pointed to the Hebrew "End the Occupation" on the wall behind me and said something I didn't understand. I said, "I don't speak much Hebrew."
She said, "Why did you do that?"
I said, "It wasn't me. I don't write Hebrew."
Then I realized that wasn't a smart thing to say, because they have something I wrote in Hebrew, actually the same thing, but they might not remember that.
She said, "Okay," and left. Again, I was surprised at how easily they accept obvious lies. Who else would have written it? But on the other hand, they don't have much of a range of punishments to mete out. I'm already in jail, and even if they charged me with something for writing on their walls, what would happen to me? I'd be deported, and I'm already being deported. I was also bemused that suddenly someone says something when it's been here for three weeks and they have to have noticed it before.
Jenny and Teresa asked for the chicken but the policewoman said, no, they'd eaten, hadn't they? Now I was really confused, because there was plenty. I went out into the living room and she was spooning a pile of couscous and vegetables onto a tray. I guessed this was what the police had eaten, instead of the noodles we got. Strange.
When I came back to our room, Teresa and Jenny asked me what the woman had said. I told them. They said, "You don't eat that." I said no, I wouldn't, it was meat and I don't eat meat. They didn't seem to understand, asking me over and over what was in the bowl. I kept saying, "Chicken," but they didn't get it. I felt like I was in a Twilight Zone episode. It got even more that way when Teresa said, "We don't want you to eat what they offer. You don't come in here and offer food to one person. We'll explain you later."
At first, I thought she meant the girl had been impolite, which she certainly was, but it's not like I was encouraging her, and she had also asked me about the grafitti, so it couldn't be seen as favoritism. Then I realized what they meant.
I said, "You think they are trying to poison me?"
Teresa said, "Well, not that exactly."
And that was all she would say. There was an implication, maybe she meant something like voodoo or just that there would be something wrong with it, that it would make me sick. I had been thinking the other day about "Kiss of the Spider Woman" because I was eating an avocado. Now I flashed on the scene where William Hurt eats the poisoned food that's meant to make Raul Julia spill his guts both literally and figuratively.
I wandered again into the other room and saw that she had left the meat, so it couldn't be that. I asked Maya, "Why did she come to my room with meat? Everyone knows I don't eat meat."
Maya said, "I told her, the American doesn't eat meat, and she went to your room."
Then suddenly, I got what it must be. Obviously, when someone came and said that Room 8 complained there was not enough food, someone, Yuval or Moshe or even the cook, concluded it must be me. So they told her, take them this and make sure the American woman sees there is enough food. And they would also have told her that I make trouble, so she would have been looking for a way to make trouble for me too.
I think this captain, Yuval, may be better at vendettas than I thought. I am lucky that most of the police who work here are basically good-natured young people without that much interest in the work, or my life could be a lot worse. But I suspect that some malice is involved in my not getting my documents for court, that there is a general agreement, don't tell her no, but don't give her the relevant information. Just smile and be vague. Like Sarit readily gave me the fax number, but didn't mention that the fax machine, which is in her office, is out of toner. Honestly, I have to admire the technique. They act very pleasant and nonchalant, oh, was someone sending you something, I'll check, not picking fights like the guys at Hadera did. But they obviously have a strategy and a fair bit of unity around it. And it is working rather well. They will not prevent me from getting the information, of course, but they have managed to make it a lot harder, and they can say everything is innocent mistakes. I can't help being amused.
Tonight there was a mini-race riot. Jenny and Maya were screaming at each other and then Sveta got involved and yanked the cable out of the TV. Lydia was trying to calm things, but she kept saying to Jenny, "It's because you are Black." The issue apparently was that Jenny and Teresa were talking and Maya and the other Russian speakers were watching television and Maya told Jenny to be quiet. The shouting went on and the police came, and Teresa and I tried to quiet Jenny so they would go, and Sveta of course wanted them there, and I was the only English-Hebrew speaker, which is pathetic. I missed Nora, though I didn't think she would necessarily have helped the situation.
It is definitely a Russian-dominated scene. They dominate because they are the numeric majority, though now they are technically not, we are 5 and 5 (English and Russian), but they are more one group than we, we are really 2, 2 and 1. They also dominate because of their personalities, because of schedules, because they are friends with the police. And they are bossy and inconsiderate, but Jenny is also surly and sometimes aggressive, and it's a bad combination. And Jenny and Teresa have alienated a lot of people by taking too much food, even Lydia, though I noted how quickly she took Jenny's side tonight. Apparently, Maya also shushed Lydia and Linda when they were laughing over the money ruse, which was unfair, because they do not make much noise.
It makes me sad. I feel like I jinxed everything by writing how well we get alone.
Shelly's brother was supposed to bring me documents that I need to see for the appeal, but he did not. Shelly got arrested somewhere with Teddy Katz from Gush Shalom, not sure where or how, and is being detained at Ariel Police Stateion, and Susy might have to go sign some kind of guarantee for them to get out. Shelly told Susy there were lots of funny things about me today, but she didn't elaborate.
Got the story from Susy. Shelly and Teddy got caught on their way out of Nablus. They are okay and on their way home. Shelly’s brother and his father (who is not her father) stopped by here on their way somewhere. The police told them the documents had to be checked, they couldn't leave them, the person who had to check them wouldn't be here for two hours, they could either wait or come back. His father, who is 70 years old and has high blood pressure, started yelling at them that they work for them, all the kinds of things that middle-class liberal people in every society think they can say to police, and they ended up getting arrested and taken to the Ofakim police station, charged with insulting a policeman.
I said to Susy that I find it amazing that Israel, where people pride themselves on being rude, has a law against insulting people. Of course, maybe it's people's fondness for insults that causes them to think that they need a law like that. She said that the Supreme Court can overturn a law on the basis that the people do not know how to implement it. She figures this one should be a good candidate, if someone appeals it.
Friday, January 14
Today was all about how to get the documents that Shelly's brother was supposed to bring, and how to transfer the draft of the argument to Tamar, who is going to translate for me in court. Shelly was hoping a friend of hers would bring the papers in the morning, and pick up the draft, which I carefully copied over for hours yesterday, but she couldn't. Leila from ACRI had to take her son to the doctor and couldn't help. In the end, Shelly worked on it all day, off and on, and I did not get them. Her brother was allowed to drop them off this time, no problem, but they said they couldn't give them to me until they are checked and the person who will check them won't be here until Sunday. He objected that the hearing is on Sunday, and they said, well, that's okay, if she gets them in the morning, she has time. I will have to get the information on the phone, but I will make a complaint about it later, just because.
I hung out with Andrea outside and gave her a towel and shampoo so she can take a shower. She was reluctant to accept anything, and I told her she was being silly; that is how you survive here. When we came back in, they came to count us (because we could really run away, with all that barbed wire and men with guns sitting at every gate) and I was on the phone with Nan, and suddenly one of the Russian cops looked at the writing on the wall and said, "What's that?" He called Sharon, "Tir'eh," come see, and they demanded, "Mi asah et zeh?" - who did that? I guess they must have pointed at me, I didn't see. Sveta immediately said no, it wasn't her, it was already here. She pointed to the other writing on the walls, saying it's all been here a long time. They didn't look like they believed her, and she added, "He lo kotevet Irvrit," she doesn't write Hebrew. They motioned to me to put down the phone, and I said exactly what she had said, it wasn't me, it was here before, I don't write Hebrew. They seemed to accept it and left, but I fear I have not heard the end of it. It is so curious to me, that no one noticed it for a month, and now I've been asked about it twice in two days. Is it just that now they're paying more attention to me?
I told Sveta thanks, saying, "They believe you, not me," and she waved off my thanks. I was touched by how quickly and forcefully she jumped in. I was also relieved, because I can't handle any more stress right now.
Jonathan called late in the day with weird news. The state just sent a bunch more stuff, including requests for their legal fees and to drop the appeal because my visa is up January 15, and new objections to the lack of an affidavit, whatever that is. I don't worry about any of it except that the whole hearing could end up being about these technical issues, and then what? Because if the judge says he will consider the motions and rule later, I might never get to say one meaningful thing in this court, and then there might not be another hearing, and this whole damn month would be for nothing.
Saturday, January 15, 2004
I've worked so hard the last week, harder than I've worked since I left IWPS house in mid-October. Tomorrow we see what it's all worth. Inshalla.
Everyone is always fighting now. I like Linda, but she is very combative and I think she does not like white people, not that I can blame her so much, or maybe it's Russians she dislikes, but whatever, it makes her quick to take offense. And this is a place where we have to give each other space. Now that Nora is gone, I am the English speaker with the most Hebrew, or maybe it's just that I am willing to speak it and the others pretend they can't. But people keep wanting me to translate, and my Hebrew isn't good enough.
Today, Lydia's boss came to bring her things, and she, or he (I cannot always tell because she uses the pronouns indiscriminately, first one, then the other, in the same conversation about the same person), was not insistent about getting in to see her. I got Sveta to call the desk and she spoke to someone in Russian and thought it would be okay. But then Lydia came back with her bag and said the person had only brought the small bag, not the big one, nor her passport and money, and she didn't see them. Then it turned out that her friend did not give the woman the big bag, the passport or the money she just took for her, and her friend's husband is afraid to have her come get it with the police. Lydia is beside herself with worry, and the Russian speakers were trying to convince her to pay a taxi 400 shekels out of her 2,000 to come bring her things. They called me to translate, but they are not just speaking different languages, they are on different wavelengths. I will see if one of my friends will drive down to visit me next week and bring her things.
Sveta asked me today, "How did the police know about your camera?"
I said, "How do I know?"
She said, "You put it away, and five minutes later, they were here." I said yes, I know. I wanted to say, "Everyone thinks you told them," but I didn't know how she would react. I like her. She has been quite supportive of us all, and despite her close relationship with the cops, I don't think she means us any harm. Maya looked at me and said, "I know." I figured she meant that Sveta did it, but Sveta is her friend too. Prison makes relationships very complicated.
There was a huge fight between Linda and Lydia on one side, and Lilia and Katia on the other. Maya called me to translate, but I couldn't do much. No one wanted to listen, only to shout. I ended up getting Tamar to talk to Katia for a long time, and that actually calmed the situation, mainly by freeing me to listen to Linda and giving Katia someone to listen to her. I told Tamar that my conflict resolution has not been good, and she said correctly that I've been stressed myself and focused on my own problems. But she also observed perceptively that people in these situations need someone to listen, they need to feel heard, and best is if one from each language group takes that role.
If I am here long after Maya goes, I might switch rooms. If Andrea is still here, I would move to her room, but I hope she gets to go tomorrow, she is so sure she will, and I want to see her prove to the cops that she's right.
Sunday, January 16
I'm writing this on Tuesday evening, because Sunday I didn't have time or energy, but I wanted to record some of the little things about the experience of going to court, which already seems quite surreal.
I stayed up until 4:00 a.m. Saturday night, writing notes and my journal and thinking about what would happen. Maya and Sveta were watching "Behind the Fence," a British documentary about the Wall with Hebrew and Russian subtitles, and I watched the last half with them. I suspected they would not have been watching it, if they had not met me. I worried that I wouldn't wake up in time, but I woke up as usual when the police came in at 7:00. No one else got up, so I went and took the breakfast things out of the dishes that we have to send back, and then tried to go back to bed. Suddenly, I had a massive anxiety attack. My teeth were chattering and I had a knot in my stomach. I tried breathing, chanting, visualizing, grounding, nothing worked. I thought, I will not be able to say one word, I'm a basket case, maybe I will pass out.
I got up and went to the bathroom and came back and looked out the window. Jenny asked when I was going, and I said I didn't know, and she and Teresa started talking about God and just speak through your heart and I tried to listen to them and then Jenny started telling me a long story about an Indian guy in her church who killed four people and the judge let him go and he started a bunch of orphanages. And just because of her voice and her energy, when she was done, I felt okay. I couldn't believe it. I got dressed and went to make coffee and eat a little breakfast, and Lisa called and I talked to her until Shai came to get me. I was trying to get everything together and he kept telling me to hurry, and then I was putting on my shoes and he said, "Come on, you're not leaving, you're just going to court." I thought he maybe thought I was going to court here, and I said, "Yes, but not here, Tel Aviv," and he said yes, Tel Aviv, and I said, "Well I still have to wear shoes." He was convinced I thought I was going home, and he asked someone "She's coming back here, right?" and then he told me, "You sleep here tonight." Which basically really relieved me, because I had worried they would not bring me back. In fact, Dorothy tried to tell me they would take me straight to the airport, and I kept saying, "They said they are bringing me back here," and she said, yeah, well, I have a lot of experience with broken promises.
As soon as I got to the lobby, I asked the woman at the desk about the documents Shelly's brother had brought Friday night. She had no idea what I was talking about, and was really nasty about it - "You're talking about this person and that person, and this fax and that thing, you don't know anything." Moshe kept telling me to sit down. I should have asked Yuval, who was wandering around, but I couldn't deal with a confrontation, so I called Shelly and she called them and they ended up telling her to fax them. So she called Yonatan and Susy, and Yonatan sent his and Susy had to go out to send hers. Susy called to ask if they got them and the woman said no, and gave her another number. Shelly called back to say, we're sending them now, don't leave until they come, and Yuval answered the phone. He told her that they couldn't accept the fax, that it had to go to the Ministry of Interior legal department and be approved. She called the person there whose name he gave her, and that person had never heard of a rule like that. He said he would check. Shelly tried to get him to admit this was a brand new rule just for me. He did not confirm or deny it. I never got the documents, which of course would not have made any difference even if I had gotten to make my case, because by then I had gotten all the information on the phone.
Yonatan called while we were pulling out of the lot and said he had talked to the court and the hearing was moved up to 11:30. I said the police thought it was at 2:30. He asked one of them when I would be there, and he said 2:00 or 2:10, so we decided not to tell the media about the time change, but that some people should get there early anyway. The people who did were quite irritated.
I spent about an hour at the airport detention center, eating a bad cheese sandwich and chilling while the police ate lunch. I gave my phone to the police to charge, so I didn't have to talk to anyone, and I was alone for the first time in over a month. I read a little, looked at my notes, thought about what I would say, what might happen. I didn't feel nervous. The truth was, after my panic attack and Jenny's healing, I was very relaxed the whole day.
Even when we arrived at the court, I was not scared. I walked out of the van and followed Yair and thought wow, it's like I'm free. We walked through the front door, normally. There was a young woman outside who was obviously there for me, but I did not know her. She followed us in and the police left me alone with her while they went to see which floor, and I smiled at her but was embarassed to ask her name.
Because she was the only one outside, and because Tamar had said on the phone there were a few people upstairs, I didn't expect to see a crowd. I got up there and there were maybe 40 or 50 people, I didn't even notice my sister Erica at first. Dorothee handed me a lipstick and mirror, which I had asked for because I had looked in the mirror at Tsochar and thought I looked like a ghost. I went to put it on and people started to take pictures. I said, "No one is going to take a picture of me putting on lipstick," and everyone laughed. I went to one corner and Aisha followed me with the camera and Yonathan teased me about blackmail.
I hugged and kissed as many people as I could and then the Chronicle reporter, Matthew Kalman, introduced himself and started to interview me. At first, I kept my answers quiet, but then he asked about what I was doing and what I wanted to accomplish, what I think about the state, and everyone was crowded around, and I realized it was my chance to make the speech I wanted to give. I was particularly pleased to get to say, "We have to dismantle the Apartheid Wall and then we have to dismantle the Apartheid system."
I finished my interview and went to the bathroom, and Yair took that opportunity to warn me, "You don't take anything from anyone. If anyone wants to give you anything, tell them to give it to me." I said, "Okay, tell them," and he said, no, I'm telling you. They even wanted to look at the papers that Tamar and Susy were giving me for the presentation. We all went into the courtroom and the police showed me where to sit, and everyone filed in and I saw there was not an empty seat and people were standing in the back.
The state attorney, whom I could not help thinking of as the prosecutor, was skinny and pale and absolutely deadpan. He would not say hello or speak to me, he never once smiled, and his voice in court was barely audible. The judge was older, quite amusing looking really, with a toupee and big jowls. He started by saying that my appeal was no longer relevant because my visa expired yesterday. I was really glad and proud that I had anticipated this. I turned to the paragraph I had written late Saturday night to use for that eventuality, and recited/read it pretty much the way it was written:
"I have sat in prison for one month, in order to come here and argue that I should not be deported because my actions to stop the illegal Segregation Wall are in the interests of Israel and of justice. I think it is the responsibility of the court to hear the arguments, which I have carefully prepared under difficult circumstances and with the help of many Israeli activists who are seated here. If you do not give me the chance to present my case, it will be a message to the world, that Israel has no respect for freedom of speech or the right of dissent, and that visitors who promote human rights are unwelcome here.
To lock up a nonviolent activist until the very day her visa is expired, deny her request to move the hearing so she would have time remaining on her visa, and then say she has no right to appeal because her visa is lapsed, is conduct we would expect from a totalitarian regime, not a country which wants to be called a democracy."
I saw Aisha's face break into a big smile when I said, "a country that wants to be called a democracy," and I knew I had hit the right note. The judge tried to explain that denying my motion to move up the hearing was a mistake, that it should have been on the 10th, but now he would not do anything to fix the mistake. While I was hanging out in the airport detention center, I wrote a note:
and I put it in front of me on the table so I could always see it, and I concentrated on using one or two of those phrases every time I opened my mouth. The situation was really confusing because the judge kept interrupting me to translate for the stenographer, and Tamar would interrupt him to correct his translation, and I couldn't always tell what they were talking about. I thought I should have had two people with me, so that when Tamar was talking to him about the translation, someone else could tell me what they were discussing.
When I asked for a break to talk to Gaby, I thought it was a stroke of inspiration, because I hadn't realized they would shove me into a little closet with her, and I imagined being able to ask everyone what they thought - sort of the poll the audience lifeline from the Millionaire show. Gaby was totally good-natured about stepping in and stepping out, and when we came back and I was still confused, she mouthed at me "visa" at one point, to remind me to ask for a visa extension to rectify the "mistake" of scheduling the hearing after the expiration date.
By far the most fascinating moment to me was when I asked about going to the Palestinian Authority, using my letter from Qadura Fares, and the judge said, "Well after you get back to the U.S., you can go to any other country you want." I said, "Even the Palestinian Authority?" and he said, "That's between the U.S. government and the Palestinian Authority." For a moment, I thought there had actually been some breakthrough in diplomacy and the P.A. now controls its own borders. Alas, the state attorney informed the judge that you can only visit the P.A. via Israel. The judge really did not seem to know that! He said, "Zeh nachon?" (is that right?) or something like that. I asked for a guarantee of a transit visa to visit the PA and was soundly denied. But in the process of raising the issue, I was able to present the part of my case about the lack of jurisdiction of the Israeli police in Palestinian territory, and to point out that I was a guest of the village.
At the end, the judge said something about that I should take care of myself and not worry so much about the world, and I said, "As a Jew, I always learned that we were supposed to think first about the world," and Yonatan yelled something and so did a few other people.
Then suddenly, the hearing was over and I was being whisked away by the cops. I had expected to walk out the way that I had come in, with everyone else, and to have a chance to hug everyone once more. There were people who came late, like Dafna and Shelly and Naama, whom I never even got to see at all. (There were also people who didn't come, like Uri and Inna, in fact, there was no one from Black Laundry there at all, which was disappointing, but I'm sure it was not personal.) People were trying to give things to me and to the cops for me, and the cops were pulling at me, trying to get me to come quickly quickly, and I said, "There's time," and Yair said, "For you, not for us."
I waited with Zvi in the basement jail and then the gate opened and we went out, and I saw Yonatan and Aya and Aisha and some others. I started to run to them, they had made a mistake or maybe they were forced to stand on the driver's side instead of the one where I would get in, and as I got near them, the police just grabbed me and shoved me into the car. I remember kissing Aya and Eva and then I was in the van, crying and Yair was yelling at the group about getting out of the road, and I tried to argue with them in Hebrew, "Don't you understand? I won't see them for ten years, the baby (Shaden, strapped to Neta's chest) will be 11 by the time I can return." They didn't say much, just that they were in a hurry and didn't want to run over people. Zvi said, "We gave you half an hour before," but if they did that on purpose, rather than just being early, they could have told me that that was all the time I was going to get. People stood and waved and made victory or peace signs, and I held up a fist and some of them did too. They tried to follow the van as it pulled out, then we were stopped at a light and I looked and saw a ton of other people running and waving, Neta in front with Shaden still in the Snuggli, and Zvi pulled the curtain over the window. I yelled at him, "Lama zeh?" and after a minute, he opened it again, and then we were out of view anyway.
I couldn't believe how moving it was, actually it was like a movie scene. I thought of "Reds" or something, when Emma Goldman is deported, but of course, she lived in the States for 20 years or so, and travel was a lot harder then, so it is not comparable at all.
The cops really didn't react much and I couldn't tell what they thought. In the elevator, I had heard Zvi ask Yair what it was about, and Yair told him we demonstrate against the Wall (of course, he said the Fence) and Zvi said in surprise, "All of those?" I wasn't sure what that meant, like was he surprised there were so many of them, or who they were, or something else?
When I came back to Tsochar, it felt kind of like coming home. Jenny and Teresa were by the door and they hugged me and showed me that they had saved me food from lunch and dinner, and had not eaten all day but had waited for me. I couldn't really eat, because I kept getting calls and anyway, I wasn't hungry, but I was touched. Sveta and Maya came to ask, "Az mah kara?" So what happened? I did a few interviews on the phone.
It was hard to explain it to people, the Hebrew speakers because of the language barrier and the English speakers because the politics are not their orientation. Normally, I would come home from something big like this and play it over with my friends. Of course, it was a little like going out with Miranda (my last girlfriend, who didn't understand my politics either).
Jenny and Teresa started in on me about finding a husband. And they are convinced I can have children. I move closer and closer to telling them the truth, but not really that close. It's quite ironic, their spirituality is so deep, its power so real, they are really witches or priestesses, but they would cringe at the word. They are an odd pair. They told me the other night that they want me to get married in Africa. Jenny says she is going to plan the wedding, whether I like it or not. It's too bad, because otherwise I would love to visit.
Chronicle article on Kate's hearing
The statement I didn't get to give in court:
Monday, January 17
So it is over, and I feel good about what I have done. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to someone else, but I tried something new, it was a moderate success, and I learned a lot that I can find ways to use.
I feel I did the best I could yesterday. I woke up this morning thinking about the things I should have said, especially about the name change and my argument that I did nothing illegal last year either. Plus there's the question, if I was supposed to know that I was not allowed back, even though I left without a deportation order in effect, what is the purpose of a deportation order? But ultimately, it worked to raise the issues in a public forum, it was a good show, we can use it in the media, and it is OVER! The only big regret I have is that we did not have video or audio recording.
This morning, I really hoped to sleep late, but I woke up at 6:00 as usual, when they came to count. Maya was of course up getting ready to go. It amuses me that women dress up and put on makeup to leave for the airport at 9:00 a.m. when they are not flying until 9:00 p.m. They could dress before they get on the plane and put on makeup in flight, and it would be a lot fresher. But I suppose it is part of the process of absorbing the culture shock. I talk about the double culture shock I will have, of going from prison to free and Palestine to U.S. after only 8 months. Maya has been here for four years. And the culture shock between George and here is bound to be greater than between here and San Francisco. I probably had a more severe shock when I went from Palestine to Israeli jail than I will have going from Israeli jail to U.S. freedom.
At 7:00, I heard "Efshar l'kanes?" I knew it was Yuval, and I knew what he wanted. He came to my bed, looked up and asked, "Lama katavt et zeh?" why did you write that? I barely had my eyes open, and I mumbled, "Lo katavti." I didn't write it. He went out to the other room and asked Maya and she said I hadn't done it, "He lo yodaat Ivrit," she doesn't know Hebrew. He left.
Half an hour later, a cop came to the window and asked me, "Where do you want to fly to?" I told him San Francisco. I texted Jonathan and Susy and eventually Jonathan called and talked to someone who said I would be gone before Wednesday, maybe today. I got Susy to start working on getting my stuff together, but Koby is not home and doesn't have a cell phone. I told her to call the prison and let them know she is working on it, so hopefully they will be willing to give me time to get my stuff. Eventually she talked to Yuval, who was quite accommodating, oh, sure, we can make an exception for you to come tonight, oh no, 10:00 is too late, come tomorrow morning. And if you want her to go quickly, bring a ticket.
Shelly came to visit and I packed up the books Jonathan had lent me and the juggling balls to return to her. Shai said, "I want to see them." and I said "Tfaddal." He said, "What is that, tfaddal?" I said in Hebrew, something like Kelly used to say, because you live here, you should speak Arabic. I said because in Israel, there are shtai safot, two languages, Hebrew and Arabic, and he shocked me by saying, no, Hebrew and English. We had a friendly argument about it on the way out to Shelly, and he said, well we'll ask your friend if she speaks Arabic, and I said great, laughing because helping people learn Arabic is one of Shelly's major activities. So he asked her, "Which do Israelis speak, English or Arabic?" and she answered, "Ana bahki Arabic kwayes," and then they talked about it in Hebrew, with her mother also supporting her. The security guard standing near the gate was listening and grinning too, with his big M16 slung over his shoulder. I felt cheerful about the interaction and had a nice chat with Shelly and her mom. The security guard gave us a two-minute warning and Shelly said, "Hopefully it's two Mediterranean minutes." And it was. Yuval came out and stood there with the guard, reading Yediot Aharonot, but he carefully avoided even looking directly at us.
After they left, Shai took me back. I didn't notice him coming into the room, and suddenly he was standing by my bed pointing a camera at the writing on the wall, and people were yelling at him, mostly Jenny and Teresa, and I tried to point out other writing and he ignored me, and Jenny tried again and he ignored her too. I felt betrayed by him, in the same way I did by Ruth at Hadera when she stood there and let Eli bully me. And I also realize that these people are cops and if the captain tells them to do something in a certain way, they are going to do it, and they are certainly not going to stand up to them over someone like me, who is not someone they identify with and who can take care of herself.
I started to feel unsafe and imagine that they are planning something to hurt me. I called Susy and told her I thought Yuval was going to try to charge me with a crime, and maybe they would take my phone and what to do if I suddenly went incommunicado.
Nothing happened, but I continue to worry. In the late afternoon, Lydia picked up a towel on the bed and Lilia yelled at her to put it back and Lydia said she wanted to wash it and I got too depressed as they started fighting and decided I wanted to move out. I miss Maya and Nora. I am tired of people wanting me to do things for them that they can do for themselves. Teresa insisted I call the Hotline to get their fax number and address, when she could have called them herself. I tried to get Susy to get Yudit to go pick up Lydia's stuff from Regina's, and she refused to ask her, and I got upset and said, but it isn't much, it's only this time and if I can't help her, she will not leave me alone, and Susy said, basically, you have to tell people no. She told me a horrible story about a Ghanaian man who was deported two months ago, now his wife is in custody, and their two year old is left outside. But the reality is, I am not with that woman, and Lydia is my friend and I do think the people she entrusted with her things are trying to steal from her.
I was so overwhelmed that when the police came to count us for the nth time, I asked if I could move to Room 7. I thought, they are all so quiet and don't seem to need help with their problems and don't fight (because they kick out anyone they don't like). Jenny got furious and said, "You don't want to be our friend." I told her don't be that way, it's not about you, it's the fighting and the noise, but she was PISSED. I put my hand on her shoulder and she said, "Don't touch me!" which reminded me exactly of myself when I was younger. Meanwhile, the guy I asked said, "I'll have to check," and that is the last I heard of it. In general, when people want to move, the cops just say fine, they don't really care where we sleep, but it seems the order is that anything to do with me, they have to check with Yuval. I was relieved, because I don't want people to be mad at me, it's not worth it, but I also felt resentful because it's not just about them, what about my feelings?
The police came in while we were outside and put up shower curtains at the entrance to the bathrooms, and counted all the blankets and things. I wondered if possibly, the reporter I talked to yesterday asked about the lack of privacy, or if it was coincidence. Janet said their room (7) is supposed to be getting a washing machine. 9 already has one. I think maybe they are getting inspected or something.
I'm tired, my nerves are frayed, I want to go home.
Something is definitely up. At about 10:00 p.m., Qasem came in and inspected the beds again and told me, make sure by 7:00 a.m. there are only two blankets per bed. He got me to help him tear off the tape from the bed frames. I asked what it was about and he said, "It's because, ... there are problems."
Abu Rabia called and said he had heard about me on Al Jazeera.
The young woman who came to count us this evening always counts and then asks, "Kama atem po?" (how many are you here?). We told her 9, although we were wrong, it was actually only 8; we forgot that Urika had gone. I wonder, why do they count and count and still not know how many people they have? And what is the point of counting if you don't know what number you are supposed to get? And why don't they just do like at Hadera, where they say everyone's name and you have to answer? Maybe because it would require them to acknowledge that we have names.
Maya is flying now. In a few hours, she will be in Gruzia. Her husband, son and friends will all be at the airport to meet her. She has not seen her son in five years, since he was 6. She told Sveta she feels she will not know how to talk to him now. Then, he needed her for everything. Now, she worries he will say, "Go away, you are not my mother."
I was talking to Dafna on the phone about the checkpoints and how the daily waiting and inconvenience - hardship, her word, is better - is more debilitating for the people than the worst incidents. I said I feel now like I know a little of what people feel like. The feeling of always being on guard for what terrible thing might be about to happen, can be worse than the terrible thing itself. I think that is probably Yuval's game, or part of it, just to drive me crazy, make me afraid so every time the door unlocks I feel that knot in my stomach. He doesn't have to do anything with the photo; just taking it had the impact he wanted.
Tuesday, January 18
I fly Thursday morning early. So we don't know what happened, but I guess it comes down to Yuval not having as much power as he thinks. Or else it was really all just a mind game in the first place.
Suddenly, it does not feel important to me to get out. I think, oh, I will miss everyone. I will miss the free time. I will miss the absolute lack of structure and responsibility and the attention. I will have to start acting like a grownup again. I'll have to pay my bills and deal with the car insurance and IWPS and money issues and and and ...
Sveta goes tomorrow also. She cannot stop crying. I emailed Dorothee and she wrote back "habibti." I start to cry now.
I was outside and one of the police, whose name I never got, a nice, older guy with good English, was telling me maybe I would spend tomorrow night at the airport detention cener. I said it is nicer than here, ahsan min hon, and he took offense, this is the best. I said no, there you don't think you're in prison, it's like a hotel. He said, "You're not in prison." I said, "Where am I?" He said, "You're not in prison." I pointed at the barbed wire and the armed guard.
"There's barbed wire and guns," I said.
He said, "That wire is not to keep you from going out, it's to keep people from coming in."
I was really confused. I said, "So I can leave, if I want?" thinking, is it conceivable, that all this time, there was some voluntary element of this and if I said the magic words, they would have to let me out? That would be like the plot of a novel, or a Star Trek episode. He said, "No, you can't leave, but you're not in prison." Then he said, "In the States, if you have an immigration problem, where do they take you?" I said, prison. He said no, not with criminals. I explained the system, sentenced and pre-sentenced, but that it's everyone together, someone accused of murder, and someone who has no papers.
He shook his head. "That is not right," he said. I said I agreed. It is interesting, how strongly everyone feels about that here, from the police to the inmates.
I think somehow, in the States, we are more inured to the idea that you can go to prison for anything or nothing, it doesn't mean you are a criminal. I'll have to ask Israelis if that is really less true here.
Jenny said that in her country, if you kill someone or do armed robbery, you might go to jail for two years, and when you come out you will be a professional. She seemed to mean a tradesperson, like the example she gave was an electrician. She said they have school and you can learn to really do something. That makes so much sense, you could see that maybe after that, someone could really change their life. I imagine they have less recidivism, if it is true.
I had a hard conversation with a friend from home about the press release. She seemed to think I was criticizing her for not doing good enough media, and I felt like she was annoyed that I wanted them to do any follow-up at all. Mostly, I think we are both stressed.
Then I got a text from Karin saying, "Take my number off of your phone." Again, I am sure she was exhausted and freaked out by a bad airport experience, but I deleted the numbers and started to cry.
And then, at 11:30, I got an incredibly sweet SMS from Yonatan saying that I'm an inspiration to him. And I cried some more and sent back a reply that was not half so nice. I thought I really do not deserve the admiration, he has done so much at such a young age, I had nowhere near the political sophistication he has when I was even ten years older than he is. I reflected that he and Hannah are the people who were the most steadfastly there for me, and it's a little embarrassing to rely so heavily on people who could be my children. But on the other hand, your children should be there for you, and they have the time and the energy. I feel really honored by the nice things people say about me, and that I have not behaved so well a lot of the time. On the other hand, I tried to make a difference to the people I could do something for here.
Dina, whom I barely know, said tonight, "Kate loves people." I thought, wow, is that true? Kind of. Sometimes. Jenny added, "Yes, and everyone loves her," and Dina agreed. I was surprised, because that is not how I think of myself, and Dina is young and beautiful and bubbly.
I stayed up late writing this, and thought maybe Qasem would come by like he sometimes does, and we could speak Arabic for a few minutes, but he did not.
Thursday, January 20, 11:30 a.m.
I'm a free woman. It’s anticlimactic.
I got off the plane in Amsterdam and walked out into the airport and thought, okay, now I'm free, but what does that mean? Mostly, it meant that after a month of everyone kind of doing everything for me, telling me where to go when, suddenly I had to figure it out for myself. Which, happy to say, I did. I bought a cappuccino with some (too many) euros I had left from some other transit experience, and burned my tongue. The coffee didn't have much flavor.
They had not given me my boarding pass, and all the transfer desks were closed, so I had to push in front of everyone to go into the gate, never my favorite thing. The woman at the desk was confused, why didn't I have the pass? and I didn't want to say, "The police didn't give it to me," because the might suddenly go, oh, you're a deportee? you shouldn't be here, we need to get the police, or who knows. So I just said everything was chaotic in Tel Aviv, which it certainly was.
Qasem had come on Tuesday night and told me to be ready to leave at 8:00 a.m. I knew I wouldn't go until probably 10:00, but I also knew the day I didn't get ready, they would really come at 8:00. So I got up when they brought breakfast, took it out of the dishes, got dressed and finished packing, then made instant coffee and ate and tried to read. No one else was up when Shimon came in, about 9:00.
He said, "You're going today, right?"
I said yes.
"Are you ready?"
"Why you not clean?"
I said, "The ones who are leaving never clean, you know that." I went to take out the garbage.
He yelled, "Sveta! Nikayon!"
I said, "It's not her turn either. They are going to do it. They can sleep now, and do it when they wake up."
He said, "What?" His English is not fabulous, and when I am angry I talk fast.
I said, "Why do they have to do it now? It's early."
"Early?" He looked at his watch.
I said, "They will do it. They have nothing else to do. Why do you care when we clean?"
"Why, why, why?" he said. "All the time you ask why."
"Yes," I said, tying up the garbage and almost smacking him with the heavy bag. "It's a good question. If I were going to be here, I would keep asking it."
I asked him how long before I left and he said ten minutes. It was more like an hour. I hugged everyone who was up. Jenny and Teresa took me aside for a little prayer and dance. Sveta covered my face with kisses. So did Larissa, who only came yesterday. I felt really adopted by this community which is in some ways so alien to me and I to it, but we are all women and in the end that is enough. I stopped to reach through the bars of the window to exchange phone numbers with Sveta and Moshe begged me in a long-suffering voice to stop dawdling. I said to her in Hebrew, "Everything will be okay," because she was leaving the next day also, and she didn't want to. Moshe said in Hebrew "With God's help," and I answered him in Arabic, "Definitely."
I thought, like it or not, this has been home for a month, and in a way, I will miss it.
In the office, Shimon gave me the receipt to sign for my video camera. He said, "In English. Without politica." Meaning, don't write "Dai L'kibush," end the occupation in Hebrew, as I had signed when they took it. I couldn't resist a challenge like that, so I wrote my name and then "End the Occupation" in English. I didn't get to finish "Occupation," because he yanked it out of my hand when he saw what I was doing, which I thought was hilarious.
I said, "Why do you get so upset about things that do not matter?"
He said, "Again why."
So I got to say what I had thought of after he left before. "Do you know what they call countries where people don't ask why?" but he didn't answer so I didn't get to say, "Fascist."
The same three cops who drove me to court on Sunday drove us to the airport: Yair, Zvi and the thin guy with the beard who spent six months in the States and loves Chicago best. When they saw me, Yair and Zvi both yelled, "Kate! Mah nishma?" I had seen Yair on Tuesday also, when I was going to get my suitcase, and he was friendly then too. I thought it was interesting because they had been so angry at me after court, but I guess then it really was all about the timetable [they were late, and my friends were running after the van to say goodbye].
I had worried about the security and questioning at the airport, but it was nothing. I spent all day, from noon to midnight, in a room with about 100 chairs, like the gate areas in an airport. When I first arrived, there was barely room for everyone to sit down, but it cleared out pretty fast. Sveta showed up about 7:30 pm. Yuval (the captain) and Shimon drove her up in the afternoon and dropped her at the nice detention center where Kelly and I spent our first night after being arrested. Then they moved her to where the rest of us were, I don't know why; her flight is not until noon on Friday. I also don't get why, if Yuval knew they were bringing her up in the afternoon, they couldn't take me at the same time. Maybe it was spite, wanting me to be as uncomfortable as possible in my last hours, because Yuval had not been able to hurt me much and he wanted to. Maybe they wanted to be alone with her; maybe they just did not want to be with me; or maybe they didn't know they were going to do it.
I came to really love Sveta. She is warm and smart. I wish she didn't flirt so easily with police, but she does it with women too, even with me. I think she has probably dealt with a lot of abuse. We were hanging out in the airport lounge and I got a phone call, and the police took the opportunity to call her over. They said, "Boi," (come) and she said, "B'vakasha," (please). But she went and she chatted and flirted and sat down. When I was done with Tory's call, I went over and gave her some chocolate and then went around and shared it with all the women in the room (and not the men, which I did automatically, not consciously), and sat down with two of them, one from Moldova and one from Latvia. When Sveta saw me sitting with them, she left the police and joined us. I think she doesn't know how to say no. Which is funny, because she is so forceful. As usual, the women couldn't understand what I was saying about what I was doing in Israel and Palestine, and I asked Sveta to explain it to them in Russian. They all asked me about coming to the States to work, and I had to admit I have no idea how it works or doesn't. It's such a different world from what I know, this economic refugee thing.
Jonathan and Eva came to say goodbye. It was a great way to end, and it only took them 20 minutes by train so I didn't feel nearly as bad as if they came to Tsochar, which would have been a three hour round trip for five minutes. The policeman who took me out to them was really nice. He said to me, "Two minutes," and I said, "Five," and he acted like he was going to shut the door until I said okay, okay, two minutes. But then he was very patient and gave us maybe seven.
The only intrigue came when we went to get our bags checked. They called me with everyone else, about 8 of us who were still there. They asked a few questions, standard ones. I saw no reason not to tell the truth. I assumed they already knew everything, and I am already deported. So when the girl asked me, "What was the purpose of your trip?" I said, "Human rights work."
She asked where I lived and I said Salfit, which she pretended to have heard of, and Jerusalem and sometimes Tel Aviv.
Then she said, "Somewhere in the West Bank?" I said yes, Salfit is in the West Bank.
Anywhere else, like Jericho or Gaza? I decided not to bother pointing out that Gaza is not in the West Bank and just said no. Then she asked if I packed my bag myself and I honestly wasn't sure how to answer. They knew I came from jail, had in fact asked which jail (and where it is, I don't quite get why they ask that, I just said in the south near Ofakim), so I figured it was obvious that someone else had something to do with getting me my stuff. She wanted me to tell her who, I said no, you're going to check it anyway, so you will know there's no bomb in it, and you won' know the person if I tell you their name, so it won't help, so I'm not going to. She said okay.
I sat next to Sveta while they got ready to search my bags. They told me to go sit in another group of chairs and I did. Then they sent me to wait in the other room, where the police didn't understand what was happening and yelled at me until they checked and found out I was right. And then came the political arguments. They were friendly and not too hard to control. I got to use some history facts I had just learned from Uri Davis's book. I asked one guy why Israel never drafted a constitution. He tried to say, they had the Declaration of Independence instead. Then he said, well, we tried to make one a few times, there are a lot of reasons it didn't work out. The two cops kept interrupting each other to change the direction of the argument.
I was sent back to get my fingerprints and phot taken, and decided there was no gain in refusing. If I come back, it will be legally. A religious cop came in and asked, "Zot haAmerikait?" He seemed to be assigned to shepherd me around. He and his friend, a short, handsome African (Yemeni or Ethiopian, not sure which) drove me around to the El Al terminal to have my stuff super-xrayed, and the women there did the little pat-down and wanding search, nothing bad, and then they took me back where I had come from, to wait with Sveta and the others. The religious guy was telling me I had to figure out if I think Judaism is logically true, and if I realize it is, then I will realize that God gave this land to the Jews alone. I said, well okay, but there were already people here when the Jews came the first time, and their gods gave it to them. So if we can now come and claim a prior right to the Palestinians, can't the Canaanites and Amorites come and claim it from us? Well, no, because our god is the true god. It's syllogistc logic. The other guy was not inerested in religion, but they both lectured me separately about finding a husband, and then I would change my perspective. The African guy said in Hebrew, "If you get married and have children, you will see things are not only black and white, they are also blue and yellow..." I mentioned that a lot of married people with children are doing the kind of work I am, but they were not convinced.
I finally slept a little and the police woke me up to yell at me about checking my small backpack. I kept insisting I could take it on the plane like everyone else, and they kept saying I couldn't, "It's not me, it's the security." I said to the first guy, but there's food and books, and he said so put them in a bag. So when the next guys started on me about it, I took the little bag of food I had brought, some apples and bread, and the books, and the guy said no, no, you can't take all that, just the books. We kept arguing in Hebrew and English, and they would argue among themselves about whether I spoke Hebrew, some would say, she understands everything (not true) and others would say, no she doesn't speak it at all (not true), some would automatically speak to me in English but not understand my answers and others who spoke perfectly good English would suddenly order, "Oh, come on, speak Hebrew." And I would, if I could, because I was too tired to fight about it and thought I had a better chance of convincing them in Hebrew. In the end, I did not.
Suddenly I was running after a guy with my bags, because we barely had time to make the plane. After all, I had only been sitting there for 17 hours. Only on the way out of the terminal, I realized I didn't say godbye to Sveta. I called, but only got her voicemail; I left her a Hebrew message telling her to call me if she wants to come to the States. Maybe she got it, maybe not. I like to think of her in New York. She could be really happy there. Or Las Vegas. I don't see her in San Francisco.
They searched me again, a little more thoroughly this time. I had to pull my pants down to my knees, that was all. No questions at all. The policeman with me, this time only one, who did not complain about me using the phone in the car (the other guys had explained to me that I wasn't allowed to talk on the phone in the car, because I could be planning an ambush), asked, "Why did they check you twice?" I said I don't know, I was going to ask you that. He guessed it was because I came to Israel twice (I said no, I had come six times). I guessed it was because I had been arrested at a demonstration. Neither of us will ever know which was right.
He drove me up to where the plane sat on the tarmac, gave them my bags (tikkim) to put underneath and we ran up the stairs, where he handed my passport and e-ticket to the flight attendant. Before we took off, she handed it to me, and from that moment, I was not a prisoner any more.Susy tells me that we are no longer called deportees. We are "Distanced People."