“When I arrived [in Israel], I was told that my access was denied. I then spent four days trying to get a lawyer. I did eventually get to court, which was a kangaroo court basically. I didn’t have long enough to look at any of the documents. They had a whole dossier on my previous nonviolent activities. I was told that I was a threat to the state of Israel. Now that case is going to appeal, but meanwhile, we couldn’t get a stay of the deportation while that was being argued, so I was deported.”
theexperiment: First, can you talk about the work that you have been doing in the Occupied Palestinian Territories?
Angie Zelter: Yeah, I’ve been going backwards and forwards for the last three years. Some of the work was accompanying the CPT (Christian Peacekeepers Team) in Hebron; some of the work was with the International Solidarity Movement [ISM: http://www.palsolidarity.org/]; and then most recently, from August, I’ve set up my own project with a whole group of women called International Women’s Peace Service, and that’s in the Salfit area [IWPS: http://www.womenspeacepalestine.org/].
te: Exactly what kind of work do you do with this organization?
AZ: We were invited there by the villagers because they wanted an international presence to monitor and witness what was going on. So mostly we write reports on what’s going on. We monitor the violence and the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] violence, and we intervene and try and prevent things like soldiers firing into residential areas, or if they’re harassing people at the checkpoints too much, or if ambulances need to get through or food supplies: trying to liaison with the police/IDF to try and get them through, that kind of thing.
te: Other than liaising with authorities, most of your power in intervening is in simply putting your physical person there, since you don’t officially have any authority per se.
AZ: We only have the authority that anybody has actually. Which is that they’re human beings, and we’re just trying to connect with the humanity of whoever is around involved in the human rights abuses. As far as having authority in the West Bank you know about how the Israeli forces actually are not respecting ambulances and UN workers at all, or hardly at all. So even if you go with the authority of an international organization, it is actually quite difficult to get things done or to stop the human rights abuses. So most people working out there just have their own moral authority if you like.
te: And you were in Israel at the turn of the New Year specifically to testify at legal proceedings resulting from this work?
AZ: No…it’s just that 18 months ago when I was in Hebron, with CPT, I witnessed a really bad stoning of a 75-year-old Palestinian man and took photos of that event, and then those photos were destroyed by this armed settler that attacked me. So in the process of dealing with that, I mean I was just about to be stoned when a colleague came and rescued me, and I insisted that the settler was arrested for beating me up and destroying the camera. Then with the help of a human rights group and the UK consulate that case actually got to court. Now you’re probably aware that in the West Bank most cases of settler violence don’t ever get to court-even when they admit to killing Palestinians they don’t even go to court. They say lack of evidence, or they drop it, or there’s always some reason why it doesn’t go through, but there’s very few instances where settlers actually have to go to the court and answer for their crimes. So I did put quite a lot of energy into pushing that case, and that was the case that was heard in September, and then I was also to come back and be a witness on the 31 of December. But in October there were also two other events around the August harvest in Yasouf where I witnessed settler violence-shots being fired and stones being thrown-and again we had photographs, which luckily we were able to get to the police this time, and those cases I was hoping to go back and try to prosecute, but again other organizations will have to take that on because I’m not there now.
te: You’re not there because…
AZ: The state won’t allow me in; the Israeli state has denied me access.
te: Were you actually deported from Israel when you were there to attempt to testify at the legal proceedings?
AZ: Yes I was deported. Well, when I arrived, I was told that my access was denied. I then spent four days trying to get a lawyer. And they tried to forcibly put me on a plane before I had even seen a lawyer or got to court. I resisted that nonviolently just by shouting out to the other passengers that I was being deported against my will. I did eventually get to court, which was a kangaroo court basically. I was not able to testify myself. I didn’t have long enough to look at any of the documents. They had a whole dossier on my previous nonviolent activities there and human rights intervention work with the ISM-I didn’t have a chance to see whether it was accurate or inaccurate or whatever. I was told that I was a threat to the state of Israel. There were Israelis in the court who said they wanted me to be there and I wasn’t a threat, etcetera, but the judge ignored that. Now that case is going to appeal, but meanwhile, we couldn’t get a stay of the deportation while that was being argued, so I was deported.
te: Do you know if you will be barred from traveling in Israeli controlled areas in the future?
AZ: I don’t know at all. My MP[British Parliament Member] is going to inquire at the Israeli embassy on my behalf. I was meant to be leading a delegation of Parliamentarians to the West Bank and to Israel to meet the peace movements there and find out what’s happening for themselves. I’ll ask whether I can be a part of that group. They’ll probably say no, at least until the regime has changed. I mean when this sort of armed military dictator Sharon is ousted, then maybe things will change for the better in Israel and I’ll be welcomed once more by the state. I don’t know. But there is the issue of Palestinian people being denied the people that they want. I was invited there by Palestinians who wanted a nonviolent international presence. The international community has refused to pressurize Israel and make that a reality on the ground, which is why civilians like myself are trying to fill that gap.
te: Are you familiar with the case of activist Jaggi Singh ?
AZ: Yes, yes, I am.
te: He was recently deported from Israel as well. Is this a pattern?
AZ: Yes it is. It is a pattern and it’s getting worse. Two, three years ago when I started being more active in the West Bank, internationals were respected much more. I think the Israelis were more ashamed to be seen doing horrendous things, and they’ve kind of, in a way, lost that to a certain extent. I think they thought there would be more comeback if Westerners were being treated in this kind of way, and they found under Ariel Sharon that he can get away with a Jenin massacre; he can get away with keeping millions of people under almost total curfews for so long; so I think they feel that they can get away with anything. So, we’re seeing more and more instances of UN workers and aid workers being shot and wounded and hundreds, literally hundreds, of international observers being turned back.
te: I certainly hope you will be able to find a way to continue the good work you have been doing there. In the meantime, here in the US, I haven’t seen any reportage at all on your deportation from Israel-let alone any of the issues you were there to expose–but in England where you live, how would you describe the press coverage, if any, that you have seen?
AZ: Very poor, very poor indeed. After doing a lengthy interview with me, a journalist filed a report to the editor of the Independent on Sunday but it wasn’t ever published. I just don’t think that it’s information that the media particularly feel that they want to get out. It kind of doesn’t fit in with having Israel as a strategic partner in the war against Iraq. As so often, our leaders are not interested in real human rights and in getting rid of poverty and in cooperation amongst nations.
te: Thank you very much for your time and for all of your efforts.
AZ: Thank you.
Author: Gabriel Voiles
News Service: TheExperiment