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From the watchtower: Confuse and deport

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

A practiced policy of destabilization?

By Carmelle Wolfson

This article was originally published on
Baffled and in a state of shock, Jared Malsin is the second foreign media worker in less than two weeks to be forced out of Israel. Malsin, the chief English editor for Palestinian news agency Ma’an, was driven out in an armed vehicle Wednesday where he was put on a plane back to his home in the US. Israeli authorities detained the American (who is of Jewish dissent and therefore eligible for Israeli citizenship) at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport in a holding cell for over a week without proper trial and minimal access to communication with his lawyer, colleagues and family.
Israel has been deporting and denying visas to an increasing number of foreigners who are exposing the affects of Israel’s military occupation and control of Palestinian territory. It is part of a wider effort to stifle internal dissent amidst growing international opposition to Israel’s attack on Palestinians, which has extended its reach since last year’s war on Gaza.
Malsin’s denial of entry follows the arrest and deportation of International Solidarity Movement media coordinator, Czech-born Eva Novakova on Jan 11, in an unprecedented move by the Israeli Oz immigration unit, who entered the West Bank to capture Novakova from her home in Ramallah. However, unlike Novakova, Malsin is a journalist, meaning his case has received larger media scrutiny despite other instances.
The official reason Malsin was denied entry is unclear. News sources originally reported Israeli officials didn’t know he was a journalist and thought he posed a security threat. A copy of the interrogation transcript, however, showed he was questioned about articles he had written that were critical of Israel. Then Israel quickly changed its line, as media attention of its targeting of Malsin mounted. Later, officials claimed he was being charged with not cooperating during questioning, lying to officials about why he was in the country, and violating the terms of his tourist visa.
Malsin’s terms of exit are also suspicious. “There is no such thing as a voluntary deportation. I was deported, period,” the journalist was quoted saying in Ma’an. The news agency also reported that after Malsin’s lawyer left the detention facility Tuesday Malsin was manipulated into signing a statement, which he believed was a “formality.” Meanwhile, the lawyer was requesting that the journalist’s trial continue in absentia since officials wouldn’t allow him to leave the airport for the courtroom. But Israeli officials have been telling reporters that Malsin signed a document waiving his rights to a trial then left voluntarily.
Malsin’s partner was also deported last week – Faith Rowold, a volunteer for the Lutheran Church in Jerusalem – after returning with Malsin from their vacation in Prague. Rowold’s deportation is indicative to how far Israel has cast its net, attempting to shut out anyone connected to those exposing the realities of life in OPT.
When it comes to Israel deporting foreigners, Malsin and Rowold aren’t the only ones with unanswered questions. Michael Loadenthal is another American denied entry and deported from Ben Gurion airport over two years ago. He had been in the country on a tourist visa twice previously doing human rights work with Palestinians. Returning a year later in 2007 with his American partner, Loadenthal says they were both questioned on-and-off for 14 hours, denied entry, detained overnight and put on the next flight home the following day.
He says the line of questioning was mostly about what he had been doing in specific places in the West Bank. Israeli authorities “seemed to have a pretty thorough understanding of my previous travels,” says Loadenthal. His experience and the authorities’ detailed knowledge of his activities indicates the level of surveillance internationals working with Palestinians undergo in Israel and the OPT.
Loadenthal was only allowed one call a few hours before they were to be deported, he says. Loadenthal telephoned the American Consulate, but they told him they couldn’t do anything for him. For Malsin, a journalist, the consulate acted with more diplomacy, expressing concern and acting as a go-between for Malsin and Israeli Authorities. However, the Americans did nothing protect his right to a trial or ability to operate freely as a journalist.
During his detention, a friend of Malsin’s from his Yale days made numerous phone calls to different branches of the American government, while officials gave no answers and deflected to other departments. Arriving in the country for a week to visit Malsin, she spent her first days outside the Tel Aviv courthouse, awaiting the deportation hearing that never happened.
While Israel advocates often argue that activists overstaying their welcome in Israel should not expect to be allowed back, it’s obvious from Malsin’s experience, that Israel is intent on blocking more than just activists. The deportation is part of a wider attempt to put those who are working with Palestinians and in regular communication with the international community in a state of limbo.
Now Israel is making it even harder by instituting a formal policy of not issuing work visas to international NGOs functioning in the OPT. Only 12 organizations, which were active in the West Bank before 1967, will not face these limitations.
Malsin, Loadenthal and Novakova are part of a growing number of internationals working with Palestinian society who are targeted by Israel in order to weaken the articulation of Palestinian voice to the international community. If they overstay their visa, like Novakova, they can be picked up and deported. If they want to extend a tourist visa, people like Malsin often opt to leave the country then return each time it expires rather than apply for an extension from inside Israel where it will likely be denied.
The way that Malsin and Loadenthal were constrained from communicating with the outside world during their detentions echoes the approach Israel is taking in the OPT. Tightening its control over internationals, Israel can more freely sever the Palestinian connection to the international community.

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