Testimony: One filmmaker's struggle against deportation at Ben Gurion Airport

12:00 Aug 31 2012 Ben-Gurion Airport, Israel

‘As soon as I got my passport stamped, the Airport Authority employee demanded I sign a commitment not to enter the occupied Palestinian territories. The document stated that should I breach this ‘order,’ I could be deported and not allowed back into Israel for another 10 years. I refused to sign it…the document was torn in front of my face, and my entrance to Israel was denied.’

By Dáša Raimanová

My name is Dáša Raimanová. I am a filmmaker. At the end of August, I was meant to join a grassroots organization operating in the Palestinian territories to create a documentary about food sources in Palestine, emphasizing new ideas like slow food, women’s cooperatives and ecological farms.

I arrived in Israel on Friday, August 31. At the passport control counter at the Ben Gurion Airport, I was asked about the purpose of my visit. I presented an official invitation letter from my NGO, stating the aim of my visit. The person from the counter called someone to take me away for further questioning.

Three different interrogators from the Israeli Airport Authority asked me the same questions over and over again: where will I stay, what is the work of the NGO, how many films have I made, what were they about, and so on. After several hours, I finally received an Israeli visa. As soon as I got my passport stamped, the Airport Authority employee demanded I sign a commitment not to enter the occupied Palestinian territories. The document stated that should I breach this “order,” I could be deported and not allowed back into Israel for another 10 years. I refused to sign it, as my work was to be focused on West Bank Palestinians. It sparked anger, and the document was torn in front of my face, and my entrance to Israel was denied.

I was then taken away to another Airport Authority office, and requested to “pose” for a picture. I refused and demanded to speak with a person in charge. A female Airport Authority officer, who seemed to be responsible for my case and was one of three interrogators, came to deal with me. I asked her why my entry was denied and in response, she accused me of lying. I requested more information. She answered that “they” do not need to explain me anything, as anyone can print an invitation on letterhead, stamp it and sign it. None of the several people dealing with me explained to me who were or what was their position.

Two young women from airport security took me into another room, where they strip-searched me and went through all of my bags. Another man came to pick me up. I asked where was he taking me, he answered we were going to a place where I could shower, rest and wait for my flight back. I soon found myself in a cell in a deportation center near the airport.

I contacted my family, and my father immediately started to pressure the Slovakian embassy in Tel Aviv to intervene on my behalf. The Slovak consul came to visit me on Friday evening. After I explained I was going to Palestine, he told me that he would not do anything for me. His assistant asked me my age. When I responded that I am 30, she asked me why I was “running up against a wall” and suggested that I leave to go back home and find some other project in a different part of the world.

The next day, at the detention center, I met many disappointed people, and heard many more upsetting stories. There was a Jewish-American teacher, denied entry because she visited Palestinian territories in the past “too many times.” There was an older Russian woman who had come to visit her brother for the first time after not having seen him for 20 years; her body was bruised and she barely could move. She told me she was beaten by 10 women from airport security, and accused of being a terrorist. Plenty of people there where migrant workers. Many had lived in Israel for years, some were there with children.

Despite encouragement from my family, who regularly called, I was losing hope of entering.

Luckily, the NGO, along with my family, arranged for a lawyer who appeared on Saturday night. He proposed two options: either to go back and fight the case from London, or resist the deportation and go through the court system in Israel. The second option, I was told, could mean being locked up in the detention center for another two weeks. My deportation was already scheduled for Sunday afternoon. This meant there was not enough time to get a court injunction against my deportation. The lawyer told me that I had legal right to resist the first deportation, and the immigration authorities could not physically force me to board the plane.

I opted for the second option. I resisted the deportation, which caused me to be labeled “dangerous.” Starting Sunday, I was locked up in an isolated cell with 24h CCTV. Depending on the mood of the guards, I was allowed to get out for a cigarette and chat briefly with other detainees.

Luckily, I did not have to wait two weeks for the court. The first hearing took place just two days later. The judge ruled that the immigration authorities had no basis for denying my entry into Israel. The decision on whether I could enter Palestinian territories would be made the following day.

On Tuesday, during the hearing, the judge was ready to let me go without any further requirements. Nonetheless, the prosecutor asked to call the Ministry of Interior and let them decide if they agreed to do so. Under pressure from the Ministry of Interior, the court ordered me to get a special permit from COGAT (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) to enter the territories.

So, after five days in a detention center I was finally able to pack my things and leave through the gates of Terminal 3 of Ben Gurion Airport. The day after being freed, I received an update from my lawyer, with written document from COGAT, stating that as a foreigner, I do not need any permit to travel to Palestinian territories.

All in all it was quite an Israeli welcome. As the detention center’s guards put it while driving me to the airport (why did the drive you to the airport? You mean from the court?) after being released: “First time in Israel? A bit of a different experience, no?”

Dáša Raimanová is an aspiring director and director of photography interested in making political documentaries as well as fiction with social and political themes. She regularly co-organizes events, such as Temporary Autonomous Art and Femme Fatale, as well as exhibitions, cinema, cabaret and café nights within the squatting culture of London.
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