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Activists detained in and deported from Israel return home

Denounce "the tight grip of the Israeli occupation of Palestine"
by staff |
August 5, 2009
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A photo of Katrina Plotz and Sarah Martin at the press conference.
Katrina Plotz, center speaking at airport press conference. Sara Martin to her left. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Bloomington, MN - Israeli security forces refused entry to three U.S. solidarity activists for attempting to participate in a human rights delegation organized by the Palestine Solidarity Group. Sarah Martin, member of Women Against Military Madness, and Katrina Plotz, of the Anti-War Committee, refused voluntary deportation and were forcibly deported Sunday evening, August 2. It was an emotional reunion at the airport on Monday afternoon, as Martin and Plotz were greeted with cheers and embraces by dozens of friends and supporters, carrying signs reading “Free Palestine!” and “End the occupation!”  

After a brief encounter with airport security, a press conference was held in the baggage claim area. The crowd gathered closely to hear the story of the Minnesota women who have been the subject of an outpouring of support over the weekend, as hundreds made calls, sent letters demanding their release and their right to enter into Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Martin and Plotz are well-respected local peace and justice activists, especially known for their work in organizing protests at the 2008 Republican National Convention in Saint Paul. Palestine solidarity activists from across the U.S. joined the campaign as well, in hopes of shedding a light on the situation.  

“We believe that Palestinians should have the right to control their own borders,” Jess Sundin said in an opening statement for the Anti-War Committee, “Their invited guests should not have to go through an Israeli controlled security apparatus to visit them. It was Israel that turned Katrina Plotz and Sarah Martin away before they reached their destination. We denounce Israel’s policy of excluding Palestinians and those who support them. We know that this policy is part of a campaign to isolate the Palestinian people and prevent us from learning the truth about the impact of our country’s policies in the Middle East.”  

According to Sarah Martin, “What we got to experience was the tight grip of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. If you’re going on a human rights delegation, which we were, you cannot tell that to Israel or they will throw you out summarily. But they knew we were a human rights delegation anyway.”   

Each of the women was sent for questioning upon arrival at the airport in Tel Aviv. During the interview with Katrina Plotz, Israeli security officers showed her the Anti-War Committee website and accused her of lying about her plans. He was shouting and banging his desk with a book and then threw it on the floor.   

Sarah Martin continued, “They regretted to inform us that we weren’t going to be allowed into Israel because we were a security threat. We were a security threat, because they do not want the reality of Palestine known to the outside world, and that was our point. So, Katrina and I decided, no we’re not going, we’re not going that easy and so we refused to get on the airplane.” 

Katrina Plotz agreed, “They’re afraid of people knowing the truth. They are afraid of people who have any amount of courage to stand up against them and stand up for the rights and the dignity of Palestinians. So they kept us cut off from each other and from all of you and all the work that was being done.” The women were put in separate cells and not allowed to speak with each other or make phone calls while they were detained.   

There was graffiti on the walls of Plotz’s cell. She was denied a pen or pencil, but wrote with the cap of a soda can: “Free Palestine,” “Israel out of Palestine,” “Justice for Gaza,” and “Right of Return.” When the guards discovered this, they took the rest of her food, turned the lights off in her cell, and ultimately handcuffed her to the bed. Some time later, the women were driven to the plane in separate cars, put on the plane separately and still not allowed to speak to one another. The women were never informed that supporters had secured a lawyer for them. They were never given the form required to file a formal appeal of their deportation. Their only outside contact was with the U.S. Embassy, who also failed to inform them of their rights or assist them in anything other than communicating their status to friends and family back home.  

According to Plotz, “It’s not democracy. It’s not fair and it’s wrong. I’m glad to have been able to take just a small stand against that.”  

Martin added, “One other irony, we were returned home. One of the main demands of Palestinians is the right of return, to go back to those lands that were taken and cleared in 1948. That’s enshrined in UN law and has been reaffirmed year after year, but it’s never been implemented and the U.S. and UN has never enforced that. Instead of a right of return, more and more land is being taken away, and more and more houses are being bulldozed.”  

Palestinian Sameh Shabaneh, of the Al Aqsa Foundation, also addressed the crowd. “What these courageous ladies went through, the Palestinians go through on daily basis. There are millions of Palestinian refugees in the world that cannot visit their homes the original homes and villages, let alone resettle there. They have the keys for their homes and they cannot actually go there because they are not permitted by the Israeli occupation. Palestinians are barred from moving around their towns and villages. Farmers are taken away from their farmlands. Teachers are being kept away from their schools. Doctors are not being able to go to hospitals to help the needy. And pregnant women are giving birth at checkpoints.”  

“I don’t think a pregnant woman, or for that matter, Sarah my friend, look at her,” Sameh continued, gesturing towards 69-year old Sarah Martin, “neither is a threat for Israel’s security. Those ladies should not be treated as such a threat to Israel’s existence.”  

He also said, “Rest assured, we will soon extend an invitation for you when Palestine is free, very soon, inshallah.”

Mary Beaudoin, Director of Women Against Military Madness, closed the gathering by expressing outrage at the events of the last few days, and called on people to use the organization’s website as a resource to inform themselves of what is happing inside Palestine.