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Live From Israeli Immigration Prison
by Kate Raphael Bender (katrap [at]
Monday Feb 7th, 2005 5:21 PM
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. This article introduces the journal I wrote during my 5 weeks in Israeli detention centers.
Notes from Inside: Expulsion of Foreign Workers and Israeli Apartheid

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, prospective ISM volunteers who were denied entry because of their activism, 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 being arrested at the beginning of the now-legendary resistance to the Wall construction in Budrus. 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,", 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."

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 found 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.

I saw women helping each other through, those who came with suitcases of clothes and jewels giving them away to those who came with nothing and had no one to bring them anything. One day Maya, an economist from Gruzia (Georgia) told Tsong, a cook who sold fish in the market in Beijing, "When you have a problem, we all have a problem."

These efforts to forge community, though imperfect, were in stark contrast to what I observed in my 15 months outside the prison walls: constant new schemes to expropriate and to separate, to twist old laws or conjure up new ones to cheat people out of what had been their birthright, and to guard against the possible infiltration of one culture into another – through limitations on marriage rights, attempts to confiscate the property of Palestinian "present absentees" in Jerusalem, the scramble to protect the discriminatory land leasing practices of the Jewish National Fund.

I could not explain these issues to the women I was imprisoned with, both because of my inadequate Hebrew, and because in general the Israel they inhabited was so far removed from the one I observed. But I did find the words to explain why I did not want to use my Jewish identity to claim Israeli citizenship and stay in Israel, something they all would have done in a heartbeat. "Why should I be able to live here, and not you, when all of you have been here for five, six, twelve years, and I have not even been here for a full year?" That, they understood.

The complete journal I started in Hadera and continued in Tsochar is found on the iwps website ( 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. You can see a few pictures I took in Tsochar with my smuggled camera atℑ=0

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.

Now that I am back in the States, I am happy to speak and show videos about the situation in Palestine and Israel, especially the impressive Palestinian-led nonviolent resistance to stop the Segregation Wall, and what we can all do to promote a just and peaceful solution for everyone in the region. Feel free to call me at 510-381-1287 or email me at katrap [at] I am also happy to hear your feedback on this journal or any of my other writings.

For more information about the situation of foreign workers in Israel, see:,

* 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.
Listed below are the latest comments about this post.
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Sounds like a Hamas "foot soldier"Critical ThinkerThursday Feb 10th, 2005 4:14 PM
settlers go back to hellfreedomfighterThursday Feb 10th, 2005 4:02 PM
Her anti-Israel agenda masked under human rights advocacy comes through unmistakablyCritical ThinkerTuesday Feb 8th, 2005 10:15 AM
manipulationSefaradTuesday Feb 8th, 2005 9:29 AM
shame they did not hang her!JeffTuesday Feb 8th, 2005 9:19 AM

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