Brethren Church Leader deported from Israel
In early January 2010, On Earth Peace, an agency of the Church of the Brethren reported that the executive director Bob Gross was detained and deported by Israeli authorities when he arrived at the Tel Aviv airport as part of a Christian peacemaking delegation meant to build connections with Israelis and Palestinians who are working for a non-violent resolution to their conflict.
The deportation of Mr. Gross is not the first and it will not be the last. It also has nothing to do with terrorism or the security of Israel, but it has to do with the daily crimes of genocide committed by the Israeli occupation against the Palestinians in their own homeland, cities, towns and villages in the West Bank. It is all about the crimes which the Israeli occupation does not want the international delegations to see or to report about.
Mr. Gross stated in an interview which he gave to me by Email that he had previously visited Palestine and Israel on April 2002, November 2004, January 2006, and January 2008.
According to on Earth Peace report, the deportation of the executive director of On Earth Peace is part of a pattern of excluding from Israel any visitor who seeks peace and security for both Palestine and Israel. This has the effect of blocking peacemaking efforts by churches and other groups, and sets back the hopes of a constructive Middle East peace.
The full text of an interview with Director Bob Gross is below.
Q: Have you ever been visited Palestine and Israel before that?
Gross: Four times before, April 2002, November 2004, January 2006, January 2008.
Each time I was with a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation. In 2004, 2006, and 2008, I was the delegation leader. In those trips, we were in Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem, and the South Hebron Hills. We met with Israeli, Palestinian and international peacemakers, and with Palestinian families, as well as one Israeli couple.
Q: Would you describe your trip since you were stopped by the Israeli customs officer and until your deportation?
Gross: I probably would not have been stopped at passport control, except that I was travelling with my colleague, who was to co-lead the delegation with me. Her name is not Alice Bartlett, but she has asked that her real name not be used so that any publicity about this trip will not affect her later efforts to travel in the Middle East. She is Egyptian-American, and has an Egyptian last name. For this reason alone, she and I were stopped and asked to wait for questioning rather than being allowed to enter Israel.
We were made to wait in a room in the arrival hall of the Tel Aviv airport, and we were each questioned separately for 5-10 minutes. Then we waited for an hour or so, then my colleague was questioned again for about 30 minutes.
Later they took us to find our checked bags, and searched both our checked and carry-on bags very thoroughly, and searched us with very close body searches (with clothes on).
After 9.5 hours, they called my colleague in and told her they were not going to allow her into Israel, and would ban her for 10 years. A few minutes later they called me in, and asked me for names of my Palestinian and Israeli contacts. I would not give them any names. They also said that I would need to sign a paper saying that I would not enter the “Palestinian territories” while in Israel. I did not sign this paper. So they denied entry for me also, with a 10-year ban. They took photographs and electronic fingerprints of each of us, and took us to gather our bags to wait for being moved to the jail. However, it was another two hours — 12 hours in all — before they took us to the jail.
Q: How did they treat you? How was the comportment of the israeli officers in general and towards you?
Gross: They treated us OK. They were not harsh and did not mistreat us, but they exercised complete control and authority, treating us sometimes as if we were a nuisance, sometimes as if we were dangerous, sometimes as if we were dishonest.
Q: How many hours did the Israelis “investigate” you?
Gross: 9.5 before deciding to deport us.
Q: What kind of questions did they ask you?
Gross: Always the first question was, “What is the purpose of your visit to Israel?”
We answered that question truthfully, but briefly, and they seemed to know there was more we were not saying.
I was asked where I had travelled in Israel/Palestine on my earlier visit, and what I did. As I said above, in the last interrogation they asked for my contacts names and information.
I don’t know all of the questions my colleague was asked, because we never had a chance to talk about what we each had been asked without being overheard, so we did not talk about that while we were being held.
Q: Which was the silliest question, and what did you answer?
Gross: Maybe it was when they said I should give them the names of some of my contacts in Israel and Palestine, so they could call them and ask whether I should be trusted.
Q: How did you spend your night at the Israeli airport jail?
Gross: I was in the cell from 5 pm to 5 am. There was one other prisoner there, also being deported. He was Muslim, from Morocco, and had lived and worked in the Netherlands for many years. He was denied entry simply because of who he was, it seemed.
We talked some, and I slept some in the evening, since I had spent two nights on air-planes by that time, and was tired. They brought us some kind of sandwich and tea for supper. As it happened, my cell-mate snored very loudly, and so it was hard to sleep that night. I slept only a little, and then got up and prepared to leave. Just walked back and forth, looked out the windows, sat on the bed, and waited.
Q: Would you explain me your feelings during your stay in jail?
Gross: I was concerned for my colleague, who was in a different cell, and so I could not talk with her. I was relieved to be out of the waiting and to know what their decision was, even though it was for deportation.
Q: How many people do you think were illegally jailed in Israel at the same time with you?
Gross: One additional person was brought in after midnight, so there were three of us in my cell, and there was one person in the cell with my friend. I don’t know how many others.
Q: Did you sign any papers during the investigation, or before your deportation? What did you sign exactly? What was the justification given by the Israelis for your deportation?
Gross: I don’t remember signing anything.
Q: Which was your reaction when they notified you of your deportation? What did you say or ask?
Gross: I was not surprised, and I did not ask anything. I was not willing to agree to their terms, and so I knew they would not allow me in.
Q: What is your message for Israel after this tragic deportation?
Gross: Israel will not be made secure by expelling persons who seek peace and security for both Palestine and Israel.
On 20 January 2010, the Christian Peacemaker Teams wrote: [Note: Christian Peacemaker Teams delayed the publication of this release until after the CPT delegation had safely left Israel.]
On the weekend of 2-3 January, Israeli security officials denied entry to Bob Gross, executive director of On Earth Peace, and Alice Bartlett* after holding and questioning them for more than twelve hours. The two had come into Israel four days before a CPT delegation they were scheduled to lead arrived, in order to set up appointments and make further plans for the delegation’s twelve days in Palestine and Israel. After locking up Gross and Bartlett in Ben Gurion’s airport jail for the night, the Israeli authorities deported the two back the United States and barred them from entering Palestine or Israel again for ten years.
The remaining thirteen delegates arrived safely in Jerusalem on Wednesday, 6 January 2010. A member of the At-Tuwani team took over leadership of the delegation for the next twelve days.
This fifth annual Middle East delegation co-sponsored by On Earth Peace and Christian Peacemaker Teams is, according to the delegation’s blog, an immersion in the realities of the current moment in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What are those realities? A non-violent movement is on the rise, again; this week, over a thousand international activists attempted to enter into Gaza from Egypt, bearing humanitarian and medical aid. A separation wall continues to be built by Israel, dividing Palestinian families and communities and taking Palestinian land. Israelis live in fear of suicide bombers. Many Palestinians who live under blockade and military occupation continue eking out daily life without access to safe water, medical care, or basic foods. Some Israelis and Palestinians who are weary of decades of bloody conflict are creating non-violent pathways to resolving the situation.
From his home North Manchester, Indiana, Bob Gross reflected on the interrogation and deportation experience. “During our time being held with Israeli security, we saw many other people coming under additional questioning as well. Almost all those pulled aside were people of color. Most were of Arab and African descent. We’re clear that Alice’s Egyptian heritage as well as her photographic documentation of Palestine via the internet were motivating factors in their decision to deport us. In addition to this racism, there is also the Israeli government’s fear of anything that seems to value Palestinian equality or human rights, which means that those of us who are committed to non-violent peacemaking are considered a threat.”
In the last year, the Israeli government has made entering Palestine and Israel increasingly difficult for internationals. Two full-time CPTers from the At-Tuwani team were denied entry this autumn.
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