Coming on the back of the deportation of activists on board the Women’s Boat to Gaza, this week a delegation of South African youth were denied access to Israel and subsequently deported home. The delegation of five, led by youth activist and member of the Palestinian Solidarity Alliance (PSA), Altaaf Adam, were travelling to a youth camp hosted by the Higher Council of Youth and Sport in Palestine, where they were scheduled to tour Palestinian lands and interact with Palestinian youth.
Speaking to VOC’s Breakfast Beat, Altaaf Adam explains that he left for Palestine last Wednesday, prior to the rest of the delegation, and was subsequently deported on Friday. Given the fact that the rest of the delegation was heading to Palestine, he was forced to remain silent about his ordeal.
Providing details of his experience, he noted that after travelling from South Africa to Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, he was questioned about his intention for visiting the area.
He was consequently directed to a room where he was told he would be interviewed, after which his passport would be returned.
“I said I was there to tour and they asked for my parents and grandparents name,” he elaborated.
Following the interview, a nine hour interrogation, Adam was informed that his entry was denied and ordered to sign a deportation order.
He confirmed that he had made contact with camp organizers informing them of his interrogation and that while the Palestinian Authority also attempted to secure his entry he was denied access to his medication.
“While I was interrogated I requested for my baggage as I needed to take medication, since I had an upset stomach and lawyers sent letters to the Israeli authorities, but they did not budge; it was a nine hour interrogation and a 13 hour detention before I was deported,” he elaborated.
While two participants were allowed entry and successfully arrived at the camp, the rest of the delegation was deported with Wits student, 21-year-old Laeeqa Sujee’s detention garnering the most attention.
Upon entry into Israel, travellers are issued on-site visas at the discretion of Israeli authorities, but for Sujee the wait for authorization included hours of interrogation.
“I told the girl who was with me to go before me, because I felt she had a chance, because I had a headscarf on. Then she went before me and they said she must go for questioning. Then I went and they started asking me many questions and then they tried to turn the two of us against each other,” Sujee explained in an interview with Radio Islam.
After five minutes, two of the members of the delegation were let through without any questioning, while Sujee was subjected to four interrogations with three different interrogators, spanning six hours.
Describing her interrogation as “psychologically motivated”, Sujee says that interrogators began by gaining her trust, after which it became more detailed, and concluded with the interrogators “screaming” questions.
“They picked up everything on me; both my cell phone number; both my emails, my links to Palestinian solidarity organisations in the country. So, you don’t ever lie to them – you try not to say everything, but they know everything,” she noted.
Sujee received her deportation letter at 9:30am and was taken to collect her luggage, subsequently transferred to the immigration centre in a blacked-out van, after which she was placed in eight hours of solitary confinement.
She notes that one male guard was a South African citizen who appeared to be working for Israeli authorities as a holiday job.
“It was 7:30 when they called me out. At 11:00 they took me for security checks with two Russian women…After they didn’t find anything, they let me go.”
Upon leaving Israel on Ethiopian Airlines, Sujee was refused her personal documents and was escorted to the plain with two guards, all the while being treated “as a criminal”.
Sujee only received her passport when she arrived at O.R Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and confirmed that she was never offered consular services throughout her ordeal.
Despite having experienced traumatic ordeals, both Sujee and Adam assert that their treatment by Israeli authorities further educated them about the plight of Palestinians who endure Israeli persecution daily.
“We cannot stand up only when there is war, we need to stand together and say that we are there, we are strong and we are not going to take this lying down,” Sujee urged.