Pro-Palestinian activist: arrested for standing up for justice


Bridget Chappell, an Australian solidarity activist, was arrested along with Spanish activist Ariadna Jove Marti in a pre-dawn raid on February 7 in Ramallah, Palestine.

"The official statement was that our visas had expired", Chappell told Green Left Weekly. "They then added that we were participating in illegal 'riots'."

A month before, at 3am on January 11, soldiers and immigration authorities raided the home of Czech activist Eva Novakova, media coordinator for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). She was deported the following day.

Chappell had been in Palestine for six months working with the ISM, which is led by Palestinians and adheres to a philosophy of non-violence.

"We look to practices of non-violent resistance in the pre-1948 general strikes and the popular resistance of the first Intifada", she said. "The current non-violent movement is really a continuation of Palestinians' long history of peaceful resistance."

Chappell and Marti were arrested by about 20 armed Israeli soldiers. "During the raid, they demanded to see our passports, then told us to pack our things. We were then handcuffed and put in one of the five armoured personnel carriers waiting outside and taken to a military camp in the occupied Palestinian territories, where we were handed over to immigration police.

"We were then taken to the Holon police station outside Tel Aviv, where we were searched and interrogated by immigration police and officers we suspect were shebak or secret police.

"We were asked about what we'd been doing in the West Bank [and] the status of our visas … Arabic texts, books about the conflict, in addition to several thousands of dollars' worth of camera and computer equipment, were confiscated.

"We were denied access to lawyers or a phone. We were told to sign several documents, some in Hebrew, and told that if we didn't we could face six months in prison. Of course we signed nothing."

Chappell and Marti were then taken to Givon, a deportation prison in Ramallah. After being searched and processed again they were put in a cell with 10 other women. For 15 hours, they were denied their right to a lawyer.

On February 9, the Israeli Supreme Court declared their arrest illegal, as Israeli immigration officials have no jurisdiction on Palestinian territory.

Chappell said pandemonium broke out during the court breaks as reporters tried to ask the two activists for their side of the story. They were again cuffed and forcibly removed.

Three judges ruled they could be released on 3000 Shekel ($894) bail each, and permitted to stay in Israel until the end of the proceedings on the condition they did not return to the West Bank.

The trial will run for some months and Chappell's lawyers have appealed against the bail conditions.

Asked about the stated reason for her arrest – the status of her visa – Chappell told GLW that it expired at the end of November, but she had made an appointment before then to renew it.

"My appointment with the ministry of the interior was cancelled once, and then postponed until March 2. So I was still waiting for the chance to renew it. They'd given me a piece of paper with the date of the appointment, which worked like a visa when I was going through checkpoints."

Chappell didn't hear from Australian consular officials until after the court hearing. "An official claimed she would have come to the court if she'd known … I'm not sure how she didn't know about it, given that everybody else, including the Spanish consulate officials, did.

"I first asked the Australian consular officials if they could submit a request that I be allowed to return to the West Bank. I also wanted them to issue a statement condemning the illegality of my arrest, and to ask the Israeli authorities about it.

"Consular officials and the acting ambassador ended up meeting with Israeli foreign ministry officials, but they only submitted questions about my treatment during my arrest and detention. This was a pretty serious cop-out."

In contrast, the Spanish consulate lodged an official request to release Marti.

The ISM has about 15-20 international activists working in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and a few long-term activists based in Gaza. In summer, numbers swell, sometimes reaching 200 people.

"We work with communities who are actively resisting the occupation. In Bil'in and Ni'lin we join the weekly demonstrations against the occupation and the collective punishment meted out by the IDF [Israeli army] on the villagers who protest.

"In Nablus, in the northern West Bank, where I'm active, we work with rural communities struggling against Israel's illegal settlement expansion, its land annexation and military violence. These communities face violent ideological residents who have stolen Palestinian farmland with the support of the IDF.

"We accompany the farmers, particularly during high risk periods such as the annual olive harvest during September–October. Our presence as internationals and as witnesses assists in deterring or de-escalating the military violence.

"In Sheikh Jarrah, an Arab neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, we maintain a 24-hour presence to support the families who are losing their homes to settlement takeover projects.

"We also stand watch at the myriad network of checkpoints in the West Bank to remind the IDF that there are witnesses to their brutality against Palestinians.

"We stay in villages under threat of a night raid by the army. We conduct night watches to monitor when the army enters the village, and we go to houses under attack in the hope of preventing violence.

"We work with popular committees and farmers organisations to organise tree-planting actions and many successful demonstrations in Nablus and surrounding regions.

"In one case, our work with the community resulted in the return of 30 dunums [30,000 square metres] of annexed land to the village of Iraq Burin from the illegal settlement of Bracha [Blessing]."

The IDF has accused the two activists of participating in "violent riots".

Chappell told GLW that the only violence in Bil'in and Ni'lin comes from the IDF, which fires tear gas and live ammunition at peaceful protestors.

As Chappell points out: "Surely, if I'd committed a serious crime, I wouldn't have gotten off relatively scot-free less than 48 hours later? It's diabolical the way they can just pull accusations out of nowhere, managing to totally deflect attention from the real issues at hand."

Chappell said she hopes that her arrest and imprisonment will prompt more people to find out about Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.