As Israeli state authorities processed my arrest on account of ‘an Instagram photo’, Israeli forces and settlers shot dead three Palestinian teenagers on the streets of Hebron on Saturday 17.10.15. With three teenagers killed and settlers literally celebrating in their blood, it is perhaps little surprise that those with cameras slung over shoulders are increasingly coming under threat.
Sitting in a cold room for hours, without access to a lawyer, I watched my beloved camera slammed on a table. Meanwhile, my presence in the base was denied to my colleague. One of my photos, I was told, rendered me a threat to the ‘security of Israel’.
An Instagram photo? Me? A threat to one of the most powerful states in the world?
The threat here? The truth.
Truth says Aeschylus, is the first casualty of war. But, can truth be a casualty? Truth cannot be arrested, deported, humiliated, beaten or killed. Hidden? Yes. Repressed? Yes. But it still remains.
Cameras indicate that – Occupation – we are watching you, we are documenting you, we are here, and we see you. We see Palestinian blood running on occupied streets in Hebron. Indeed, I dropped my camera lens cap in Hadeel’s.
CPT, as a very small thread in the fabric of resisting this occupation, has recently come under heightened attack. Including abusive phone-calls, increased police aggression and checks, and now, arrest.
We were detained by Israeli border police as we were en route to the site of 17 year-old Bayan’s murder. We stood detained against the wall as we waited for the commander “who wanted to speak” to me. Informed I was under arrest for taking a photo of “classified material” (two weeks ago in public space), I was taken to a police station to await interrogation. I knew they were ‘serious’ – this was not their normal provocation that we experience daily – but I did not yet know the full extent of the danger they would put me in ten hours later.
“Why do you love these terrorists?” I was repeatedly questioned, amidst suggestions that I “go and sleep with Abu Mazzan” (PA leader Mahmoud Abbas) throughout the cold hours of waiting. I stated my right to inform my lawyer that I was in custody, to which I was greeted with “you tell your lawyer when I tell you to”, informed I would have to wait for longer because of such non-cooperation. My passport and my camera confiscated, I shivered for seven hours awaiting interrogation.
My body grew tenser and sorer, and, needless to say, my request for something warm was greeted with smirking. One Border Police woman amused herself with staring at me for some time. Another’s gun knocked my leg as he fidgeted. Another attempted to engage me in conversation about how ‘ungrateful’ ‘the Arabs’ were, citing the ‘giving back of Gaza’ in 2005. I declined conversation, deciding it was not the time to discuss locking over 1.5 million people in an open air prison and bombing them. Eventually most of the personnel trickled away, and I was left with one Border Police woman who, thankfully, largely ignored me. The sounds of explosions from all over Hebron, and two consecutive violent films – ironically set in prisons – filled the space as we sat in awkward silence.
Later, as the room refilled there began a somewhat animated discussion about the lack of English speakers to translate in interrogation. I listened wide-eyed as the discussion moved onto ‘Ofer’ – in reference to the renowned military prison near Ramallah. Ofer prison- where countless Palestinians are held for months without charge in ‘administrative detention’. As a British soldier was thankfully located, I was told I had one chance, and one chance only, to call my lawyer.
My one conversation over, interrogation began, and I was informed that I was to be deported. Apparently, I could speak to my lawyer again when I got off the plane. Chuckling, my interrogator changed this to a 15 day ban from Hebron. Supposedly, I was to leave that night. Listening to the clashes raging outside, with two teenagers killed so far, I expressed the impossibility, to which I was given a shrug and a “well if you don’t leave tonight, I deport you”. Told to sign forms, including one fully in Hebrew, I was also skin-crawlingly informed that my interrogator would keep my camera unless “I was a good girl for him”.
Suddenly, the interrogator received a call and ran from the room. 18 year old Tarek had been killed by Israeli soldiers. The third teenager in 12 hours.
Explosions outside the base heightened and a blindfolded Palestinian man, staggering as he was dragged in, was now slumped next to me. He was wincing with pain at the tightness of his handcuffs. “These are the terrorists you love” I was told.
An hour and a half later, my interrogator returned, and took my DNA, while we argued about the danger of leaving Hebron amidst the chaos of that bloody night. “It’s not safe” I said, “I have nowhere to go”, to which my interrogator repeated I could sleep with Abu Mazzan, and another replied “of course it’s not safe – you are in Israel, there are terrorists everywhere”. Resisting temptations of stating that we are in ‘occupied Palestinian territory’, I once again called my lawyer, having blessedly had my phone left with me in the chaos of the killing. Eventually, she convinced them to return my passport, my camera, and for me to leave by 9am the following morning.
Real panic set in as I was released. They did not release me to the Palestinian area, but into the settlement housing strongly ideological individuals. That day settlers had killed a teenager and celebrated in his blood. That day Israeli soldiers had called to other international activists to run, as settlers approached with machine guns. Having had my fair-share of being spat at, jeered at, being swerved at by cars, and accusations of Nazism or ISIS membership from settlers, I knew full well the danger, walking alone at 10pm. Those that made me leave that way were also fully aware of that danger, particularly heightened that day.
Reaching the now deserted road where Palestinians still live, I could hear the noise of mobs of settlers as I headed to the road block to meet my friend. Palestinian families watching the horror of the day from their windows were calling to me: “why are you out walking there? It’s not safe! Come off the street!” Three men cautiously opened their door, ushering me in to their family home. Loaded with the gift of cucumbers, one Palestinian man risked arrest – and even death had we ran into settlers – to walk me to the road block where I met friends, who drove me, also at their own risk, back home.
Back at the office, we sat listening until 3am to continued explosions and the calls of warning and help screaming from mosque towers around the city, as settlers continued to attack families.
My arrest is a very small fragment of a much wider repression of those documenting the violence of occupation. On the day I was arrested, so were two Palestinian activists from Youth against Settlements, having videoed the aftermath of Fadel’s murder. This week, the Israeli military has ransacked journalist offices, Israeli border police were caught on video stamping on the face of an accredited journalist, as the Foreign Press Association report “a series of unprovoked attacks”, and human rights workers and journalists are increasingly targeted in demonstrations.
Flicking through images and videos on my camera, I see the extreme ugliness of this occupation, which we will continue to write about, photograph and video. I also see the faces of the kindergarten children we escort to school in Hebron.
Truth: a casualty of war it may be, but a fatality? No. It cannot be. It exists. It screams. It threatens. It simmers. In ‘speaking truth to power’, not only do we see the horrors of the violence of this occupation, but we see the glimmers of hope and humanity that cannot be repressed.