McKinney calls from Israeli jail
- Letter from an Israeli Jail
By Cynthia McKinney
This is Cynthia McKinney and I'm speaking from an Israeli prison cellblock in Ramle. [I am one of] the Free Gaza 21, human rights activists currently imprisoned for trying to take medical supplies to Gaza, building supplies - and even crayons for children, I had a suitcase full of crayons for children. While we were on our way to Gaza the Israelis threatened to fire on our boat, but we did not turn around. The Israelis high-jacked and arrested us because we wanted to give crayons to the children in Gaza. We have been detained, and we want the people of the world to see how we have been treated just because we wanted to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.
At the outbreak of Israel's Operation `Cast Lead' [in December 2008], I boarded a Free Gaza boat with one day's notice and tried, as the US representative in a multi-national delegation, to deliver 3 tons of medical supplies to an already besieged and ravaged Gaza.
During Operation Cast Lead, U.S.-supplied F-16's rained hellfire on a trapped people. Ethnic cleansing became full scale outright genocide. U.S.-supplied white phosphorus, depleted uranium, robotic technology, DIME weapons, and cluster bombs - new weapons creating injuries never treated before by Jordanian and Norwegian doctors. I was later told by doctors who were there in Gaza during Israel's onslaught that Gaza had become Israel's veritable weapons testing laboratory, people used to test and improve the kill ratio of their weapons.
The world saw Israel's despicable violence thanks to al-Jazeera Arabic and Press TV that broadcast in English. I saw those broadcasts live and around the clock, not from the USA but from Lebanon, where my first attempt to get into Gaza had ended because the Israeli military rammed the boat I was on in international water ... It's a miracle that I'm even here to write about my second encounter with the Israeli military, again a humanitarian mission aborted by the Israeli military.
The Israeli authorities have tried to get us to confess that we committed a crime ... I am now known as Israeli prisoner number 88794. How can I be in prison for collecting crayons to kids?
Zionism has surely run out of its last legitimacy if this is what it does to people who believe so deeply in human rights for all that they put their own lives on the line for someone else's children. Israel is the fullest expression of Zionism, but if Israel fears for its security because Gaza's children have crayons then not only has Israel lost its last shred of legitimacy, but Israel must be declared a failed state.
I am facing deportation from the state that brought me here at gunpoint after commandeering our boat. I was brought to Israel against my will. I am being held in this prison because I had a dream that Gaza's children could color & paint, that Gaza's wounded could be healed, and that Gaza's bombed-out houses could be rebuilt.
But I've learned an interesting thing by being inside this prison. First of all, it's incredibly black: populated mostly by Ethiopians who also had a dream ... like my cellmates, one who is pregnant. They are all are in their twenties. They thought they were coming to the Holy Land. They had a dream that their lives would be better ... The once proud, never colonized Ethiopia [has been thrown into] the back pocket of the United States, and become a place of torture, rendition, and occupation. Ethiopians must free their country because superpower politics [have] become more important than human rights and self-determination.
My cellmates came to the Holy Land so they could be free from the exigencies of superpower politics. They committed no crime except to have a dream. They came to Israel because they thought that Israel held promise for them. Their journey to Israel through Sudan and Egypt was arduous. I can only imagine what it must have been like for them. And it wasn't cheap. Many of them represent their family's best collective efforts for self-fulfilment. They made their way to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. They got their yellow paper of identification. They got their certificate for police protection. They are refugees from tragedy, and they made it to Israel only after they arrived Israel told them "there is no UN in Israel."
The police here have license to pick them up & suck them into the black hole of a farce for a justice system. These beautiful, industrious and proud women represent the hopes of entire families. The idea of Israel tricked them and the rest of us. In a widely propagandized slick marketing campaign, Israel represented itself as a place of refuge and safety for the world's first Jews and Christian. I too believed that marketing and failed to look deeper.
The truth is that Israel lied to the world. Israel lied to the families of these young women. Israel lied to the women themselves who are now trapped in Ramle's detention facility. And what are we to do? One of my cellmates cried today. She has been here for 6 months. As an American, crying with them is not enough. The policy of the United States must be better, and while we watch President Obama give 12.8 trillion dollars to the financial elite of the United States it ought now be clear that hope, change, and `yes we can' were powerfully presented images of dignity and self-fulfilment, individually and nationally, that besieged people everywhere truly believed in.
It was a slick marketing campaign as slickly put to the world and to the voters of America as was Israel's marketing to the world. It tricked all of us but, more tragically, these young women.
We must cast an informed vote about better candidates seeking to represent us. I have read and re-read Dr. Martin Luther King Junior's letter from a Birmingham jail. Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined that I too would one day have to do so. It is clear that taxpayers in Europe and the U.S. have a lot to atone for, for what they've done to others around the world.
What an irony! My son begins his law school program without me because I am in prison, in my own way trying to do my best, again, for other people's children. Forgive me, my son. I guess I'm experiencing the harsh reality which is why people need dreams. [But] I'm lucky. I will leave this place. Has Israel become the place where dreams die?
Ask the people of Palestine. Ask the stream of black and Asian men whom I see being processed at Ramle. Ask the women on my cellblock. [Ask yourself:] what are you willing to do?
Let's change the world together & reclaim what we all need as human beings: Dignity. I appeal to the United Nations to get these women of Ramle, who have done nothing wrong other than to believe in Israel as the guardian of the Holy Land, resettled in safe homes. I appeal to the United State's Department of State to include the plight of detained UNHCR-certified refugees in the Israel country report in its annual human rights report. I appeal once again to President Obama to go to Gaza: send your special envoy, George Mitchell there, and to engage Hamas as the elected choice of the Palestinian people.
I dedicate this message to those who struggle to achieve a free Palestine, and to the women I've met at Ramle. This is Cynthia McKinney, July 2nd 2009, also known as Ramle prisoner number 88794.
Cynthia McKinney is a former U.S. Congresswoman, Green Party presidential candidate, and an outspoken advocate for human rights and social justice. The first African-American woman to represent the state of Georgia, McKinney served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, from 1993-2003, and from 2005-2007. She was arrested and forcibly abducted to Israel while attempting to take humanitarian and reconstruction supplies to Gaza on June 30th. For more information, please see http://www.FreeGaza.org
Report from the Kidnapped Passengers in Ramle Prison, July 4, 2009
On Monday, June 30, 21 passengers going to challenge the blockade of Gaza on board the Spirit of Humanity were seized by the Israeli Navy and taken to Israel against their will. All their equipment was taken and some of were roughed up. All were thrown into prison to await Israel's decision on how and when they would be deported.
The majority of the group ended up in Ramle Prison. Those of us who are Free Gaza organizers had been hearing some news from them, statements, interviews and letters since they arrived. From the first night, the Free Gaza 21 have been busy trying to get news out of the prison about the illegality of Israel's actions in relation to themselves and the other inmates inside Ramle Prison who have no voice.
Report from E: I received a 2am phone call during one of the first sleepless nights from Ramle Prison to let me know that in one of the cells, four of the FG group had been busy writing a press release on an old phone one of their cellmates had loaned them. It had taken them hours to write the press release. but they were just ready to send it out, and `could I check my email to see if I had received it?'
Since that first night I have been hearing more increasingly about the plight of the other inmates of the prison; men and women who have not nearly as good an opportunity as our folk for media coverage of their stories and not nearly as good an opportunity as our folk of ever getting out of Ramle Prison.
To Fathi Jaouadi, Adie Mormesh, Ishmael Blagrove, and Captain Denis Healy, the situation of their fellow inmates is something they want to talk about and act upon. Fathi wanted to pass on news of what they have been doing inside Ramle prison; he wanted to let everyone who supports the Free Gaza Movement know that `Free Gaza Members are never lost for things to do when it comes to trying to expose Israel's appalling treatment of not just Palestinians, but all people who come to Palestine and get caught up in Israel's abuse of justice and the law.'
Fathi Jaouadi has been actively involved in Palestinian rights since he was 15 years old. Now in Ramle prison, he has already managed to organize a meeting with a UN representative and to raise the issue of the other inmates with him. He said that the UN official has agreed to follow up on some of the cases; Fathi has also been in contact with local NGO's to raise the issue of many of the inmate's situations. He told me he wants to focus on the fact that none of the inmates have any access to legal advice or help, most of the inmates have not been able to contact family to let them know of their situation and none of the inmates have committed anything that warrants them to be held indefinitely inside Ramle prison.
Fathi is in the process of collecting statements from all the inmates, and he is translating them from Arabic. He says the majority of the inmates in their cell are from Arab countries, and they have not had access to their embassy officials. He will follow up with the UN and other organizations once he is released, contact all the families and give statements and details to the relevant embassies.
Ishmael Blagrove is a well-known documentary filmmaker and has been speaking extensively about the Palestinian struggle for more than twenty years. In Ramle prison, he has been working tirelessly to get contact with refugee councils and organizations in Britain to present to them the case of the refugees inside. He says that many of the men from neighbouring Arab countries just want to go home, they don't want to stay in Israel and yet they are not being given the opportunity to speak. Ishmael says that many of the inmates are entitled to legal representation, but they do not know this, nor do they have any idea how to contact any refugee organization to advise them. Ishmael is in the process of establishing links between the refugee councils in Britain and the inmates of his cell in Ramle Prison.
Fathi and Ishmael have already established channels to publish these issues in Britain on their release.
When we called Ramle Prison today Fathi said that Adie had just finished his daily English lesson with the inmates. Adie is reportedly very happy with the progress of his students and said this morning they had successfully completed an intense session on Past Participles. Adie Mormesh has also been very active for the rights of Palestinians for many years. He spent two weeks in the West Bank with the Olive Coop (Zeitoun) and Action Palestine in 2007. He worked with and documented the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction Campaign and participated in the World Social Forums for Palestine in Porto Alegre and Mumbai in 2003 and 2004. He has now become a teacher of English in Ramle prison.
Captain Denis Healey who has been the Free Gaza Movement's captain since October 2008 and bravely steered the DIGNITY to safety in December when she was attacked by the Israeli Navy at sea, has also been quite busy; he has been giving in-depth lectures to his fellow inmates about life at sea. Apparently there are many interested parties amongst the inmates; some hope that they may pursue a life on the sea when (and sadly if) they ever get out. They are full of questions as to the procedure of getting qualified to work on and sail boats in the Mediterranean, and Captain Denis is giving them a good run down on what they should do to follow such a dream.
This is how four of our passengers have been keeping busy during the past week, they wanted to let you all know; they also said they realize the news they are sending out is not new to any of us. We have all been working with these issues of injustice for years. But that doesn't mean that every new story about the violation of human rights, about the cruelty, brutality and flagrant misuse of justice by Israel should not be published.
Our friends are stuck in Ramle prison, because they tried to visit the war-stricken people of Gaza, and they are furious at what they are seeing. They know they have generated media interest around the world, and that sooner or later, they will leave Ramle Prison, but they also know that the other inmates of the prison have no such privilege, and without our interest in them, they could well be stuck inside Ramle prison for the rest of their lives, or exiled to some foreign country that is not their home, facing a life without family or loved ones to share it with. And so it is for the 11,000 Palestinian prisoners at present inside Israeli jails. Every one of them has a story that ought to be heard.
Statement #1 taken by Fathi Jaouadi.
From Ramle Prison, 3rd July 2009.
My name is M.
I am 26 years old.
I am a Palestinian born in Al Quds and I hold a birth certificate showing this. My family comes from a village called Sour Bahr.
We have two houses there owned by my grandfather who fled in '48 to Jordan and left the houses with my Aunt.
When I was 5 years old I went with my family to Jordan to bring back the papers that proved our ownership of these two houses. We stayed in Jordan for 2 years and then, when we had all the papers we came back to Sour Bahr.
I lived all my life in one of the houses and some of my family lived in the other. We always used to make our way between our two houses which were only minutes apart from each other.
However when the Wall was built, it split our two houses apart. It used to take minutes and then it took 4 ½ hours to go from house to house.
The house I lived in was in the West Bank, the other on the side of the Wall that is Al Quds.
When I was 16 I began the process to try and obtain Israeli ID so that I could continue to enter Al Quds and go to our house that was on the other side of the Wall.
Every day my mother would go to the Interior Ministry to try and obtain my ID. She contacted many lawyers about the case but although she worked on this for 8 years, there was no result. During this time I tried often to visit our house on the Al Quds side of the wall and every time I was caught by the Israeli forces and sent back to the West Bank.
When I was 24 years old I had a fight with a friend, I was caught by Israel during the fight and imprisoned for 1 ½ years.
I am a normal Palestinian trying to live a normal life. I am not involved in any political movement and I have no security issues with Israel. I am just trying to live my life, but when I had served my time in prison for fighting with a friend, Israel could not decide where to release me.
My birth certificate said Al Quds but I had no Israeli ID. When Israel started investigating, they discovered that when I was 5 years old I had gone with my family to Jordan for 2 years.
It was then that I was told by an Israeli judge that the Law states:
`Any Palestinian who spends 2 years outside Israel has no right to return'
I have since seen Judge twice in the past two months. and he has told me that I will be returned to Jordan.
But Jordan has refused to accept me. So now I have been told I will just have to wait in prison.
I am very depressed now and hate my life. I am afraid of how long they will make me wait. It could be years. I am afraid I will be sent to Jordan. I have no one in Jordan. I was there when I was 5 years old! All my family are in Palestine. I know if they send me to Jordan I will never be allowed back into Palestine. I will never be allowed to see my family again. And I have done nothing.
I just want to be allowed to live a simple life with my family and the people I know and love, in my own land.
Free Gaza Movement
357 99 284 102
Interview from a kidnapped passenger, Adie Mormech
Prison Cell, Givon Jail, Ramle, Israel
Adie Mormech, one of over 21 human rights workers and crew taken prisoner on Tuesday 30th June when their boat was forcibly boarded by the Israeli navy, has spoken by mobile phone from his prison cell at Givon jail, Ramle, near Tel Aviv.
Amongst the other prisoners from the Free Gaza Movement boat, Spirit of Humanity, are Nobel Peace prize winner, Mairead Maguire, and former US Congresswoman, Cythnia McKinney. A message from McKinney on 2nd July condemned Israel for its "illegal" action in "dismantl[ing] our navigation equipment" and confiscating both the ship and its cargo of medical aid, childrens' toys and olive trees.
McKinney went on to say that "State Department and White House officials have not effected our release or taken a strong public stance to condemn the illegal actions of the Israeli Navy of enforcing a blockade of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians of Gaza, a blockade that has been condemned by President Obama."
The Free Gaza campaign succeeded in entering Gaza by sea on several occasions in 2008, carrying humanitarian aid, medical personnel, journalists and human rights workers. However, later attempts have been met with aggression by the Israeli navy, with one boat, the Dignity, having to seek refuge and repairs in Lebanon after being rammed three times by an Israeli warship.
In a brief interview with Andy Bowman of Manchester's Mule newspaper (http//www.themule.info), Mr Mormech gave the following account:
How are you being treated?
It's bad, but the conditions are OK for me, I've not been beaten up, they're a bit nasty sometimes and when they boarded the boat we had our faces slammed against the floor. It was bad for the older women like Mairead.
The four other UK nationals are in the cell with me. There's 14 of us in the 7 by 7 meter cell which includes the toilet and shower, so very crowded. It's very hot and there's only a tiny window. We get awakened at 6 in the morning for an inspection and have to stand to attention, and then they repeat that at 9 am, and we are only allowed out of the cells for a few hours each day. They keep giving us forms to sign but they are in Hebrew so we don't. Although I'm able to cope here, other people are less comfortable than me in the situation. If we're here for a long time like some of the other people in here have been then it will be tough.
Have you had access to a lawyer yet?
We have, and at the moment we're discussing what to do about our deportation. They've taken our personal items laptops, cameras, phones and many other valuables, and we want to find out where these are. They obviously want to deport us as quickly as possible, but some of us are thinking about fighting the deportation. Firstly on the basis that if we get deported we won't be allowed into the occupied West Bank or Israel for another 10 years, but also, because we didn't intend to come here to Israel we intended to go to Gaza, and went directly from international waters into Palestinian waters. There is nothing legal about what Israel has done to us grabbing us like this. We're considering fighting the deportation on the grounds that we shouldn't accept and legitimize this barbaric military blockade of Gaza.
If you challenge the deportation could you remain in prison for a while longer?
Yes we could there's some people that need to get home, but some will challenge. And for those it will be a few more weeks in prison at least, we expect.
I'm veering towards challenging it on the basis that it's a scar on my name to accept that I shouldn't have been here, but in fact I have every right to go to Gaza just as everyone else does. That's the whole point of these voyages and that's the principle we want to stick to.
Have they told you what has happened to the cargo of the boat?
No, we don't know what they're doing with it. We've been told a lot of lies so far about where we're going and what's happening to us, so we just don't know. They're already prepared to deprive the people of Gaza of a lot of aid anyway.
What is your message to people back in the UK?
This is not about us here in the cells, it's about the denial of human rights to the people of Palestine, and in particular the inhumane blockade of Gaza. People must not forget about what is happening to Gaza. At the moment they are even being denied food and medical supplies. After the carnage of the 1500 people killed in January, we won't forget and we'll keep on going and keep fighting for the human rights of the people of Palestine.
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