Hugh Lanning has agreed to offer talkRADIO an account of the ordeal he suffered at Ben Gurion airport, where he was deported.
talkRADIO has contacted the Israeli government for a response but has yet to receive one.
Israel likes to flaunt its credentials as a Western-style democracy. Leaving aside the millions of Palestinians under its military control who can't vote in Israeli elections and have few rights, the latest law giving it the power to deport its non-violent critics fatally undermines that claim.
On Sunday 12th March I became its first unwilling victim.
The law passed by the Knesset states that visas or residence permits will not be granted to anyone who individually calls for a boycott of the state of Israel, or who is part of an organisation that calls for a boycott of the state of Israel. The ban extends to those who call for a boycott of any areas under the control of Israel, including settlements in the West Bank, which are regarded as illegal under international law.
On entering Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv from the plane, passengers join queues to have their passports inspected at a row of booths. You are asked the standard questions – where are you staying, how long are you here for, what are you planning to do? On the numerous occasions I have been before – this leads to you being given a slip of paper, which is your tourist visa – they no longer stamp your passport as it caused problems for tourists visiting other countries.
This time as soon as my passport was scanned, I was escorted over to the detention area where further questioning takes place. The first thing I noticed was being about the only white, Western European there. Black, Muslim, Palestinian and Eastern European - the latter mainly migrant workers from Russia and Poland - were all given a much rougher time than me.
I was able to speak to one British Muslim later. He told me he was treated as a potential terrorist, threatened with arrest and prison; pressured to agree false ‘confessions’ and told he would be handed over to the security services for further questioning. In contrast my questioning was almost surreal, like a “Mastermind” with them trying to prove they knew more about me and my “activities” than I did. I think they were probably right.
It wasn’t very probing, they were mainly interested in who I’d met over the years and was I politically active in the UK.
“What do you do as Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign?"
"I chair meetings on Palestine.”
“Are you a BDS activist?
"I’m far too old to be an activist – but I think Israel should comply with international law.”
The questioning took place with pauses in between over eight hours with increasingly senior officials. At one point a delay was explained as there were lots of phone calls going on, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – “you must be famous”.
When I was eventually informed that I was not going to be allowed in because of my “activities hostile to Israel”, they didn’t want to discuss the issue – its rights or wrongs. At no point was I ever accused of or charged with any wrongdoing on any of my visits or at any other time.
You are denied entry, not because you are a criminal or a security risk, but because they believe you to be supporter of boycott, divestment and sanctions, which I am, until Israel complies with international law.
The international law on freedom of expression includes non-violent action and protest even if it is objectionable to the state concerned, as long as it does not promote hate. By demonising boycotts and banning its active critics, Israel will not silence criticism, but add to it. It also invites other countries to reciprocate. Politicians in Israel make frequent, aggressive comments on the policies of foreign governments it perceives as hostile. Should the advocates of the settler movement openly calling for international law to be broken be banned?
It is a slippery slope that Israel is sliding down, you cannot be expect to be treated as a democracy if you don’t act as one. It risks increasing isolation within the international community if it ignores its laws. Issuing statements ignoring the UN Security Council vote to stop building settlements is a two-finger political salute, satisfying in the short-term but likely to rebound. Donald Trump might be in the White House now, but he won’t be forever.
The reaction of the British Government is supine, allowing Israel to treat British citizens as it pleases. It should make clear it does not support the law and won’t cooperate with it. I was escorted onto the plane after being held overnight, and told that my passport and ticket would be returned when I got on the plane. Instead they sought to give it to BA staff until I reached London.
I objected, BA staff were civilians and had no right or responsibility to hold my passport. Like my earlier attempts – my parting shot at humour failed too. 'Who do you think I am, James Bond? Am I going to leap from the plane in mid-air?' Not a flicker.
My recurring thought on the flight home was not so much the injustice of it all – rather that I would not be able to visit and see my friends in Palestine again until it is free. It could be such a beautiful country.
For more information on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, click here to visit the website or follow them on Twitter @PSCUpdates.