Welcome to Palestine: Let our people go (in)

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Ted McLaren is Québec construction worker who wanted to donate his time and skills to help build a school in an indigenous community.

If that community had been anywhere in Canada or elsewhere in the world, there would’ve been nothing but praise for his voluntary service. But since the indigenous community where he wanted to help happens to be in occupied Palestine, Ted was instead treated as a criminal and deported by Israel. At least three other Canadians, Mario Dion, Yves Rochon and Sylvain Thibault, have also faced deportation, once again with the complicit silence of our Conservative government.

Ted and the others only ‘crime’ was telling the truth when they arrived at the Tel Aviv airport: they were there to travel to Palestine. Israeli authorities claim to be expelling “provocateurs” who might do harm to Israel – but none of these Canadians, nor any of the hundreds of other internationals traveling as part of the Welcome to Palestine events this week, have any intent of creating a disturbance of any kind, least of all in Israel.

In fact they make emphatically clear that they never wanted to go to Israel. Their destination was clear, well-known and easily verifiable: Palestine.

Flying into Tel Aviv is in fact one of the few possible routes to reach the Palestinian West Bank territories. The other access, via Jordan, is also controlled by Israel, just as access to Gaza is controlled on three sides (including the sea) by Israel, and the fourth side (the Rafah crossing from Egypt) is indirectly controlled by Israeli security.

One could perhaps understand why Israel might want to restrict some foreigners from entering its own territory, however defined, but why does a country that likes to boast it is the “only democracy in the Middle East” go to such great lengths to prevent international visits to Palestine? If Israel truly believes that their occupation of Palestinian territories is just and legal, they should in fact be facilitating visits by internationals to show that they have nothing to hide.

A government only hides what they are doing if they know it is indefensible.

In July 2011, two Australian women, Vivienne Porsholtz and Sylvia Hale, who had been on the Tahrir (the Canadian Boat to Gaza) went on to join the first “Flytilla” to Tel Aviv, where they were detained and then won a precedent-setting course case. The Israeli judge ruled that the Interior Ministry does not have the authority to forbid travellers who arrive in Tel Aviv to declare their destination as Palestine. Despite this court ruling, Israel ignores international law and its own domestic law by continuing to impede travel in and out of Palestine.

At the time of writing, at least other Canadian participant bound for Welcome to Palestine events, Québécoise student Charlotte Gaudreau-Majeau, is being held with dozens of other internationals at the Givon immigration prison near Ramle.

This is a facility I am familiar with from the inside. There they likely to be subjected to misinformation and threats, in an effort to intimidate them from having the temerity to try to witness what is going on in Palestine.

But we know from experience that such intimidation will in fact backfire: with every attempt by Israel to bully people out of traveling to Palestine, more people are signing up to support movements in solidarity with the people of Palestine.

A member of the Canadian Boat to Gaza Steering Committee, David Heap was on the Tahrir in November when it was boarded by Israeli forces, and he was detained for six days in Israeli prison before being deported to Canada.

Today is an International Day of Action in Solidarity with Palestinian Political Prisoners. A full list of actions in Canada and worldwide is available here

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