Kidnapped at Gunpoint and Deported by Israeli Forces: And She Will Return
by Eileen Fleming
On November 18, 2008, Darlene Wallach of California was kidnapped at
gunpoint by Israeli forces and deported to New York City on
Thanksgiving Day. She arrived without money, passport, cell phone,
warm winter clothes and had no way of contacting her family and
friends in California, London, or Cyprus.
Darlene spoke to me on the phone from the home of the parents of an
International Solidarity Movement/ISM activist who met her at JFK
The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) is a Palestinian-led
NONVIOLENT movement that resists the Israeli occupation of
Palestinian land in creative and always nonviolent ways. ISM was
founded by a few committed thoughtful people in August, 2001. ISM
supports and strengthens the NONVIOLENT Palestinian popular
resistance front by providing international presence and a voice that
will not be silenced.
Darlene began and ended our conversation talking about why she “will
return to Gaza. It is because of the people of Gaza. It is their
spirit, courage, resilience, kindness, warmth, hospitality, love and
resistance to the occupation that pulls me back.”
Twice, Darlene has been to Gaza and arrested and deported by Israeli
Her first visit was in 2002. While in the Balata Refugee camp she was
arrested along with seven other nonviolent internationals who were
there bearing witness to the collective punishment of Palestinians.
All eight were arrested and deported, but that did not stop Darlene
from returning for more.
Darlene arrived in Gaza for her second time, aboard the SS Liberty on
August 23, 2008. She was arrested this time along with Andrew Muncie
from Scotland and Victor Arrigoni from Italy who had arrived at the
same time and had remained in Gaza until they were kidnapped by
Israeli Forces on November 18, 2008.
Darlene said, “I told the American Embassy I wanted to be deported to
London or Cypress where I have many friends as I had no money did not
know anyone in New York and had no means of contacting anyone. Their
response was to issue me passport valid for one month which become
invalid once I entered the USA. The two Embassy employees kindly gave
me fifty five dollars out of their own pockets, but the American
Embassy, whose job it is to take care of American citizens and my
Congressional Representative, whose job it is to represent me, failed
“It began around ten in the morning on the 18th. I was with 15
fishermen and Andrew and Vittorio; all on three typical wooden
Palestinian fishing boats. The usual response from the Israeli Naval
Forces who illegally invade Gaza water zones, is to shoot machine
guns, canons, grenades. They do a lot of damage to the boats with
targeted high pressure water canons. Those water canons have cracked
peoples ribs and one of the nonviolent activists was nearly washed
over board from the force. The Palestinian fishing boats have
sustained a lot of damage from the high pressured water fired from
the water canon. The Israeli navy has also used some kind of “dirty
water”. We still don’t know what the Israeli Forces are mixing in
that water, but it smells like putrid sewage and they wear protective
clothing - masks, gloves and what ever else, to keep themselves
protected from the liquid they shoot at the fishing boats, the catch
in the nets and at the Palestinian fishermen and internationals who
are in Gaza territorial waters.
“On that Tuesday morning, the Israeli Forces had three gunboats that
were joined by five Zodiacs. Zodiacs are inflatable, high-speed
maneuverable water craft. The Zodiacs came right up to each wooden
fishing boat one at a time. I saw them board the boat Andrew was on -
he raised his arms above his head and they put a life vest on him and
put him on the Zodiac. Then more Israeli Forces boarded that boat and
began putting the Palestinian fishermen on another Zodiac. Usually
the Israeli Forces do not board the fishing boats. They order the
fishermen to strip and then swim over to the Israeli boat. This time
“After they finished with the boat Andrew was on, a Zodiac came and
Israeli Forces boarded the boat I was on. One of the Israelis said in
English “you are in Israel.”
“We were in Gaza waters and I did not want to go to Israel, but the
Israeli Forces kidnapped me at gunpoint and forced me to Israel
against my will. We were told in English to raise our hands.
“I said, ‘I want to stay with my friends. I want to stay on the
boat.’ The three notebooks I had with me were confiscated. At
gunpoint I was forced off the Palestinian boat, onto the Israeli
Zodiac and then onto the Israeli gunboat.
“I saw the Palestinian fishermen, blindfolded and handcuffed, taken
from the boat Andrew was on. I said I wanted to stay with my friends
on the deck. I was then forced below to the second level and I
finally saw Andrew again. He was handcuffed and sitting at a table in
a galley-kitchen area. We started to talk and were ordered to shut
up. The Israeli Forces separated us and later they brought Vittorio in.
“Vittorio looked awful! I was very concerned about him, but didn’t
learn until much later that he had been tasered while holding onto a
metal structure on the roof of the fishing boat. He ended up in the
cold water and I am assuming he was suffering from hypothermia; he
was barefoot, and shivering!
“When we arrived in Ashdod and as I was being taken off the Israeli
gunboat I saw the Palestinian fishermen, blindfolded and handcuffed
sitting on the deck. I yelled, in Arabic, that they were my dear
friends and I will see them again.
“I was questioned by many Israelis and my response was that I was not
talking to anyone or answering any questions without my attorney
“All of my belongings — cell phones, cameras, keys to my apartment,
everything was confiscated and while in Israeli custody, I was taken
to Ben Gurion Airport for an audience with the Minister of the Interior.
“I told him-and every other inquisitor that I wasn’t answering any
questions without my attorney. His response was, ‘We are done!’
“I do not know what charges were filed against me. I was held in the
women’s compound in the men’s prison at Ramle that held people with
visa violations. So I’m assuming I was there for being in Israel
without a visa - pretty ridiculous given I was forced to go to Israel
at gunpoint against my will. Israel deported me against my will back
to America. I wanted to go to London or Cypress, but my requests were
ignored. My belongings were not returned to me - my cell phone, my
three notebooks, my keys to the apartment!
“When I saw the Zodiacs, I tried to text on my cell phone but there
was no network. By some miracle, I received a phone call and told the
person what was happening. A little later the captain, Adham, handed
me his phone as Fida, the ISM-Gaza Strip Palestinian coordinator
called to talk with me, she could not get through on my phone. If I
had not received that first phone call I don’t know how our friends
in Gaza would have known what happened to us.
“Usually Israel will hold Gaza fishing men and their boats for weeks
or months at a time. This time the men were released the following
day and their boat a week later. The Israeli Forces damaged a motor
on one and stole all the GPS units.
“On this trip 15 men who usually remain at sea for two days at a
time, were denied their catch and that resulted in denying hundreds
of children some protein! Hundreds of people were impacted just from
this one illegal action by Israeli Forces. The families and everyone
connected with the three Palestinian fishing boats were without their
source of food and income for ten days — longer for the damaged boat.
“The thing that pulls me back to Gaza is the people. The Palestinians
have touched my heart and I will continue to work in solidarity with
them and I will return to Gaza.”
Eileen Fleming is the author of Keep Hope Alive and Memoirs of a Nice
Irish American Girl’s’ Life in Occupied Territory and the producer of
articles by Eileen, or visit Eileen’s website http://www.wearewideawake.org/