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Friday, March 18, 2005

American's T-Shirt Gets Her Detained In Israel

Stumbling at the airport gate.
(Hat tip: David Ben Ariel)

It was her shirt that did her in.

A grandmother of two, activist Helen Freedman walked off the plane from New York, wearing a bright orange T-shirt with blue words in the middle of a map of Israel that said "Not one inch."

Freedman was one of 20 Americans out of a group of 40 that arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport on Monday on a solidarity trip to Gush Katif who found themselves temporarily detained by police at the airport.

Although Freedman also had a blue bag that said "Third Prime Minister's Conference for Tourism," it was the shirt that the passport control officer focused on. Upon seeing it, the she called her supervisor and took Freedman's passport.

"She said, 'You have to be delayed,' recalled Freedman, who is the executive director of Americans for a Safe Israel.

"I said, 'why are you picking me out?'"

"She said, 'because of your shirt.'"

When asked by The Jerusalem Post if she didn't think it would have been wise to wear something else, the Manhattan resident responded, "I only brought orange with me."

Spokespeople for the police and the Interior Ministry said there was no general policy of stopping US citizens who are peacefully heading to Gush Katif. A police spokesman said they didn't fear the group, but rather they worried for their safety. He said he wanted to warn them that they were heading into an area where there has been shooting, to make sure they were taking precautions.

But members of the group said they felt it was their political beliefs that were the overriding concern.

Group leader Dov Hikind, a Democratic assemblyman from the 48th District in New York, laughed when heard the police's explanation from the Post.

"That is such malarkey. That is the most preposterous, childish, ridiculous thing I ever heard. That sounds like a Third World country answer. They are obviously lying, maybe they are embarrassed, that is pretty pathetic," said Hikind
. Ironically, in spite of his long history of activism, he sailed through passport control but returned to help out members of the group who had been detained.

While they were only held for about 20 minutes, a number of people in the group said they were surprised and hurt by the incident.

One couple, Stanley Barth, 75, and his wife Vita, 73, who weren't wearing any identifying paraphernalia, had already passed passport control and were waiting for their luggage when an officer came up to them, asked if they were part of the group heading to Gush Katif, and brought them back to join the others.

"We were shocked," said Stanley.

"Do we look like major demonstrators?" asked Vita.

While Freedman said she has been temporarily stopped before, Jeffrey Reznick, executive director of Vaad, an organization that offers religious and humanitarian services to Jews in the former Soviet Union, said it was his first such experience.

"I went to the gate where I have gone 50 times. They said, 'where are you going?' I said, 'Down south.' They said, 'Where?' I said, 'To Gaza.' They took my papers and singled me out to go to detention."

He was particularly struck by the action, because he had just moved easily in and out of Azerbaijan prior to coming to Israel. "This would never have happened there," he said.

"I felt very hurt" that this happened in a "a country that I love so much," said Reznick.

During their three-day trip, the group is scheduled to travel to the 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Hikind said that these supporters of Gush Katif – educators, an artist, two state Supreme Court judges, the director of a bank, and mothers – is the first such trip that thousands will make to protest the evacuation by the state of 8,500 Jews from their homes by midsummer.

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