British journalist arrested in Israel

Marianne Azizi
Marianne Azizi writes:

I write many stories and articles about people being arrested in Israel. Last night I became part of my own story.

After spending the day filming an Israeli father, Ariel,  who was looking for his son – taken by the mother without notice a month ago – I also became a target of the police.

I had been filming Ariel searching for his son in a settlement called Nili, where it was alleged his son had been taken. Ariel saw his former wife’s car and started house-to-house calls showing a photo of his son. I was filming him, for his own protection.

After he enquired at one house, and received a curt “no” response, he immediately knew this was the place where his son was.

I am accustomed to the police being called in domestic affairs, and this was no exception. As the father was being questioned by security officials, my instincts told me this could escalate. At 1.30pm Ariel was told he was being invited for interrogation. I recorded him and logged the time, at which point I decided to leave the place and go for some food and drink, having had no breakfast.

This might be the law, but be prepared, they can do anything they want to you. (Lawyer to Marianne Azizi)

Arriving at the exit gate, my car was cut off by the security officials’ truck, and I was told I couldn’t leave the settlement and needed to return for questioning. When I said I had taken videos all over the world and had not encountered problems, the security officer’s response was: “Well, this is your first time.”

Returning to the street, I was met by a police officer who told me to wait – the agression and tension was building. I made a few quick calls to lawyers I know who told me they could not confiscate my filming equipment as I was a journalist and should be allowed to do my job. But one lawyer said: “This might be the law, but be prepared, they can do anything they want to you.”

After another 30 minutes a senior police officer came and told me to hand over my phone, and he told my colleague to hand over his phone as well as his filming equipment. I refused. I was told if i didn’t, i would be arrested immediately (which means 24 hours in custody as it was Friday, the eve of the Sabbath).

I reluctantly handed over my phone. We were put into a police car and ordered not to talk to each other on the way to the station – which was situated at the checkpoint near the settlement of Modi’in. By this time it was 2.15pm.

I am aware of the law, which says a person can be held only for three hours, then either released or arrested. I told them I was a foreign national and a journalist, but was completely ignored. Nobody explained the process or even answered my questions. We were given a few glasses of water, and told to sit.

“I’ve been detained for over two hours, what do I do? They have my phone…”

Two young Israeli army soldiers sat in the same room. It was a small room, with a desk, four chairs and a TV on the wall. The officer was typing constantly. Our passports were taken, as were our phones, camera equipment and computer. I could see our property on a small filing cabinet opposite my chair. After two hours I stood up to stretch and was told to sit down. I was escorted by a soldier to go to the toilet. My colleague was starting to feel anxious (he’s also a European citizen).

I felt I needed to call my lawyer but was refused. As the time passed, I nudged my colleague and told him to go to the toilet. The soldier went with him, and I grabbed my phone and sent a text to my lawyer: “I’ve been detained for over two hours, what do I do? They have my phone…”

I put the phone back on the filing cabinet. My lawyer called, I answered and said out loud: “Hey, I can’t hold a phone, and I’m in Modi’in Illit, don’t know what’s going to happen…”

At 5.15pm I said I wanted to leave as my three hours had passed. I spoke a little Hebrew and English. They laughed in Hebrew, but one cop said she knows the law. A few minutes later one officer said: “You are under arrest.”

The police officer saw me and closed the phone, shouting to me to get back to my chair. I said it’s probably my lawyer, because if I don’t check in regularly they worry. I whispered to my colleague that after three hours, if I wasn’t out we would hope the cavalry would arrive.

At 5.15pm I said I wanted to leave as my three hours had passed. I spoke a little Hebrew and English. They laughed in Hebrew, but one cop said she knows the law. A few minutes later one officer said: “You are under arrest.” That was all he said. I asked repeatedly why I had been arrested – eventually he said I was under arrest for criminal acts. I again asked for my phone call, but was told it would be when the investigation started.

By this time I hoped my text would bring some help. Time passed. At around 7.15pm Varda Steinberg, an Israeli lawyer, arrived. She gave me advice, and told me that we would be released following investigation, and to make sure we would leave with our equipment, and if not to request it the next evening in court. I was then asked how anyone knew where I was but the tone had changed, and I didn’t feel like a criminal. We were tired, very hungry and thirsty for a hot drink. Someone came in with some biscuits and apples.

Finally, I was taken for questioning, some seven and a half hours after being held in the street. I was told it was about trespassing. The chief investigator told me that to knock on the door of a house which had a gate was against the law as you had to enter a person’s land to access the door. My response was that if I filmed it, why was I guilty, and that Ariel should be charged with trespassing on every house he visited? Why was it that the only house was the one where his son was?

He was an efficient officer and actually the first to answer my questions, and also be civil. He took my telephone, which was full to bursting, and checked videos by attaching a cable to his computer. Sadly, my SD card wasn’t in the phone. He saw there was nothing but still didn’t agree to return the phone.

What stood out for me the most was how little I was told. Being a foreign national meant nothing. I had no explanations, no courtesy and no communication.

My colleague was then questioned. His expensive camera equipment had been damaged, and he was told to sue the police for damages – a matter that will take a long time with possibly no result.

By now, i was free to walk around the small compound, and even given a small black coffee.

Finally, at last, we were taken by the police back to my car – as it would have been far too dangerous to walk in the area, and being the Sabbath it would have been impossible to get a taxi. On the way to the car an officer asked: “Why did you come all this way to make trouble?” My response was: “To film a father is making trouble?

Sadly, Ariel did not fare as well as me. He was handcuffed and put in a small holding cell, ready to face formal proceedings after Saturday evening when the Sabbath ends in the Russian compound in Jerusalem. Fortunately for me, I was able to retrieve some of the videos which provides all the evidence to help absolve him from the charges.

So, in the end the video was protection, and I have had a first hand experience of police investigations and arrests. It’s not fun, and perhaps if I had not taken the risk to text against all protocols I might have ended up in the same place as Ariel.

What stood out for me the most was how little I was told. Being a foreign national meant nothing. I had no explanations, no courtesy and no communication.

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