Kidnapped at Gunpoint and Deported by Israeli Forces: And She Will Return

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 Airport.

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 Forces.

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 me…

“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 was different…

“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 present.

“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 30 Minutes With Vanunu. Email her at Read other articles by Eileen, or visit Eileen's website.

22 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Tree said on December 6th, 2008 at 10:20am #

    I have no words to express my admiration for Ms. Wallach.
    I wish her the best and hope for her safety, always.

  2. eileen fleming said on December 6th, 2008 at 10:27am #

    Thank you Tree, and I will FWD on.

    I feel the very same about all the ISM I have met.
    They are ALL altruistic and dedicated to the cause of justice: equal human rights and an end to military might.

    More Power to the peaceful-
    They are the change we all want to see in the world.

  3. mary said on December 6th, 2008 at 11:18am #

    I can’t believe Je n’ aime pas is back on these pages after such a long spell away.

    I concur fully with Eileen and Tree in what they say about these brave people. I have seensome of the many videos of the IDF gunships’ cruel antics with these fishermen and their boats and you can only watch what they do with a horrified silent anger.

  4. eileen fleming said on December 6th, 2008 at 11:22am #

    The Palestinians are in full control; they decide what to do and when to do it.
    ISM support them, and their presence makes a difference.

    Darlene told me that when ISM around, the fishermen get to fish out further and the catch is better,

    The IOF are the only one’s who are VIOLENT.

    Occupation robs the humanity out of the occupiers,

    The occupied stay strong with international support and NONVIOLENCE is the way to change hearts and minds.

  5. eileen fleming said on December 6th, 2008 at 11:24am #

    One more thing:

  6. eileen fleming said on December 6th, 2008 at 11:44am #

    I abhor, detest and denounce ALL violence!

    i don’t care the uniform, or how noble one thinks their cause

    ANY TIME AN INNOCENT is caught in the X-FIRE they are terrorized!

    Reality is that Israel’s 41 years of military occupation of the indigenous people of that land is at the VERY ROOT of WHY there are suicide/homicide bombers, etc,

    PLEASE WAKE UP to reality with The Facts:

  7. mary said on December 6th, 2008 at 2:23pm #

    That’s all!

  8. Hue Longer said on December 6th, 2008 at 3:48pm #


    Maybe the US should cut out the middle man when it comes to providing medical treatment to Palestinians. 14,000 doesn’t sound very efficient…I’m sure a billion or so in redirected aid would help?

    Good to see you back! where ya been, mate? I had a feeling you were here when I saw the number of responses to this article

  9. Hue Longer said on December 6th, 2008 at 5:39pm #

    Ah Jaime you’re such a kidder…it’s me, Hue you’re talkin too! You know you only got banned for your word choices describing others.

    To answer your question,
    I think you just did—they get medical treatment. Now if the question is how many NEED medical treatment, I don’t know…do you? Not much press over there at the moment, so I only hear about the occasional leaked story of people dying from having no medical supplies and being held up in lines at the freedom wall

  10. eileen fleming said on December 6th, 2008 at 5:51pm #

    “On the day of the termination of the British mandate and on the strength of the United Nations General Assembly declare The State of Israel will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel: it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion it will guarantee freedom of religion [and] conscience and will be faithful to the Charter of the United Nations.” – May 14, 1948. The Declaration of the Establishment of Israel

    IMAGINE when the secular state of Israel honors their own words and all democracies honor and uphold the UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS:

  11. heike said on December 6th, 2008 at 10:34pm #
    After lions and tigers, the “beleaguered” Gazans are planning to smuggle an elephant into their zoo. If they can get lions and tigers (not to mention rockets) into their 100+ smuggling tunnels, can they still convince people they are starving? How many lions and tigers did the Jews smuggle into Auschwitz? The naivete of some people never ceases to amaze.

  12. john lehman said on December 7th, 2008 at 1:54am #

    The Jaime of this thread suggests reading the Bible. Fine. Thus far I’ve read from Genesis to Jeremiah 4 and what I see more than anything else is Israelites attacking and plundering other people. As that is their holy book it is no surprise that they build their wall on Palestinian land rather than on Israeli land.

    I think it is wise to suppose that there will ALWAYS be some violence, in the Middle East and in any part of the world. It has to be judged RELATIVELY. What Israel does to Palestine is many times worse than what Palestine does to Israel.

    As another example of violence in the world: Various people and agents of the United States wrongfully inflict violence upon various other people. But it would be wrong to collectively punish the whole population of the United States for that.

    The United States should STOP SUPPLYING WEAPONS to Israel while Israel is degrading all of Palestine. Jaime mentions Israeli medical aid to some Palestinians. I say, judge RELATIVELY. Israel systematically degrades Palestine as a whole.

    I recently asked a friend what he thought of what’s happening in the Middle East. In his reply, he said that Muslims would just kill each other anyway because that’s how their religion is. I disagree! I say Muslims and Islam are no worse than Jews, Judaism, Christians, and Christianity. People who talk about Muslims the way he does haven’t gotten to know any Muslims. In the world today the worst purveyor of violence, terrorism, and land-grabbing is the United States, with its mostly “Christian” ethnicity, and the second worst is Israel, with its mostly “Jewish” ethnicity. For such people to put blame on Islam is worse than ignorance, it’s arrogance and disdain for the “other” — disdain for groups different from one’s own, not for any good reason, but basically because they are different.

    I heard that the United Nations calls for an end to the illegal Israeli settlements, and the United Nations says the wall that Israel builds on Palestinian land is illegal and should be removed. I agree. But Israel acts according to what it CAN do and what it CAN get away with, just as it has done historically. The Israeli God that I’ve been reading about in the Bible is a lot more about Power than about Right.

    So, why doesn’t Israel respect the United Nations opinions? I believe it is because Israel as a nation, in its approach to land and nations and the world, doesn’t respect Right, it only respects Might. So it takes more and more of Palestine by hook and by crook, by force and by unfair legalities, and by making life miserable for most Palestinians, not person-to-person but as a general approach nationally, to degrade Palestinians so that eventually there will be no Palestine, and Israel will have taken over all of it. Just as in the Bible, Israel will then go on to keep taking more and more of its neighbors’ land. Considering the Old Testament as the Israeli holy book, how can we expect anything different from Israel? Look at the character of the God described in the Old Testament (from Genesis to Jeremiah 4 at least).

    — John L.

  13. Hue Longer said on December 7th, 2008 at 2:13am #

    I don’t think acknowledging a nurse that manages not to throw every single baby on the ground means I’m acknowledging her as a great caregiver for the few she doesn’t

    No, I think the US owes it to them since it’s their money going to the occupiers. Making Israel pay is like asking the assassin you hired to pay for coffins, but there are those that understandably feel it’s Israel wagging the dog so yeah, I suppose in that light they do owe the people they are starving, maiming and murdering. Maybe the Israelis should put that begging bowl away as you suggested others should?

  14. LD said on December 7th, 2008 at 4:36am #

    What is Jaime’s point?

    You might as well tell us how Israel released 200ish Palestinian prisoners recently. That out-of-context statistic works well within the context of your mindset towards the conflict. Israel has so many Palestinians to release so a 200 sounds a lot only when you forget there are 10,000ish Palestinians in jail.

    Likewise, there are plenty of injured/sick Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank so whatever number Jaime pulls up is going to seem impressive but only OUT OF CONTEXT.

    Notice when she/he is countered, she/he begs the question: What responsibility does Israel have to the Palestinians in Gaza? Well, they don’t – because Gaza (as well as the West Bank) belong to Palestine. Unfortunately, Israel is illegally occupying and colonizing Palestinian land. So while there may be no official responsibility – it is a MORAL responsibility. Israel and Palestine are intertwined.

    If you illegally occupy a country, kill it’s children 10 to 1, kill it’s civilians 5 to 1, demolish it’s civilians’ homes, impose curfews, impose ethnocentric rules and regulations, etc. etc. etc., then you might as well take responsibility to the misery you cause.

    Palestinians need to organize and bring down every wall and settlement. Every settler, every soldier = have NO right to be in Gaza or the West Bank.

  15. mary said on December 7th, 2008 at 5:48am #

    Darlene’s twin sister writes here on ‘The Open-Air Prison Called Gaza Strip’.

    Another brave woman.

  16. Brian said on December 7th, 2008 at 12:46pm #

    Very moving article.

    Disappointing to read the comments by one person who doesn’t get the point.

    Israel must leave the occupied territories and stopping engaging in oppression of the Palestinian people!

  17. bozh said on December 7th, 2008 at 1:06pm #

    wld u like to tell me whether occupation or suicides came first?
    what came first, the war against pals in ’47, ashkenazic terrorism, expellation of 700-800 pals (some of which may have been jewish but of muslim faith) and or resistance by any means?
    the invaders were not even semitic let alone jewish. they were and still r euro-khazarians w. judaic faith.
    in fact, an occupied people r legally and morally obligated to resist its occupation, demolition of homes, walls, killings/maimings, and imprisonments of thousands of pals.
    Israel holds some 10, 000 kidnapped civilians; pals hold one soldier.
    i ask u, do u approve of partisan resistance in norway, france, italy, ukraine, greece, albania, and ex-yuga?
    and why? and why not in expalestine? and against a nonsemitic people!
    wld u like to live in US w.o. governance, jurispruedence, and govt?
    what do u think what happen ina land w. o. that?
    lotsof bad things. and then we cld all blame amers for being base, unruly, vicious, etc? thnx

  18. John Hatch said on December 7th, 2008 at 1:55pm #

    To argue that Israel is somehow a victim is simply insupportable. Since its unfortunate inception, the state of Israel has been conducting a grim genocide against people it has referred to as dogs. IIsrael continues to steal Palestinian land and to develop new ways to humiliate and to torture. It’s a matter of record, and all the propaganda and magical thinking in the world can’t change those facts. Israel has behaved in a despicable, inhuman fashion throughout its history. Shame on those who try to excuse it.

  19. eileen fleming said on December 7th, 2008 at 4:51pm #

    What do Zimbabwe, Burma, North Korea and Israel have in Common?

    They are the ONLY states in the world that deny international media and humanitarian aid workers access.

    Allow me to share a story i spun in the Chapter: Brother Harold

    from “KEEP HOPE ALIVE”

    Harold lifted his almost empty pouch of Crown Royal and exclaimed, “Let’s toast the man, and then I’ll tell you what my daddy told me when I was a kid, when my brothers and I would get out of hand.

    “He’d say, ‘boys, you all are going the way of Cain and Abel, and you’d better quit. For one of those boys was filled with so much hatred and jealousy that he killed the other.’

    “Then my old man would be on a roll, and he’d tell us about Sarah, Abraham’s wife. And we loved to hear that part, so we’d quit our fight. You see, although Sarah was already menopaused, she still desired a child. God had even shared a laugh with her about it coming true, but just like a woman, she took the matter into her own hands, and refused to wait for the Lord to deliver.

    “So old Sarah decided to give her maidservant to her old man, and that chick and Abraham made a kid. Everything was fine when Ishmael arrived, but only for a very short while.

    “Now, although Sarah was a dried-up old crone, she, too, birthed a son, and named him after the laughter she had shared with God, but called the kid Isaac. Sarah had gotten very territorial and demanded Abraham cast out his beloved first son with his mama Haggar, into the barren wilderness, and Abraham did it!

    “But, as God always hears the cries of mothers and sons, he promised to make a great nation from Ishmael’s descendants, too. And thus, the Arab nation was born.

    “By the sixth century before Christ, the conflicts in the land were already old news, and Jeremiah warned the people that all God could see was violence and destruction in the city. Sickness and wounds were all around. And then my old man would get tears in his eyes and softly recite,

    ‘for every misunderstanding, every condemning thought, every negative vibration, every tear torn from a heart, every time one grabbed and wouldn’t let go, and they only did it because they did not know. The Divine is within all creation and within all women and men.

    ‘And every tiny kindness you have ever done, every gentle word spoken, every time you held your tongue, every positive thought, every smile freely given, every helping hand that opens, helps bring in the kingdom. And the kingdom comes from above, and it comes from within. Imagine a kingdom of sisterhood of all creatures and all men.’”

  20. mary said on December 9th, 2008 at 1:29am #

    Israel besieges Gaza’s fishing industry – Mel Frykberg, The Electronic Intifada

  21. eileen fleming said on December 9th, 2008 at 5:51am #


    (LARNACA, 8 December 2008) – The Free Gaza Movement announces that it sent a delegation from Cyprus to Gaza aboard their blockade-busting ship, the Dignity, last night, at 11.30pm, Monday, 8 December, due to arrive in Gaza at 3 pm Tuesday 9th December.

    Free Gaza Movement has successfully challenged the siege on three previous occasions this year, landing missions in Gaza in August, October, and November. Free Gaza ships are the first to dock in Gaza Port in over 41 years.

    Israel maintains absolute control over Gaza’s borders and airspace, and has imposed an increasingly brutal blockade on its 1.5 million civilians for over two years, drastically increasing poverty and malnutrition rates. Over 700 students are currently trapped in Gaza, while Israel denies their right to attend universities abroad.

    In a statement released by Drs. Jonathan Rosenhead and Mike Cushman, of the London School of Economics, the academics said they were pleased to be traveling to Gaza aboard the Dignity, and that, “This siege is an affront to any idea of academic freedom or human rights. We, working for a British university, have the freedom to teach and study, this must be a universal right, not at the discretion of an occupying power. How can anyone justify preventing young people from fulfilling their potential and learning how to serve their community more fully?”

    In addition to the British academics, this fourth voyage includes a British surgeon traveling to Gaza to volunteer in local hospitals for the next several weeks, as well as international human rights workers and journalists. The ship will also be carrying in one ton of medical supplies and high-protein baby formula. In recent days, Israel has forcibly intervened to prevent other such missions from reaching Gaza.

    Lubna Masarwa, one of the Free Gaza organizers, stated that, “Gaza doesn’t need charity. What Gaza needs is sustained political action aimed at overcoming this vicious siege. We have no intention of turning around, and so we’re confident that we will reach Gaza. We are unarmed civilians carrying desperately needed supplies to other unarmed civilians. It would be obscene for Israel to use violence to stop us.”

    The passengers on board the Dignity include:

    ? British academics on a fact-finding mission to document the devastating affects Israel’s siege has had on the educational sector in Gaza

    ? A British surgeon travelling to Gaza to volunteer in local hospitals for the next several weeks

    ? A Palestinian man who has been denied the right to return to his family in Gaza

    ? International human rights workers

    ? International journalists from Al-Jazeera TV and McClatchy Newspapers

    For More Information, please contact:
    (Gaza) Caoimhe Butterly, +972 598 273 960
    (Cyprus/Gaza) Lubna Masarwa, +972 505 633 044
    (Cyprus) Ramzi Kysia , +357 99 081 767

  22. bozh said on December 9th, 2008 at 8:59am #

    so happy to see people visit gazans. nice to know that some people care ab an abused folk like the pals.
    their fault being only that they were targeted for victimhood by nonsemitic people: christians and khazars.
    and these people r extremely antishemitic. shemites r descendants of shem.
    we don’t know why shemites became semites in europe. it seems, khazaro-europeans hated the very words “shem” and “shemites” thus came up w. the word “semites” altho w. little or no mesopotanian blood in their veins.
    the deception was also welcomed by christians since they wanted to oust muslims out of palestine. thnx