South African church activist detained and then deported by Israeli authorities

South African church activist, Itani Rasalanavho, was detained and then deported by Israeli authorities last week en route to the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

IMG_2025-984x470Johannesburg, 13 May 2016: On Thursday, May 5, 2016, Itani Rasalanavho was travelling to Palestine to join the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT), an organisation conducting human rights work in various countries including in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. However, he was detained by Israeli authorities at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel-Aviv upon arrival, subjected to various strip searches, interrogations and ultimately deported back to South Africa.

One of the primary questions Rasalanavho was asked by Israeli authorities was whether he supported the non-violent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel movement – to which he consistently answered “yes”. The other question that he was repeatedly asked was whether he thought Israel was an Apartheid state, to which he also answered in the positive.

Rasalanavho said on his return: “Considering Israel an apartheid state, a view held by South Africa’s ruling party, or supporting the non violent BDS moment, which is backed by the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Professor John Dugard and others is not criminal and nor does it make one a security threat. My detainment and then deportation by Israel shows how it is the Israeli regime that ultimately decides who is let in and out of Palestine. It confirms our South African Government’s view that Palestine is under occupation by the Israeli regime.”

Rasalanavho, who has been involved in Palestine solidarity work for a number of years now, was removed from a queue as he waited at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. Rasanalavho’s passport was confiscated and he was transported to a a detention facility. He was detained for over 24 hours and thereafter put in an armoured security car, driven to the airport tarmac, escorted onto an aircraft by Israeli security personnel and with no knowledge of the whereabouts of his personal items, the destination of the plane or his passport he was flown to Ethiopia and then to back to South Africa.

Rasalanavho, a member of the ANC, ANC Youth League and Young Communist League of South Africa, remains undeterred in his commitment to the Palestinian people. Rasalanavho will be writing to South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation as well as to the leadership of the ANC for assistance in demanding answers from the Israeli regime including why the South African Ambassador in Tel Aviv did not come to his assistance.

This (mis)treatment by Israeli authorities is not new, last year South African Minister of Higher Education was denied entry to Palestine by Israel despite the trip being for official government work. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was also denied entry to the Palestinian Gaza Strip to investigate the Israeli killing of over 19 Palstinians (almost all from the same extended family).

Earlier this week, the World Council of Churches (WCC) slammed the Israeli regime and its denial of entry to Palestine by its members. The World Council of Churches has called on Israel to apologize after its delegates to a WCC conference taking place in Beit Jala near Bethlehem in Palestine were treated with “excessive,” “unreasonable,” “aggression and intimidation.” The WCC said in a statement that it: “strongly protests the excessive, unreasonable and wholly unwarranted treatment by the Israeli authorities…several participants – both WCC staff and representatives of member churches and ecumenical partners – were detained in prison-like conditions for up to three days, before being deported to their countries of origin.”