Former Bilton High student returns home after being jailed in Israel

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A WOMAN thrown in jail by Israeli soldiers and subjected to an eight hour interrogation has safely returned home.

Aimee McGovern, 23, a former Bilton High student who grew up in Rugby, was arrested on Friday September 21 after demonstrating with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). She was caught in the village Kufr Quddoum in the West Bank. Israel closed the main road out of the Palestinian village 12 years ago, while nearby illegal settlements are being built. Since then it has become a focal point for weekly demonstrations.

While demonstrators were gathering on September 21 Israeli forces fired tear gas into the village before storming it. Ms McGovern was chased into a barn with an American national, Lauren Siebert, and the pair were caught along with two other Westerners and two Palestinian demonstrators.

She said: “The soldiers continued to fire teargas into the village and I could feel burning chemical settling on my skin. I wish I had been more assertive, shouted and demanded to be let go, told them that I was free to be here, that I was allowed to document the demonstration, and that I had done nothing illegal. At the same time, the two other ISMers were being pursued. Once they were caught they were beaten and kicked, their cameras and phones which were filming the ordeal broken, and they were brought to meet Lauren and I at the army vehicle.”

Ms McGovern said the most upsetting part of her arrest was how the Palestinians were singled out for harsher treatment.

“The Palestinians were taken for a ‘medical examination’ inside the army vehicle, each lasting around 20 minutes. We demanded to know what this was for, why it was for them not us and why the men still had their wrists tied while ours had been removed. Our questions were not answered. ‘Why are you here?,’ we were asked by one soldier who appeared baffled that we were inquiring after the two men, ‘Don’t you have enough of these in your country?’”

“The pair remained ziptied, blindfolded, separated from one another and sat under the scorching midday sun. After some six hours, they were taken away in a police van. We asked where they were going, and why we were not being taken to the same place.

“‘They’re going to prison,’ a soldier responded.”

After being taken to a police station and questioned for eight hours, during which the suspects were told they had been arrested for ‘being in a closed military zone and for throwing stones’. After this Ms McGovern and the three others were taken to prison in order to appear in court the next day.

Ms McGovern said: “At the court hearing we had our feet in shackles. Thankfully Israeli activist group Anarchists Against the Wall (AAW) provided us with legal representation and a translator for the court hearing, which was held in Hebrew.

“No evidence brought against us, because there was none. I think it goes without saying that we did not throw stones.

“The prosecutor, who was being backed up by soldiers, was pushing for seven further days in prison while he verified our identities with the passports ISM provided. The judge thankfully ruled that this was excessive. We signed to remain under house arrest in Israel for seven days, during which we stayed with a friend in Tel Aviv.”

She added: “While this experience was unpleasant, and emotionally trying, I am strengthened in the knowledge that these small inconveniences imposed upon me are a small sacrifice compared to the daily struggles of life under occupation, which the Palestinians face. And if our experiences are able to shed light on the struggle against apartheid, then that experience is no burden.”