c. | 09.05.2003 16:42
By Haaretz Staff and Agencies
Israel launched a series of moves Friday to crack down on the activities of foreign nationals in the Palestinian territories, and raided the West Bank offices of a pro-Palestinian organization.
Three people were detained for questioning in the IDF raid at the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) offices in Beit Shaour on Friday, and computer disks and other equipment were confiscated.
In a further move to clamp down on foreign activity in the territories, the IDF is to take over control of the entry of foreign nationals into the Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported Friday.
According to the report, individuals who are not Israeli or Palestinian must request personal authorization to visit Gaza from the army, which has taken over all administrative procedures relating to entry to the Strip.
In a separate measure, Israel has demanded that all foreign nationals entering the Gaza Stip sign a waiver exempting Israel from any responsibility should they be killed or injured, a move that has hitherto been restricted to Israelis.
Amnesty International on Friday condemned the demand, saying that it was "categorically opposed to any attempt to get people to sign away their rights."
"The signing of 'waivers' does not absolve the Israeli army of its responsibility in any way, nor the Israeli authorities of their duties to ensure that armed froces respect human rights in all circumstances," said a statement on the human rights group's Web site.
The site also said that several of Amnesty delegates, who had refused to sign the waivers, were prevented from entering Gaza on Friday.
The moves come at the end of a week in which Israel decided to crack down on foreign volunteers in the territories, after it became apparent that the two British men involved in the recent suicide bombing on a Tel Aviv pub had posed as volunteers while in the Strip.
Israel has also decided to bar pro-Palestinian activists from entering the country and will try to expel at least some of the dozens of activists who are already here, according a plan drafted by the Israel Defense Forces and the foreign and defense ministries.
According to Israel Radio, Palestinian sources said that two foreign volunteers were taken away from the ISM offices in Beit Sahour and a Palestinian employee was detained for questioning.
The IDF reported that two women - an American and an Australian in the country illegally - had been detained for questioning.
About 22 army jeeps surrounded the group's offices in the village of Beit Sahour, after which soldiers entered and confiscated six computers, said spokeswoman Laura Gordon.
Arrested were Christine Razowsky, 28 from Chicago, and an Australian woman who did not want her name released, as well as Palestinian Fida Gharib, 22, a secretary for the organization, Gordon said.
The military said it had arrested several people who "violated the law" in the village of Beit Sahour, but refused to release details.
Israel Police spokesman Gil Kleiman confirmed that two foreigners had been handed over to police custody and were being questioned for entering a restricted military area.
The interrogation documents and other evidence - including the computers - will be used by the Interior Ministry to decide whether the foreigners should be deported, Kleiman said.
"The aim is to deport any foreigner who supports us," said George Rishmawi, a Palestinian official close to the group. "We consider these people to be international witnesses to the suffering of the Palestinian people."
Most of the activists, who come from Europe, Canada and the United States, belong to the ISM.
Their goal is to act as "human shields" for Palestinian individuals and houses during IDF incursions into Palestinian towns, and they have often been involved in confrontations with IDF soldiers. They also try to help Palestinians pass through IDF roadblocks.
Some two months ago, an American ISM activist, Rachel Corrie, was run over and killed by an IDF bulldozer in Gaza. Her colleagues accused the bulldozer driver of having run her over deliberately. The IDF denies the accusation and decided not to indict the driver. In two other recent cases, international activists have been seriously injured by IDF gunfire during confrontations in the territories.
The IDF charges that many of the self-proclaimed peace activists are "provocateurs" and "riot inciters" who deliberately interfere with the IDF's work, with the goal of blackening Israel's image. Army sources noted that in one case, they discovered a wanted terrorist being hidden by ISM activists in Jenin. The sources said the activists received training overseas in how to deceive border control officials at Ben-Gurion International Airport in order to be allowed into the country.
Furthermore, both the army and the Foreign Ministry fear that additional foreign citizens might be killed or wounded by the IDF if the ISM's activities are allowed to continue.
Last week's bombing in Tel Aviv, which was committed by two men who entered Israel on British passports, added a new reason to the authorities' desire to clamp down on the foreign activists - fear that other terrorists from overseas might enter the country under the guise of peace activists.