Barred from entering Israel, detained Nobel laureate turns to country’s Supreme Court for help

By Josef Federman, AP
Sunday, October 3, 2010

Irish Nobel laureate challenges Israeli detention

JERUSALEM — Nobel peace laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire asked Israel’s Supreme Court Sunday to allow her to enter the country, five days after the outspoken critic of Israel was detained at the airport on her way to meet Jewish and Palestinian peace activists.

Maguire’s legal challenge sets the stage for a new showdown with Israel. The 66-year-old activist, who won the peace prize in 1976 for her efforts to end sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, has been barred from entering Israel because she took part in attempts to breach Israel’s sea blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Maguire was detained last Tuesday when she landed at Israel’s international airport as part of a human rights delegation sponsored by the Nobel Women’s Initiative, a group founded in 2006 by six female peace prize winners, including Maguire.

The Israeli Supreme Court is expected to hear the case and issue a ruling on Monday. On Friday, a lower court upheld the deportation order.

Israel said Maguire is banned because she has twice tried to break through Israel’s naval embargo of Gaza. Maguire’s lawyers contend that the Israeli deportation order against her is invalid, charging that it ignores her basic human rights — a claim immediately rejected by Israeli officials.

“She knew exactly what she was doing, and that she wouldn’t receive an entry visa,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. “She was fully conscious of her status.”

He provided a Feb. 24 letter in which Israel officially turned down a request from the Nobel Women’s Initiative to allow Maguire into the country, citing her involvement with a “Free Gaza” boat that tried to reach the seaside strip in June 2009. Israel’s navy intercepted the ship at sea, and Maguire and some other activists on board, including former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, were deported.

“That expedition had nothing to do with human rights or humanitarian assistance: rather, it reinforced the iron grip on Gaza by Hamas, an internationally recognized terror group that has always stood for extremism and violence against Palestinians and Israelis alike,” the Israeli letter said.

Israel has maintained a blockade of Gaza since Hamas militants violently took control of the territory in June 2007. Israel says the blockade is needed to keep the Iranian-backed Hamas, which has fired thousands of rockets into southern Israel, from building up its arsenal. Critics counter that the blockade has failed to weaken Hamas, while causing widespread misery among Gaza’s 1.5 million people.

Under heavy international pressure, Israel eased the land blockade, allowing most consumer items in, after a deadly raid by Israeli naval commandos on a Gaza-bound flotilla killed nine Turkish activists last May.

Maguire was not on board that flotilla, but she joined another ship that tried to reach Gaza a few weeks later. That boat was intercepted without violence, and Maguire was told she could not enter Israel for 10 years.

Israel said Maguire is free to leave the country. Her lawyer, Fatmeh el-Ajou, said her client believes the deportation order is “illegal and has no justification.”

Maguire had hoped to join a delegation that is meeting female “peace builders” in Israel and the West Bank. Among the participants is Jody Williams, who won the 1997 Nobel peace prize for her campaign against land mines.

Adalah, an Arab-Israeli advocacy group representing Maguire, suggested she had been mistreated in detention, saying she was given only “partial access” to medical records after falling ill and was not allowed to call her husband in Ireland.

However, Irish Embassy spokesman Conor Long said she was in “good spirits” when he visited her in detention early Sunday.

“The embassy is in regular and frequent contact with her and we are representing her interests as her consular representatives,” he said.

After sharing the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her work in Northern Ireland, Maguire has turned her focus to the Israeli-Palestinian arena in recent years.

She has voiced support for Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordecai Vanunu, a man widely seen in Israel as a traitor, attended anti-Israel demonstrations in the West Bank and compared the Jewish state’s reported nuclear arsenal to Hitler’s gas chambers. In 2007, she was wounded at a demonstration against Israel’s West Bank security barrier when a rubber bullet fired by police hit her in the leg.

Israel has banned other pro-Palestinian activists from entering the country, including Jewish-American linguist Noam Chomsky in May. The government later admitted that was a mistake.

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