A Newcastle councillor on a peace trip to Palestine was arrested by Israel Defense Forces and says he was handcuffed, blindfolded, hit with guns and denied food and water as he suffered in custody in the soaring heat.
Dipu Ahad also claimed soldiers kicked him on an injured ankle and took ‘selfies’ of themselves with him despite his distress.
He said after asking for water, a cup was put to his lips and then withdrawn as he tried to take a drink and was then mocked by his captors.
After 10 hours he was eventually released without charge. Even then his ordeal hadn’t ended as on his way back to Newcastle he was separated from the group at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and was subjected to what he described as an “aggressive” interrogation before being allowed to fly home.
Mr Ahad said: “It was one of the most terrifying experiences I’ve ever had.”
A councillor for Newcastle Elswick ward, he was on a five day official fact finding trip to the region with the Newcastle Labour Friends of Palestine group.
Also amongst the delegation from the city were fellow councillor David Stockdale – who was also hit by rubber bullet fired by Israeli Defence Forces during the incident – and Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah.
They had met both Israeli and Palestinian officials on the trip as well as visiting Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum.
His ordeal happened in Bil-in, a Palestinian village west of Ramallah in the West Bank. Every week there, since January 2005, villagers have organised protests against the construction of the West Bank Barrier built through their community.
Coun Stockdale said: “We had gone as observers to watch demonstrators protest against the Israeli occupation. We were wearing black T-shirts with peace written in English, Hebrew and Arabic on them. We were so ‘leftie’ clichéd peace protestors that I was even wearing sandals, for God’s sake.”
He said by international law, under the Oslo II Accord, where the demonstration took place is under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority.
“Quite early on the Israeli Defence Force began firing tear gas. Then a gate opened and an army vehicle sped out.”
Coun Stockdale said that while Ms Onwurah was a distance from the incident, he was hit by a rubber bullet as he fled which, he believes, had ricocheted off the floor.
“If I’d been direct I would not have been able to run.”
While he managed to get away, sidestepping smoking tear gas canisters, Mr Ahad, who twisted an ankle as he ran, was not so lucky.
Mr Ahad said: “There were rubber bullets flying around left, right and centre. The soldiers were getting closer, I could barely run, so I just stopped and held my hands up.”
He was arrested alongside two Israelis also protesting against the wall and another man.
“They handcuffed me behind my back and used my scarf as a blindfold. I was dimly aware of shapes moving through the cloth.
“They began taking selfies of me despite me being in distress. I had showed them my business card which identified me as a Newcastle city councillor and told them I was an observer of the demonstration and they just laughed.
“When I asked for water they put a cup to my lips then withdrew it when I tried to drink from it. They hit my on the shoulder with their guns and kicked me on my swollen ankle.”
After being kept in the holding ‘tank’ for an hour and half he was moved to a small police station five minutes way and held for another three hours, before being transferred to a second police station where Coun Stockdale eventually managed to find him. Mr Ahad was held until 10.30pm and eventually released, nearly 10 hours after his initial arrest.
Ms Onwurah said: “It was a distressing experience and Dipu was very badly treated. It was a peaceful demonstration and there was no need for tear gas and rubber bullets. I will be raising the matter with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Israeli Ambassador.
“While we were there we got in touch with an official at the British Consulate in Jerusalem who said they had observed a previous protest there and they had been tear gassed.”
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson said: “We are aware of an incident involving a British National in the Occupied Palestinian Territories on 19 September. We provided consular assistance.”