To: the Honorable Winston Peters,
Minster of Foreign Affairs,
New Zealand Government.
Dear Mr Peters,
It was with some personal disappointment that despite several letters from my friends and colleagues, there appeared to be no action by the New Zealand government to protest the hijacking of the boat I was travelling on, Al Awda, and from which I was kidnapped and detained by the Israeli military from international waters on Sunday, July 29.
I also wish to raise with you my deep concern at the behaviour of New Zealand’s Honorary Consul in Tel Aviv, Israel, Gad Propper.
When I was being processed by Israeli military forces on the docks of the Port of Ashdod I asked to speak to lawyers we had been assigned as well as the New Zealand diplomatic representative as soon as possible.
On August 1 Mr Propper and other consular representatives came to the prison detention center we were being held in.
I could see that the other nationals were able to see their representatives in privacy, so was surprised when I was ushered into a room to see the consul that had several Israeli prison officials or security staff. I questioned Mr Propper why this was so and he said there were no other rooms available and the officials had “kindly” agreed to allow their room to be used. I was doubtful but did not want the meeting to be cancelled so allowed it to proceed.
Mr Propper inquired as to how I was and noticed a small wound on my face and asked about it. I explained it was the result of being tasered. He quickly brushed it aside and implied that I must have done something to provoke the attack with a taser.
I then said my belongings had been “stolen” because the backpack I had travelled with was not among the property dumped just outside the sorting area at the port from where we could select our own luggage from to take to prison. All that I was able to identify and take to the prison was a shoulder bag that appeared to have nothing in it other than a small bag of toiletries.
My other bag, which was a backpack, was carefully packed and labelled and had been left with the shoulder bag on my bunk on Al Awda. This had all my clothes, a go-pro camera, iPad, iPhone, charging cables, battery chargers, and a sleeping bag. Another phone and my passport had been removed from me on the boat.
Since I knew this clearly labelled bag had not made it to the prison it seemed reasonable to me to claim it was “stolen”. However, Mr Propper objected to this suggestion as exaggerated and improper. I never received this bag, as its associated property or the phone seized on the boat from Israel before being deported. Again this is something that you may wish to take up with Israeli authorities.
It is also my understanding that soldiers do not have the legal right to seize passports. The passport is legally the property of the New Zealand government so this may be something you also wish to take up with Israel.
I was very concerned that the prison authorities had not lost my passport. Further, I needed to check my bag and see if the wallet containing 200-300 Euros, New Zealand cash and two credit cards was still there. I asked Mr Propper to ask about these.
The passport was shown to me and Mr Propper asked me to sign a form written entirely in Hebrew which the consul said acknowledged the passport had been seen. I said I would not sign a document I did not understand. He then said he would write something on it to explain, which he did – in Hebrew. I objected and said I would not sign. He then adopted a very irritated stance and – over my specific objection – said he would sign on my behalf.
I then pressed Mr Propper to ask to see my wallet or have me taken to see if it was in my bag. He was told by the prison authorities with us that this wasn’t possible because they were all in a special room and that the guard with the key was having a day off. He joined the Israeli officials in a mutual laughter at this proposition. At this point, I objected loudly and strongly that is was simply unbelievable and unacceptable that a room in a prison was not able to be accessed because no one had a key.
I stood up and said the meeting would now be terminated and that I believed Mr Propper’s decision to meet me in the presence of Israeli officials was completely unprofessional and he appeared to me to be acting as an agent of the State of Israel, not as my representative.
The Israeli officials then bundled us out of their room and straight to an empty meeting room a few meters away. So the first lie about not having a room was exposed.
In the private room, Mr Propper objected to my raising my voice with him. I still wanted help accessing my wallet so I told him that I had concluded he appeared to be acting on Israel’s behalf and not mine. I told him that if that impression was mistaken then I would apologise and we could resume the discussion on a new footing.
I asked him to follow up later regarding my wallet. From this point on, he pressed me for the next 15 minutes to sign a form accepting deportation that the Israeli authorities wanted us to sign to get us out as quickly as possible. I explained I probably would sign this form sometime but we needed reassurances that all the detainees would be treated equally. We did not want some being deported and others held for special attention. I also explained that I needed to speak to my lawyer first. The detainees also wanted to put our own riders on the form objecting to the kidnapping in international waters and reserving the right to take legal action.
He kept pushing me to sign with various arguments, including that if I did so I would get out that night, that he had so much experience in these matters and that I did not even need to see a lawyer.
I took the form from his hands and thanked him for his “help”. I left the room a very angry man. That anger only grew when I got back to the cells and discovered that around the same time, the Norwegian officials insisted that one of their nationals get access to the room with the luggage to retrieve glasses he needed. So a second lie was exposed as well. But, at least the Norwegians had done something for their countrymen and women.
I was eventually taken to the airport and put on a plane. When I got there I discovered my shoulder bag had a only a few panadol and some toiletries. The wallet was there but missing most of the money. The backpack not to be seen.
I would like a review into the conduct of Gad Propper and whether his behaviour is appropriate for a consular official. I understand that consular officials are often businessmen of the country concerned who have some commercial dealings with the country they represent. But, they need to be told that their duty when playing the consular role is to the country and its people that they represent. I am convinced that Mr Propper’s behaviour was so cynical and manipulative that he is unfit to continue in that role.