A week after the 'Flightilla': The ones who made it in

69-year-old Australian "Grannies for Gaza" were set to be deported, now demonstrating in Jerusalem.

Grannies for Gaza 2_311 (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
Grannies for Gaza 2_311
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
The threat of mass demonstrations by foreigners descending on Ben-Gurion Airport was mostly deflected when more than 250 activists who arrived on the socalled “Flytilla” last Friday were deported over the past week.
A handful of activists, however, squeezed through security, and spent the week attending demonstrations in the West Bank and in Jerusalem.
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Two 69-year-old women, nicknamed “Grannies for Gaza,” were among those pro-Palestinian activists who successfully entered the country.
Sylvia Hale, a former member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, and Vivienne Porzsolt, a leader in Sydney’s Jews Against the Occupation group, had waited in Greece for three weeks for their ship to set sail for Gaza.
When they realized their vessel, the Tahrir, would not be permitted to leave Greece, the women bought tickets to Tel Aviv and arrived on Monday – two days after the biggest wave of activists came to Ben-Gurion Airport.
Because they arrived later than most activists, the pair had no problems at the airport, until they got to the passport desk.
“We told them: ‘We’re going to Palestine!’ That set off the red flags,” Hale recounted. “As they were taking us away, we called out ‘Free Palestine! Free Gaza!’” The women were immediately led into detention and went to court in Petah Tikva to be deported. But private lawyers appealed the deportation order and it was rescinded.
“They say we set a precedent,” Hale said proudly, adding that rescinded deportation orders are very rare in Israel.
The women are the only activists from the “Flytilla” to fight deportation and win. They are currently not allowed to visit the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, but are appealing that decision as well.
Hale, who was in Gaza a year ago to monitor Australian government aid projects, said she wanted to join the flotilla after seeing first-hand the impact of the blockade on Gaza residents.
“We thought it was a great opportunity for us to make a statement that we oppose the blockade – but we also want to put pressure on our government to tell Israel it’s wrong and a breach of human rights,” Hale said on Friday afternoon.
The women were part of a group of four Australians who arrived in Crete on June 19, and spent the next three weeks sleeping in hotels and on their ship, waiting to leave for Gaza.
One went home to Australia, and another is staying with the vessel to ready it for a tour of the Mediterranean to garner support for next year’s protest flotilla.
Hale and Porzsolt plan to stay in Israel for at least two weeks – unless they are denied entry to the territories, in which case they will leave the country.
On Friday, the women proudly carried a banner reading “Aussies say end the blockade of Palestine,” in the march in Jerusalem that drew 4,500 supporters of a Palestinian state.
“This is the first time I’ve been in a march in Jerusalem. People tell me it’s big, and I’m delighted to be involved,” Hale said.
Both women were certain their detention, which has garnered a large amount of press in Australia, sent a strong message.
“Israel’s message about trying to stop us was even louder than if they hadn’t,” Porzsolt said.
“They’re scared of the message we offer – of peace,” she said.
“It’s not about being against the state, it’s about policies.
Israel is on a path to selfdestruction,” she said.