Josef Federman
The Statesman
October 4, 2010 - 12:00am

JERUSALEM — Israel on Tuesday expelled an Irish Nobel peace laureate and pro-Palestinian activist who was barred from the country for trying to bust the naval blockade of Gaza.

Mairead Corrigan Maguire was placed on an early morning flight to Britain, the Interior Ministry said.

She had been banned from Israel for 10 years after trying to sail to Gaza on a blockade-busting ship in June. Still, she landed in Tel Aviv last week as part of a delegation meeting Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.

She was immediately detained and held at an airport detention facility. Maguire appealed but the Supreme Court upheld her deportation order late Monday.

Adalah, an Arab Israeli advocacy group representing Maguire said she planned a news conference in Ireland later Tuesday.

Maguire won the 1976 Nobel peace prize for her work in Northern Ireland. But in recent years, she has emerged as an outspoken critic of Israel. At Monday's court hearing, she called Israel an "apartheid" state, and in comments to reporters, accused it of committing "ethnic cleansing."

Her words drew a sharp rebuke from a Supreme Court justice, who told her the courtroom was "no place for propaganda" and cut her off.

Fellow Nobel laureate Jody Williams of the Nobel Women's Initiative, which had sponsored the delegation Maguire was part of, said they were unaware of the travel ban against her. However, Israel's Foreign Ministry wrote earlier this year to the initiative denying its appeal to let Maguire join its delegation.

Maguire, 66, has also voiced support for Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, a man widely seen in Israel as a traitor. Before her ban, she 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.

With the expulsion, Israel risked doing further damage to an image already tarnished by what is often perceived as a lack of tolerance for criticism. Israel has banned other pro-Palestinian activists from entering the country, including 81-year-old Jewish-American linguist Noam Chomsky in May. The government later said that was a mistake.

Maguire's attempt at blockade-busting came just a week after a deadly Israeli raid on a Turkish-organized flotilla that tried to breach the blockade in late May.

Nine Turkish activists, including a dual American citizen, were killed in clashes with Israeli naval commandos, setting off an international uproar, and hundreds of activists were detained and expelled from the country.

An Israeli commission investigating the May 31 flotilla raid said Tuesday that it had summoned a senior Israeli official to testify about how international activists were treated in detention.

A report by the U.N. Human Rights Council released last week accused Israel of using "extreme and unprovoked violence" against the detainees at a time when they posed no threat to Israeli forces.

Israel refused to cooperate with that U.N. investigation, saying the council has a long record of bias. Israel is cooperating with a separate U.N. investigation commissioned by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Interior Ministry official Yossi Edelstein, who was in charge of the detainees' conditions, will testify to the Israeli commission next week. It will be the first Israeli account of what happened to the activists.

"We need to check how the government acted. He was in charge," said commission spokesman Ofer Lefler.

It was not clear whether he was summoned in response to the U.N. report, or whether the testimony was scheduled in advance.


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