Camden schoolfriends interrogated and imprisoned on volunteer trip to Israel

Harres Yakubi and Rachel Horigan, displaying her passport with an "Entry Denied" stamp from Israeli

Harres Yakubi and Rachel Horigan, displaying her passport with an "Entry Denied" stamp from Israeli border control. Picture: Polly Hancock. - Credit: Archant

Two Camden schoolfriends were subjected to hours of interrogation and thrown into an Israeli jail cell before being deported back to Britain for attempting to volunteer in Palestinian schools.

Rachel Horigan, 22, and Harres Yakubi, 23, who attended Camden School for Girls sixth form together, have spoken for the first time about their horror at being imprisoned by border staff in Israel while attempting to enter the country as part of a British Council-funded volunteer trip.

The pair travelled to Ben Gurion Airport, in Tel Aviv, on September 22 and had planned to head to Abu Dis, a Palestinian town on the outskirts of Jerusalem, for a three-month volunteering project after graduating from university.

But instead they found themselves on a plane home the following day having endured hours of intense interrogation – which involved trawls of their mobile phones, laptops and suitcases – after their plans to volunteer were discovered by Israeli border police.

Ms Horigan, who lives in Burghley Road, Kentish Town, said suspicion was aroused when it was found Mr Yakubi had been born in Kabul, Afghanistan, before moving to London at the age of one.

She said: “It was straight racism. The only reason we were taken aside was because Harres was born in Afghanistan. Why would you not let well-meaning individuals [into the country when they] want to dedicate their time to work in schools with kids?

“They just don’t want people going to Palestine, they don’t want the situation to be known in the press.”

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Israel’s government has been locked in conflict with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbours over ownership of land considered holy by Jews, Christians and Muslims since its creation in 1948.

After landing in Israel, Ms Horigan and Mr Yakubi, who lives in Adelaide Road, Chalk Farm, claim they underwent almost five hours of interrogation from border police before being driven to what they were told was a “guesthouse”.

When they arrived at the facility, the pair say they were separated and thrown into locked cells with strangers for almost 12 hours where they were deprived of food and water.

They were then deported on a direct flight back to Britain.

Mr Yakubi said: “I felt like we were doing a good thing and we ended up being treated like criminals. It was really humiliating stuff.

“The guards in the detention centre were really quite horrible. There was a point when we were [calling out] for water for three hours and they didn’t answer.”

The trip, funded through the British Council’s Youth in Action scheme, was organised by charity Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association (CADFA), which has been organising educational trips for British visitors to the West Bank and arranging for Palestinians to visit Britain for the last decade.

Nandita Dowson, director of CADFA, said the volunteers’ treatment was “beyond horrible” and the first time any of the charity’s volunteers had been deported from Israel.

A spokesman for the Embassy of Israel in London said: “British citizens who wish to enter the West Bank via Israel must obtain a permit to do so.

“Absent that permit, they are free to enter the West Bank through the Allenby Crossing via Jordan. Horigan and Yakubi obviously did not request such a permit.”