9 Heshvan 5762 Friday October 26, 2001
Israelis mistaken for terrorists may be home soon
By Melissa Radler
NEW YORK (October 26) - Five Israeli men detained in New Jersey with box-cutters, multiple passports, and $4,000 cash on September 11, the day of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, may be deported back to Israel for immigration violations as early as next week, according to the Israeli consulate in New York.
Consul for Media and Public Affairs Ido Aharoni said the deportation order was issued by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, and it must be approved by the Justice Department.
But the lawyer for the men, Steven Gordon, said the group is still waiting for the INS to sign the deportation order.
Gordon said the plight of the five, who were almost immediately cleared by authorities but subsequently held on relatively minor immigration violations, including overstaying a tourist visa by nine days and working illegally on a tourist visa, serves as a warning to anyone concerned with civil liberties in the wake of September 11.
"However, after ascertaining almost immediately that they had no involvement, it is just unconscionable that they have been denied bail and the government is deporting them," he said.
The consulate has visited the men twice, said Aharoni, the first time two weeks ago. Consul-General Alon Pinkas plans to visit them Monday.
Gordon said they have continuously requested, and not yet received, kosher food.
Trouble began for Sivan Kurzberg, his brother Paul Kurzberg, Yaron Shmuel, Oded Ellner and Omer Gavriel Marmari, all in their twenties and workers at a New Jersey-based moving company, on September 11 when they were picked up in a during the heightened security sweep following the attacks on New York and Washington.
A series of coincidences brought the police and FBI in hot pursuit of the men, said Gordon. After the two terrorist airplanes hit the World Trade Center, the men went to the rooftop of their workplace, and the rooftop of their moving van, and began taking pictures of the burning buildings, some with themselves in the foreground smiling.
In each location, the men, described in press reports as rugged and Middle Eastern-looking, evoked the ire of neighbors, who called the police to report suspicious activity.
Hours later, the men, who were driving back to their home in Brooklyn, were pulled over based on the description of the van given to police. With their box-cutters and cash seen as hijacker's weapons rather than tools of the moving trade, they were taken to Meadowlands police station, forced to lie down for 1.5 hours in a grassy area, then questioned by the FBI for 12-16 hours. They were not given food for the duration of the interrogation, said Gordon.
After determining the men were not connected to the attacks, they were turned over to INS custody and detained on immigration violations. A new round of interrogations began after the FBI developed their film, which, according to their lawyer, showed them posing on the rooftop and van as the World Trade Center collapsed behind them.
All five were held in solitary confinement until last week.
When asked if they had complained of being mistreated, Aharoni said, "All the reports that we received said they're in a maximum security facility. How well can you be treated in such a facility?"