LAST WEEK, Seattle activist Trevor Baumgartner was near death because of a two-week-old hunger strike while in Israeli Army custody (see "Will He Survive?" May 16).
Friday night, he came home. A cluster of jubilant supporters met Baumgartner late last Friday evening at Sea-Tac as he deplaned under his own power after a lengthy trans-Atlantic journey. Israel officially deported him and other American activists working with the International Solidarity Movement. The activists had been part of a group of 23 people detained by the Israeli Army earlier this month for their role in breaking a tight security cordon to deliver food and medical supplies to besieged Palestinians in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.
Baumgartner and four other Americans were never charged or even officially arrested. They began a hunger strike on May 3 to protest their detention. "The issue was that he shouldn't have been [detained], that he was not breaking any law, that he was in what was supposed to be Palestinian autonomous territory in the first place," says Ed Mast of Seattle's Palestine Solidarity Committee. "He was bringing food and water to a church and was prevented from doing that. We don't understand [Israel's] tactics—why they didn't simply put him on an airplane." Instead, Baumgartner was prevented from contacting a lawyer for nine days.
Eventually, Baumgartner's captors moved him to Masiyahu prison. At one point, held largely incommunicado, he and other hunger strikers went six days without water, coming close to death before agreeing to resume drinking.
"It ended up being such an incredible mobilizing tool for people in Seattle," says Emily Reilly, Baumgartner's friend and a local activist. Reilly credits the hunger strike with helping to bring local attention to the Palestinians' plight. "The added pressure of 'Oh my God, my friend isn't eating' lit a fire under people that wouldn't have been lit otherwise."
For a week, negotiations over the terms of his expulsion dragged on; finally, on Friday, he was on a plane home and eating again. But at press time, three remaining American activists on hunger strikes—including Nathan Mauger from Spokane—were still half a world away in Israeli custody.