Why Is Pnina Feiler, 93, Prevented From Seeing Her Son?

Dror Feiler, now a Swedish citizen, can't visit his mother in Israel because of his participation in Gaza-bound flotillas.

Pnina Feiler at home in Yad Hanna. She can no longer travel to Sweden as she used to.
Nir Keidar

“Just as long as you don’t make a telenovela out of it,” said Pnina Feiler. This was her way to give an affirmative answer to my request to write about renewed attempts to allow her son Dror to visit her in Israel. Maybe to see him for the last time.

She is as clear and sharp as ever, as the telephone conversation demonstrated. But without going into details, 93 is an age in which some health complications tend to arise.

She walks with growing difficulty, and she has a hard time moving her fingers. A foreign caregiver lives with her in her small kibbutz apartment.

Feiler is a nurse by profession, and possibly the best proof of the worsening of her condition is that over a year ago she stopped joining Physicians for Human Rights, a nonprofit organization, in its regular volunteer work of medical treatment and consultations in Palestinian villages in the West Bank.

“I don’t see any point in existing without activism,” she summed up her mood.

In a visit to her home, at Yad Hanna, once a kibbutz but no longer so, she told me in advance she was skeptical. The present attempt to request an entry permit for her son, a Swedish citizen, despite the four deportation orders from Israel issued against him, in her opinion, seems destined to end the same as have previous attempts.

In other words, she expects another refusal by the Interior Ministry, or another judge who will rule against the petition to issue a permit, as Judge Yoram Noam of the Jerusalem District Court, in its role as the Administrative Law Court, ruled on July 1, 2014.

Because she cannot trek all the way to the Interior Ministry branch in Netanya, she asked in August for permission to request a visa for her son through the website of the ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority. Her request was refused with the explanation that the regulations require her presence in the office.

Her lawyer, Gaby Lasky, who represented her in her previous requests and petitions, too, is considering what steps to take next.

Four restraining orders were issued against Dror Feiler, 65, a musician and social activist, because he had participated in four flotillas to the Gaza Strip. All were intercepted by Israeli soldiers in international waters, not in Israel’s territorial waters.

Feiler and other activists have strongly rejected Israeli claims that they wanted to enter the country illegally. Their destination was Gaza, and it was the Israeli Navy which brought them to Israel against their will, they say.

These flotillas and others, such as the women’s flotilla intercepted last Thursday, sought to protest the inhumanity of imprisoning almost two million people inside a narrow strip of land.

The first flotilla in which Feiler participated was intercepted on May 31, 2010, and is remembered quite well because Israeli naval commandoes who commandeered it ran into resistance (not with firearms), and killed nine Turkish citizens.

Feiler was on a different vessel than the Mavi Marmara, where the violence occurred. There were no injuries on the ship he was on.

After that, another yacht to Gaza was intercepted on July 19, 2011, and its foreign activists, including Feiler, were detained and deported.

(Full disclosure: I too was on that boat, as a reporter for Haaretz. On board Dror and I together sang songs in Hebrew on sailing and sailors).

In October 2012 and July 2015, two more ships were intercepted and Feiler was on both. And again, detention, deportation orders and being put on a plane out of Israel (over 40 years ago, when he settled in Sweden, he was required to give up his Israeli citizenship because at the time Sweden did not allow dual citizenship).

Pnina Feiler can no longer travel to Sweden, as she did in the past, and meet her son there. The last time she traveled there was in 2013.

She cannot do what the Interior Ministry recommended to her either: To meet her son in Egypt or Jordan, which are possible to reach by car.

“Maybe now, when your medical condition has worsened, the authorities and judges will change their position?” I asked her.

She shrugged her shoulders, doubtful as ever. I continued to hope: “Maybe, after Israel paid compensation to Turkey for killing its citizens, the attitude towards Dror will change? Maybe now, before and after Yom Kippur, the authorities will recognize the right of an elderly mother to see her son, possibly for the last time.”

She shot a forgiving look at me, as if I were a naive young girl.

And so we had time left to chat. She remembered demonstrations against administrative detention orders during the British Mandate period.

From there we moved on to her work as a nurse during the war in 1948. “The smells, sights and voices are engraved in me,” she said. The blood that dripped and the white boots of the medical staff wading in the puddles of blood. The singer who sang to the wounded, and the wounded man who was blinded and wept, his fingers playing an imaginary flute.

The disgust at the wars was channeled into activity in the Communist party.

“Of all the horrible things that happen, the ban on seeing my son is nothing,” she said. “It is hard for me, but I put it in proportion, to what is happening to other people: Whose children are being killed, whose homes are being demolished. The sick who do not receive exit permits.

"I’m in an excellent position. I have help, hot water, a home. I look at my situation in the entirety of the tragedies that are happening, to Jewish Israelis and to Palestinians, and cannot complain.”