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Richmond Man Beaten, Jailed in Israel, Wife Says

Demonstrators rally in San Francisco on May 31, 2010
Demonstrators rally in San Francisco on May 31, 2010
Paul Larudee was one of 5 Bay Area residents aboard Gaza-bound flotilla

A Richmond man aboard the Gaza-bound flotilla was beaten and remains imprisoned in the Israeli city of Ramle while other activists are being deported, according to his wife.

Paul Larudee, 64, a piano tuner and activist, refuses to sign deportation orders, according to his wife, Betty Larudee. He resisted arrest before being beaten and shot with a Taser gun by members of the Israeli Defense Forces, Betty Larudee said. His injuries include sore joints, a black eye, irritated skin and "bruises all over his body," she said. 

Betty Larudee said she received this information from Andrew Parker, U.S. consul general in Tel Aviv, and two Tel Aviv lawyers retained by Larudee, in phone conversations and emails over the past several days. According to an email from the consulate late Tuesday night, Larudee was among those listed for deportation. But in an email Wednesday morning, one of the lawyers said he was not traveling to the airport with other detainees, who are being deported Wednesday.

"It's unbelievable," Betty Larudee said on Wednesday morning. "I'm really, really concerned."

Paul Larudee initially refused treatment at an Israeli hospital and remains detained in Givon Prison in the city of Ramle, where he has agreed to treatment for his injuries and a pre-existing diabetic condition, she said in an interview Wednesday morning.

Akiva Tor, Israel's consul general to the Pacific Northwest, confirmed that Paul Larudee was being held in Ramle in a facility with medical facilities. He is one of five Bay Area residents who boarded ships bound for Gaza Monday. The four other local activists – Gene St. Onge, an engineer from Oakland; Iara Lee, a filmmaker and activist who owns a business in San Francisco; Kathy Sheets, a nurse from Marin County; and Janet Kobren, a retired teacher from Oakland – are safe, and in the process of being deported, according to Tor.

Tor said in an interview Wednesday morning that his office initially had trouble locating Larudee because he had changed his last name to Wilder, his mother's maiden name. Betty Larudee said her husband, a founder of the Free Palestine Movement with other activism ties including the International Solidarity Movement, legally changed his name because he knew that the Israelis would refuse to allow him entrance into Gaza because of his activism. Tor said he believed Larudee's injuries were "not serious" and that he had hear reports that he was "interested in returning to his family as soon as possible." 

But Betty Larudee said Wednesday her husband will likely take his case to the courts.

"Paul wants to do what he wants to do," Betty Larudee said from her El Cerrito home. "He's completely committed. He's going to show people that he is in solidarity with them."

Larudee was imprisoned along with the captain of the Greek ship Sfendoni, a 44-passenger vessel that was reportedly carrying several Bay Area activists affiliated with the Free Palestine Movement, according to Betty Larudee. The ship was the scene of some violence in a raid of the six-ship flotilla, which resulted in the deaths of at least nine, and dozens of injuries.

Paul and Betty Larudee of El Cerrito
Courtesy photo
Paul and Betty Larudee of El Cerrito
Courtesy photo

Israeli Defense Forces naval commandos boarded the ship Monday about 70 miles offshore. The six-ship flotilla was attempting to pass an Israeli blockade that has been on the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip for years, to deliver more than 10,000 tons of supplies to the region, according to activists. The U.N. Security Council has condemned "the acts which resulted in" the raid and called for an impartial investigation of the melee, which took place in international waters.

The Israeli government has said that about 50 of the approximately 700 activists detained would be held for further investigation, but it will release most of the others within the next two days. In the meantime, the Bay Area activists are being kept in a facility in Beersheba equipped with showers, separate rooms and meals, Tor said.

But Paul Larudee refused to sign deportation papers and is being held in jail, his wife was told. She said he plans to stay in Israel and fight his case in the courts.

"He has two lawyers in Tel Aviv," Betty Larudee said.

That's no coincidence. This isn't the first time Paul Larudee has refused to cooperate with deportation orders in Israel. In 2006, he was detained at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv while attempting to enter Israel, and was eventually deported. Larudee, who met his wife in her native Lebanon while studying for his master's in linguistics in 1969, is well-traveled in the Middle East and has a long history of activism in the area, according to his wife.

Jan St. Onge, who said she heard from the State Department yesterday in a tearful phone call that her husband should be home soon, said she last saw her husband and Larudee in Athens. She ultimately decided not to board the Gaza-bound ship, and left her husband with an admonition.

"I said, 'I don't want any heroics from you,'" St. Onge said.

Gene St. Onge reportedly suffered a scrape on his head during altercations between the Israeli naval commandos and the activists, when five shots were fired. His wife said the past two days have been filled with "the most frustrating" attempts to "piece things together."

"I don't know where they're being detained, if they were separated," she said. "I love Paul. I'm so worried."

Larudee, whom fellow activist Betty Baggett calls "very soft-spoken, very nice," is not the type to start a fight, according to his wife. But he is committed to his beliefs on a level beyond most, Betty Larudee said.

"People from the [International Solidarity Movement] go as human shields, they stand in front of tanks, of barrages," she said. "He wants to show he will be a humanitarian, he will be a pacifist, he will take a beating for Palestinian freedom."

Correction: An earlier version of this story identified Paul Larudee as an El Cerrito resident.

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