The three Israeli filmmakers arrested by the Department of State Services (DSS), Rochman Rudy, Noam Leibman and French-Israeli journalist, David Benaym have narrated the torture they experienced while in detention.
They disclosed their experiences in a short video clip tagged ‘Caged: 20 days captive in Nigeria’ as they alleged inhumane treatment by operatives of Nigeria’s secret police.
We Were Caged Like Animals By Nigeria’s Department Of State Services For 20 Days — Israeli Filmmakers Recount Experiences In Video Clip
The trio, who were arrested on allegations that they supported the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), said they made the video to explain their purpose in Nigeria.
They were arrested at Ogidi village, Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State while shooting a documentary titled, “We Were Never Lost”, which explores Jewish communities in African countries such as Kenya, Madagascar, Uganda, and Nigeria.
“The ‘we were never lost’ documentary series is a series that is set to tell the stories, struggles and aspirations of lesser-known or disconnected Jews in the world.
“Our first season is to take place in Africa we were in Nigeria to film our first episode and unfortunately after two days, we were illegally held by the Nigerian government security service and we were in cages for three weeks. We’re here to set the records straight of what we went through and what actually happened.
“First, you may need a bit of context to understand who the Igbos are and why we went to Nigeria in the first place. The Igbo people are people with a rich history, diversity and a lot of cultures and have other similar experiences that other Jewish communities have around the world.
“Whether it is through persecution or overcoming challenges, they are believed to be descendants of the tribe of Israel specifically of Gad. There is a large community within the Igbo population that has either preserved elements of their Jewish culture, their Jewish heritage or has come back to their Jewish culture or heritage and some of them have their second generation born and all they know is being Jewish and we were coming to Nigeria to document specifically their stories, where they have come from, their experience, their history, aspirations, culture, do they want to remain in Nigeria? Do they want to come back to Israel?”
They shared a video of some Igbo Jews celebrating the Torah of Hashem.
“Starting from the beginning, we arrived in Nigeria and spent the two days filming in a village called Ogidi, an amazing community that welcomed us with open arms, cooked us food and introduced us to their way of living their Jewish life, the way they were praying every single morning.
“Even though we had only two days, we got to experience how charismatic, intelligent and hard-working and knowledgeable in Torah this community is.
”At the end of our second video filming, we were notified that a video was going viral that they used images of us and we can see that they had completely fabricated the stories calling us MASSAD agents, associating us with a movement that is seeking to liberate Biafra and fight against the Nigerian government which of course we had nothing to do with.
“These bloggers had seen we were bringing Sefer Torah as a gift to the community and preceded to make a fake claim assuming we were connected to the separatist movement and that when the Torah arrives, it is a sign of the movement. This claim doesn’t even make sense because there are already several Sefer Torah’s throughout the region.
“The DSS decided to get involved. The DSS is the interior defence of Nigeria. They came to our hotel on Friday morning with about 10 heavily armed men in black ski masks and told us we had to come with them, they took our phones, our passports and they took our freedom for the following 20 days.
“Of course, we were coming in with no bad intentions and we were innocent the entire time. We didn’t think much of it. We thought we would be there for about an hour, questions which showed them what we are about and what we were planning to do and we’d be able to continue with our project.
“Eventually, they took us one on one and started interrogating us in ways that they were just accusing us, we had nothing to hide so we told them the truth and we told them our project had nothing to do with separatist movements.
“It’s Friday night and we have realised at this point that we will not be able to get out and do Shabbath and everyone’s sleeping at the weekend so we did the Kiddush over a grape that we found and the multi over some crackers that we had and this is how we spent our first Shabbath in Nigeria.
“We know we have embassies of three very powerful countries willing to fight for us but this is not the case for Nigerians who were arrested.”
Creative director, Kavana Films, Leibman said, ”There was a non-Igbo man initially taken into custody with us and when he asked them not to yell at us, the interrogators threatened him by saying, ‘I can make you disappear’. This is the kind of abuse of power we witnessed first-hand and the realisation that there is no accountability for the injustice.”
Benaym added, “24 hours later, about 7 am after sleeping on the floor, we were pushed into a van, they did not want to tell us where we would be, they just said ‘get in the car’, they drove at a very fast, almost trying to intimidate people by driving in their directions to make them afraid. A lot of them were afraid for their lives. We had no clue if the world knew that we were taken. We could not communicate with anyone.”
Leibman said, “After nine hours of non-stop dangerous driving, we were taken to their quarters in Abuja to a cage holding cell.”
Rudy added: ”When we say cage, we mean, literally a cage, it was a circular room that you can take three, four steps in each direction.”
Leibman continued, “And then we asked our captors, are we under arrest, they said no. Are we being detained, they said no so we said we refuse to willingly enter the cage. For about 20 minutes they were stood around not knowing what to do because they had no authority to put their hands on us. Eventually, a senior officer comes in screaming that they were embarrassing him and orders them to physically throw us in the cage.”
They continued, “First five nights, we didn’t have a seat, it was dark, hot, no furniture, no beds, we were forced to sleep on the tiled floor, we were sweating, there were bugs, urine. The cage looked like what you could imagine in Hollywood movies.
”In the morning, when the sunlight illuminated the room, we saw writings all over the room from previous prisoners, the words written there were, ‘Dear God, allow me to experience happiness one more time in my life’. And another one saying, ‘Please remember me when I disappear’.
“We could see writings on the walls of the people that were counting the days. There were days we didn’t shower, we were eating only bread and crackers, they basically treated us like animals. We became the story and that was absolutely not the intention.
“We didn’t know anything going on in the world, we didn’t have any means of communication. We didn’t understand why we were there.
”Finally, after five days there, the Israeli Embassy Ambassador came and one of the Consulate from the American Embassy.
“We were able to know that the outside world understood what our situation was, they told us they were doing everything that they could to get us out of there. They managed to speak with the people keeping us, the DSS officials and agreed to bring food from Chabad, a Jewish organisation; that was the first time we had a real meal.
“And we were finally allowed to shower and when I say shower, we go into a bathroom with the bucket that they used to either clean themselves because there was no tissue paper or to actually clean the bathroom itself by pouring it on the floor and taking this bucket, we will fill it up with cold water from the sink and dump it on our heads and that is how we showered there for the three weeks that we were being held.”
Benaym revealed, “I take medications daily and if I don’t, my life could be in immediate danger, especially in the kind of situations we were being held in. Medications, all of our equipment and luggage were left in the hotel 900 km away and days without my medication could be extremely dangerous and we kept on telling them that it was essential that I got my medication and they wouldn’t listen.”
His colleague said, “The DSS doctor scribbled down the name of the medication and told us, ‘don’t worry, we will find some’ and we were explaining to him that it is a unique prescription customised for him and it is very expensive, you will not find it in Nigeria, if you don’t take this seriously, you are going to have the death of a foreign citizen on your hands and the response was ‘calm down, don’t worry’.
”He was very afraid that he might catch something so he was taken by the French Embassy and he was also hospitalised and finally able to get his medications.”
”I was sent back every single morning for days to get questioned. The fact that I had to go back inside knowing the way we were treated over there,” Benaym said.
Rudy said, “Me and Noab continued in the room and after that we were sent to another cage that was slightly bigger but we had another two cellmates with us, they were accused of doing a terror attack in Abuja, bombing in 2014 and purchasing weapons illegally.
“We don’t know these people, they could try to harm us, they could try to do something so the first week, we even walked around carrying scissors, we put it in our pockets to make sure that in case one of them or both of them were to attack us, at least we had something.
”This is kind of like the day to day life they went through, we didn’t know anything going on in the world, we didn’t have any means of communication, we didn’t understand why we were there, several times we asked each other how did we got there, accused of some things, not even charged or arrested so we don’t even have human rights lawyers in horrendous conditions.”
Leibman said, ”We knew that Nigeria’s own laws states that when someone is brought in as a suspect, the DSS has 48 hours to release them. They interviewed us for hours on end. Took written and video recording statements, hacked our phones, did literally everything they could to try to find one shred of evidence they could use against us for an arrest.
”Before the trip, we understood that the government is not friendly to the Biafra Movement but we couldn’t imagine how they were unable to differentiate between those who were involved in the IPOB separatist movement and Igbos who just want to live a thorough-based Jewish Igbo lifestyle. In the end, we didn’t receive our freedom for three weeks.
”Almost the entirety of this time, we sit in a blank room doing nothing, no form of mental stimulation, no reading material, no news, nothing other than being trapped and disgusted in a room not knowing when this would end. We didn’t know if people were actually fighting for us, we didn’t know if we would get a lawyer if something would happen to us. We lived in a fear of the unknown.”
Benaym added: “I’m a journalist and one of the most important rule is ‘never become the story’ here we became the story and that was absolutely not our intention.”
Leibman noted, ”We were not able to make the film we set out to create; the opportunity was robbed from us and we will never be allowed into Nigeria but if you know anything about the Jewish people, we are not ones to give up on our aspirations, this has only increased our motivations to share the stories of the Igbos and our project will continue.”