מורדי ונטלי אוקנין בביתם במודיעין
Natalie and Mordi Oknin speaking to Ynet from their home on Thursday
Photo: Avi Chai
Natalie and Mordi Oknin speaking to Ynet from their home on Thursday

Israeli freed from Turkish prison says she kept sane thanks to 'blessed routine'

Natalie Oknin says she kept a diary during her incarceration to record her thoughts and emotions and keep track of time; couple says shocked at amount of public concern and government efforts to free them

Meir Turgeman |
Updated: 11.18.21, 23:07
The Israeli woman freed from Turkish prison earlier on Thursday having been detained on suspicion of espionage said she managed to keep sane thanks to a "blessed routine".
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  • Natalie and husband Mordi Oknin were arrested last Wednesday after photographing the Istanbul home of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from the city's communication tower.
    4 צפייה בגלריה
    מורדי ונטלי אוקנין בביתם במודיעין
    מורדי ונטלי אוקנין בביתם במודיעין
    Natalie and Mordi Oknin speaking to Ynet from their home on Thursday
    (Photo: Avi Chai)
    The couple, residents of Modi'in, were on vacation in Turkey to celebrate Natalie's birthday. After they were arrested a judge remanded them into custody for an additional 20 days on suspicion that they were spies.
    "I was afraid I would be there for months," Natalie told Ynet. "I was afraid of losing touch with reality, and wondered if I would ever see my children again?"
    The couple were held in separate prisons on either side of the city. Natalie said that at first she did not have even the most basic things.
    "I didn't have a tooth brush. I though what would happen to my teeth if I couldn't brush them for months."
    4 צפייה בגלריה
    הכלא שבו כלואה נטלי אוקנין
    הכלא שבו כלואה נטלי אוקנין
    Turkish women's prison where Natalie Oknin was held on suspicion of spying
    (Photo: Yoav Zitun)
    Her cell was bare. She had no contact with the world outside except for a small window through which she could see planes passing by.
    "I wanted to project myself out there and latch on to the planes," she said.
    Natalie knew there were efforts underway to have her and Mordi released. She heard as much in a brief message from her sister during the couple's appearance in court.
    "I had faith that we would be free," she said. "That is what kept me going.
    4 צפייה בגלריה
    נטלי ומורדי אוקנין הישראלים שצילמו את ארמונו של ארדואן יוצאים מבית המשפט באיסטנבול, טורקיה
    נטלי ומורדי אוקנין הישראלים שצילמו את ארמונו של ארדואן יוצאים מבית המשפט באיסטנבול, טורקיה
    Natalie and Mordi Oknin led from court after being remanded to custody for 20 days, last Friday
    (Photo: Takvim)
    Two things that were not lacking during her incarceration were paper and pens and Natalie kept a diary in which she wrote her thoughts and emotions as well as the timeline of her ordeal.
    "I needed to keep track of time," she said.
    Then finally her cell door opened, and the guard said "home," and indicated with his hands, a plane taking off.
    The couple were taken to the airport. Mordi met briefly with the Israeli Ambassador who told him they were both heading home.
    But the drive was long, and Natalie was afraid that they would just be taken to another prison. The same fears returned when at the airport, police officials struggled with the paperwork and said the final approval to let them go, was not yet received.
    When they finally saw the private jet chartered to fly them to Israel, and two of the Foreign Ministry staffers waiting on the steps to greet them, Natalie finally relaxed.
    "As the door closed, I knew we were OK," she said. The couple were then handed the phone and heard Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tell them they were on their way home."
    "He asked how we were doing," Mordi said, and told us it was over, and everything was going to be fine."
    4 צפייה בגלריה
    בני הזוג אוקנין נוחתים בישראל
    בני הזוג אוקנין נוחתים בישראל
    Natalie and Mordi Oknin as they arrive in Israel early on Thursday
    (Photo: Airport Authority)
    The couple had no idea that their misfortune made such news in Israel. "I was in shock," Natalie said when she learned of the efforts undertaken to secure their release.
    Earlier the couple received a call from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid who had been in constant contact with the Oknin family the entire time the couple was in jail.
    "I am proud that this is my government," Natalie told Bennett and Lapid. "You have restored my faith in the government."
    The couple both work as bus drivers and are keen to resume their posts and meet up with their regular passengers. They said they look forward to returning to their blessed routine and to anonymity.




    First published: 23:06, 11.18.21
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