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  Israeli Persecution of Human Rights Activists

COMMENTARY:

Israeli Persecution of Human Rights Activists

by Stephen Lendman
Friday, 14 May 2010
The arrests come at a time of heightened racism against other Arab citizens. As a result, Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations, working on behalf of political persecution victims, are being targeted for their work.

Ameer Makhoul is an Israeli citizen, human rights activist, and head of the internationally recognized Ittijah NGO, engaged in "strengthen(ing) and empower(ing) the Palestinian people within the Green Line (1.5 million Israeli citizens by) promoting the development of Palestinian civil society and advocating for political change, economic and social development."

He's also chair of the Public Committee for the Defence of Political Freedom within the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee in Israel.

On May 10, Haaretz writers Jack Khoury, Amos Harel and Asshel Pfeffer headlined, "Two Israeli Arabs arrested on suspicion of spying, contact with Hezbollah," saying:

"Reports of the arrests circulated widely on unofficial websites and blogs, but government censors had banned the Israeli press from reporting them until the gag order was lifted late Sunday night," May 9.

Makhoul's brother, Assam, a former Hadash MK, said "the family had no details of the investigation but they suspected authorities had singled out the activist because of his campaigns against the government's 'racist and discriminatory policies' against Israeli Arabs."

He's well known as a regular participant in conferences on the topic and for actively criticizing government policies.

Hussein Abu Hasin, a lawyer familiar with these type cases, told Haaretz that Israeli espionage charges are so vague and wide-ranging that incidental Internet chats or phone conversations with anyone about anything might be used as a pretext to prosecute for communicating with someone in an "enemy state." Hasin called these laws "draconian," and in the case of Makhoul:

"sparked outrage among Arab organizations and rights groups, who claim that (he and other activists are) disappeared from their homes in the middle of the night. (The) courts (are also) at the beck and call of security services, who often bar suspects from visits with lawyers or from obtaining legal counsel."

Earlier on April 24, Israeli security forces arrested Balad party's Omar Saeed while attempting to enter Jordan, at first initiating a gag order to prevent reporting it, the same procedure used against Makhoul. After its lifting, reports were that both men are accused of spying and having contact with foreign Hezbollah agents - one of many bogus charges Israel uses to justify arrests, including against human and political rights activists it wants to silence, what all rogue states do to suppress dissent.

On May 10, a mass Haifa rally, sponsored by Balad and Hadash, was held to protest against "an excalating campaign to crack down on Israel's Palestinian citizens," unreported by New York Times writer Ethan Bronner who merely headlined, "Israel: 2 Israeli Arab Activists Arrested" in an article totaling eight lines naming the men, the charge, initial gag order, and that lawyers "for the men said that Israeli espionage laws were overly broad..."

There was no context, no detail, no explanation of the men's human rights activism, or the real reason for their arrests. America's other major media reported nothing.

On May 6, at 3:10 AM, around 20 Israeli police and security forces arrested Makhoul at his Haifa apartment, ransacked the premises, confiscated his computers, cell phones, various documents and maps, including his daughter's research project. At the same time, his Haifa office was raided and possessions there seized. A Shin Bet warrant said only that "secret information" justified it for "security reasons," the usual Israeli pretext when they use any at all.

On May 12, Amnesty International (AI) responded saying:

"Israel must stop harassment of human rights defender" in calling on its authorities to release Makhoul who's been held in detention, denied access to a lawyer, and charged with having "contact with a foreign agent."

AI's Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa Programme, Philip Luther, called Makhoul:

"a key human rights defender, well-known for his civil society activism on behalf of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. His arrest and continued detention smacks of pure harassment, designed to hinder his human rights work. If this is the case, we would regard him as a prisoner of conscience, (and) call for his immediate and unconditional release."

He added that:

"In the unlikely event that there are genuine grounds to prosecute Ameer Makhoul, he should be charged with recognizable criminal offences and brought promptly to trial in full conformity with international fair trial standards."

After arrest, Makhoul was taken to Petah Tikva interrogation center where a same day hearing authorized a six day detention. It was extended until May 17, and may be indefinitely if authorities wish, by renewals of maximum six month periods on the pretext that prosecutors need time to prepare charges, go to trial, or simply hold detainees administratively.

Secret Shin Bet evidence is commonly used, undisclosed to lawyers, in violation of international law that prohibits doing it arbitrarily, holding detainees for extended periods, or substituting repression for customary criminal proceedings with all evidence disclosed so counsel can prepare a proper defense.

Israel, however, uses criminal and administrative detentions abusively, in violation of international law standards to institutionalize injustice against targeted victims - in this case, two distinguished human rights advocates, perhaps to be imprisoned and silenced.

On April 21, Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, prohibited Makhoul from traveling, saying his leaving the country "poses a serious threat to the security of the state." The next day, he learned of the order en route to Jordan for scheduled meetings with other activists.

In January 2009, Israel's Central Election Committee (CEC) prohibited two of three Arab Knesset parties - United Arab List Ta'al and Balad (Saeed's party) - from participating in the February elections, bogusly claiming they don't recognize the Jewish state and call for armed uprisings against it. Israel's High Court of Justice (HCJ) subsequently overturned it.

Under a newly proposed Knesset bill, however, any organization may be outlawed "if there a reasonable basis to conclude that the organization is providing information to foreign bodies or is involved in lawsuits abroad against senior officials in the government of Israel and/or officers in the Israeli army regarding war crimes."

Other human rights activists and Arab Knesset members are also at risk. Mohammad Barakeh and Said Naffaa had their parliamentary immunity stripped, and face criminal prosecutions.

According to the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the "charge of meeting a foreign agent (is vague and broad enough to criminalize) almost any Arab who establishes legitimate relations with political and social activists in the Arab world." Or perhaps anyone anywhere.

Targeting Political Activists

At any time, Israel holds from 7,000 - 12,000 prisoners, mostly for political, not criminal reasons, and in detention they're treated harshly. They're violently arrested, beaten on the way to detention, interrogated up to six months for as long as 18 hours or longer a day, during which time, torture, abuse, and other degrading treatment is commonplace.

Afterwards, they're either held administratively or charged with one or more bogus offenses, then (unless lawyers arrange plea bargains) tried in military, not civil, courts where international and Israeli laws don't apply. Justice, of course, is impossible, long sentences often imposed against designated "state enemies" - activists or ordinary people asserting their right to be free.

For months, Israeli security forces, politicians, and extremist groups have been targeting human rights groups and activists for supporting the Goldstone Commission report, the damning account of Israel's crimes of war and against humanity during the Gaza war.

Unlike similar accounts, this one touched a nerve, resonating globally enough to shake Israel's security apparatus and leave top government and military officials vulnerable (if they travel) to prosecutions anywhere under Universal Jurisdiction (UJ) authority. The response - vilify Judge Richard Goldstone and silence internal voices of dissent, the last refuge of scoundrels caught red-handed.

"Free Ameer Makhoul & Omar Saeed"

Support for and current information about them can be found on the web. The site headlines, "Israel's repression of its Palestinian citizens unites us in struggle," and has statements following their arrests condemning them, and demanding their immediate release.

On May 12, an Adalah press release headlined, "Court Rejected Appeal against Prohibition on Meeting with Lawyers for Ameer Makhoul and Extended the Detention of Makhoul and Dr. Omar Saeed," explaining that:

The Petah Tikvah Magistrate Court held close door hearings to extend the two men's detentions - for Saeed, another eight days (through May 17) and for Makhoul 12 days (until May 18).

Since Saeed's prohibition on meeting with counsel was lifted, he was represented. However, Makhoul is held incommunicado, prohibited from attending, denied legal help so far, and (like Saeed), faces the prospect of criminal prosecution, orchestrated to convict him.

In a May 10 press release, Adalah said that:

"Dr. Saeed emphasized that he stated during all of his investigation that he has never been recruited to or worked for any organization, defined as a terrorist organization by the State of Israel, and he has never had any contact with such organization. Both (Makhoul and Saeed) are represented by the defense team of Attorney Hussein Abu Hussein, and Adalah Attorneys Orna Kohn and Hassan Jabareen."

The press release explained that Israeli security forces want to "criminalize the public, political, and social activity of Arab citizens," persecuting them in violation of internationally recognized legal standards.

The arrests come at a time of heightened racism against other Arab citizens. As a result, Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations, working on behalf of political persecution victims, are being targeted for their work.

In His Own Words

On May 6, Ameer Makhoul's Electronic Intifada article headlined "Israel's repression of its Palestinian citizens unites us in struggle," saying:

In April, when trying to travel abroad, "Israeli border police prevented me from leaving my country," prohibiting him for two months, subject to renewal. He called it "part of an increased campaign to intimidate and to spread fear among Palestinian civil society. The repression is meant to divide us, but it has had the opposite effect. We Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and the diaspora are only more determined and united to claim our rights and to build a nation where we can live in freedom and have equal rights."

"Since 1948, Israel imposed a policy of control under the guise of security. (However, in) 2007, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin introduced a new policy targeting the whole Palestinian community as a security risk to thwart democratic efforts," including their vision of one "state for all its citizens."

Since then, "Repression has increased dramatically....(Israel) applies a multi-track approach....repress(ing) and persecut(ing) Palestinians while they prohibit foreign solidarity activists, organizations and journalists from visiting the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip." Settler violence and propaganda intensify the effort, while civil society protests are repressed.

"The attacks that are meant to divide us have had the complete opposite effect. Injustice unites us; we are all together in this struggle," with growing people of conscience numbers globally.


Stephen Lendman

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. His blog is sjlendman.blogspot.com.

Listen to Lendman's cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on May 14, 2010.
 

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