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AI: Israel must stop Facebook harassment

[Middle East News Service comments: The arrest of two well-known Palestinian citizens of Israel has been greeted with a larger degree of scepticism than usual by some Jewish Israelis. Journalist and writer Anat Saragusti, an honoured guest of Melbourne’s LimmudOz two years ago, expressed the reasoning on her Facebook page: “How could it be that a witch-hunt of social activists and other figures from the Arab community – a campaign of silencing and arrests -- has been taking place? How could have we let it happen? Each time someone else gets arrested on a different charge, with a different pretext. Sometimes it disturbing the public order, on another occasion it is illegal demonstration. This time it is accusation of espionage. I have no idea what are the specific accusations against Amir Mahoul. But what kind of confidential security information could an Israeli Arab possess? It is patently absurd.” [My quick translation- Sol S]

Evidently Saragusti was referring to a whole series of charges announced as major breakthroughs but which often ended up either being dismissed by the courts or reduced to a former shadow of themselves by the prosecution. Seattle blogger Richard Silverstein provided an additional different reason for scepticism. The gag on the case was only partially lifted but, accidently or otherwise, for a short period Haaretz divulged the name of one of the foreign agents whom the Palestinian Israelis were meant to have met. Silverstein quoted Haaretz: Unofficial sources say Makhoul was in contact with a number of foreign activists, some with links to groups classified by the government as terror organizations. These include a Lebanese citizen, Hassan Geagea, who is married to the daughter of Palestinian writer and historian Akram Zaitar.” The Geagea clan, who are Maronite Christian have been traditionally Israel’s allies and opponents of both Syria and Hezbollah. It is roughly equivalent to an Australian meeting Dick Cheney’s son-in-law and subsequently being accused of consorting with Muslim radicals!

Meeting with foreigners is always fraught with danger for members of Israel Palestinian Arab minority. Ynetnews set out the political minefield that they have to negotiate: A member of Ittijah (the Union of Arab Community-Based Associations) – an umbrella group for Arab NGOs in Israel which Makhoul heads – explained Monday that as part of his job description the writer met with many officials…

“Ittijah holds a list composed by the State of Israel, of which organizations are permitted for contact and which constitute breaking the law,” said Wakim Salame, a member of the organization’s managing committee.

She said it was “absurd”, however, that at times Israel lit upon an organization head whose views were not in line with the state’s, and suddenly changed his status to “hostile”.

“Suddenly, when you meet him at a convention, it becomes a meeting with a foreign agent and espionage. From time to time it changes. Once it was the PLO and then the Popular Front – now it’s a trend to say an agent from Hezbollah,” she said.

Another reason to doubt the bona fide of the charges has been the way in which Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was able to announce within hours (from Tokyo!) that the case against the two Palestinian was very strong indeed. If it were a normal Security Service/Police investigation even the relevant minister would only be privy to some of the information. [Recall the (proper) silence of ministers other than the immigration minister during the Haneef case in Australia.]

The trumped up nature of the charges was sufficient for Amnesty International to raise the alarm – see below

Sol Salbe.

Israel must stop harassment of human rights defender Via Facebook

May 12, 2010

Amnesty International has called on the Israeli authorities to end their harassment of a human rights activist whose week-long detention by the Israeli authorities was extended today.

Ameer Makhoul, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, was arrested in a dawn raid at his home in Haifa, northern Israel, by the Israeli security services and police on 6 May. He has been charged with "contact with a foreign agent" on the basis of “secret evidence”.

"Ameer Makhoul is a key human rights defender, well-known for his civil society activism on behalf of the Palestinian citizens of Israel," said Philip Luther, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme.

"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 call for his immediate and unconditional release.”

Ameer Makhoul has been denied legal advice throughout his detention. The doctor at the prison where he is held has informed his lawyer that he is suffering from pains in his head.

On the morning of his arrest, Ameer Makhoul was taken to Petah Tikva interrogation centre and, at a hearing the same day, his detention was authorized for six days. Today it was extended until 17 May.

According to Ameer's wife, Janan Makhoul, during the raid on their home, security forces confiscated mobile phones, laptops, a camera, and documents.

The same morning, members of the Israeli security forces also raided the office of the association Ittijah in Haifa, where Ameer Makhoul works.

Ameer Makhoul had already been banned from travelling for two months on 21 April by the Israeli Minister of the Interior Eli Yishai, who said at the time that Ameer Makhoul’s exit from the country “poses a serious threat to the security of the state”.

Ameer Makhoul was only made aware of the ban when he attempted to leave Israel on 22 April, where he was scheduled to begin a series of meetings with civil society activists in Jordan.

When Amnesty International spoke to Ameer Makhoul in late April he expressed his concern that the travel ban was part of a broader pattern of state repression against the peaceful political activities of Palestinian citizens of Israel, justified under "security concerns".

In January 2009, the Israeli Central Election Committee banned the National Democratic Assembly (NDA), a party which currently holds three seats in the Israeli parliament and calls for Israel to be "a state for all its citizens", and the United Arab List, which has four parliamentary representatives, from standing in Israel’s general elections under the claim that the parties supported terrorism and "did not recognize Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic state".

The Committee’s ban on the two parties was subsequently overturned by the Israeli High Court.

On 24 April, Omar Said, an activist with the NDA was detained by the Israeli authorities.

Initially a gagging order was imposed on the Israeli press to prevent reporting of Ameer Makhoul’s and Omar Said’s detentions.

The lifting of the order led to reports in the Israeli media on Monday that the arrests of both men related to accusations of spying and contact with a foreign agent from Lebanese group Hizbullah.

Ameer Makhoul has been the General Director of Ittijah, which works on behalf of the Palestinian community in Israel, since its foundation in 1995.

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

"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," said Philip Luther.



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