by Jonathan Cook in Nazareth
A leading human rights activist
from Israel’s Palestinian Arab minority was charged yesterday with the
most serious security offences on Israel’s statute book, including
Prosecutors indicted Ameer
Makhoul, the head of Ittijah, an umbrella organisation for Arab human
rights groups in Israel, with spying on security facilities on behalf of
Hizbollah after an alleged meeting with one of its agents in Denmark in
Mr Makhoul, who had been held
incommunicado by Israel’s secret police, the Shin Bet, for much of the
time since his arrest three weeks ago, appeared in court and pleaded not
guilty. In his first public statement, he told the court: “The Shin Bet
controls the Israeli justice system.”
As a gag order was lifted on the
case, his lawyers said Mr Makhoul had been tortured during his
detention, including being told by interrogators that they would leave
him “disabled”. The three lawyers said he had been forced to make a
false confession, which they would argue was inadmissible.
Mr Makhoul’s arrest had angered
many in Israel’s Palestinian minority, nearly a fifth of the population,
who suspect he is being persecuted for his leading role in promoting
internationally the boycott movement against Israel and his prominent
opposition to Israel’s attack on Gaza nearly 18 months ago.
He has been backed by human
rights groups abroad, including Amnesty International, which declared
him a prisoner of conscience and accused Israel of “pure harassment”.
Mr Makhoul’s brother, Issam, a
former MP for a joint Jewish-Arab party, told Israel Radio yesterday
that Mr Makhoul had been threatened by the Shin Bet back in January
2009, shortly after he organised protests against the Gaza attack. The
Shin Bet had told him that they would frame him and “make him
disappear”, Issam Makhoul said.
Mr Makhoul’s wife, Janan, who
saw her husband in court for the first time since he had been arrested,
said he was in constant pain and had impaired vision. She added: “He is
very exhausted and he told me about the torture he underwent in his
interrogation. Thirty-six hours without sleep tied to a chair stuck to
Known and very popular cialis coupon which gives all the chance to receive a discount for a preparation which has to be available and exactly cialis coupons has been found in the distant room of this big house about which wood-grouses in the houses tell.
Mr Makhoul, 52, is charged with
assistance to the enemy in a time of war, conspiracy to assist an enemy,
aggravated espionage and contact with a foreign agent. According to the
indictment, he passed on “strategic intelligence” to Hizbollah agents
on at least 10 occasions via encrypted e-mails.
The militant Lebanese group is
said to have used Mr Makhoul, whose organisation is based in the
northern city of Haifa, to provide information on security installations
in the north.
Mr Makhoul is alleged to have
provided details of the locations of two Shin Bet facilities, a Mossad
office, a military base and a Rafael armaments factory, as well as
trying unsuccessfully to gather information on the security arrangements
of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, and Ehud Barak, the defence
A senior Shin Bet officer told
the liberal Haaretz newspaper: “Part of the information that Makhoul
transferred could be delivered by anyone with a pair of eyes and Google
Earth [a computer program providing satellite images]. But Makhoul, as
an Israeli Arab, has freedom of movement and access across Israel.”
Prosecutors also accused him of
passing on the names of six Israelis as potential spies and providing
analysis of trends in Israeli politics and society.
suggested, was especially keen to learn about its success in hitting
Israeli security installations with rockets during its military
confrontation with Israel in 2006.
In a related case, Omar Said,
50, a pharmacologist and political activist, was charged yesterday in a
Nazareth court with contacting and transferring information to Hizbollah
after meeting an agent in the Sinai resort of Sharm El Sheikh. He
denied the allegations and said he too had been forced into making a
Hassan Jaja, a Lebanese
businessman living in Jordan, is alleged to have initiated contacts
between Hizbollah and Mr Said and Mr Makhoul.
The Adalah legal centre, which
represents Mr Makhoul, said his indictment was based on a confession
extracted during nearly two weeks in which he was denied a lawyer, kept
in a small isolation cell, deprived of sleep and food, and shackled in a
painful position to a small chair.
The combination of methods,
known in Hebrew as the “Shabeh”, created high levels of mental stress
and acute, continuous physical pain, said Abir Baker, a lawyer with
Adalah. The interrogation method violates international law and was
banned by Israel’s supreme court in 1999.
Hasan Jabareen, head of Adalah,
said that, when Mr Makhoul complained of serious pain, the interrogators
tied him even tighter, threatening that he would be “left disabled”.
Issam Makhoul said the family
was concerned that the court had denied his lawyers the right to see a
medical report from a state physician who visited him twice during his
Ms Baker said recent amendments
to Israel’s security laws had given the Shin Bet “dangerous powers” to
deny suspects the right to see a lawyer for up to 21 days, with limited
Such powers were being used
almost exclusively against Palestinian citizens held in detention, she
said, though the state had refused to provide figures on how frequently
the law was being employed.
She said, during periods when
suspects could not see a lawyer, interrogators were more likely to use
illegal torture methods.
A report by the Abu Dhabi-based
National newspaper in January 2009 supports Issam Makhoul’s claim that
his brother was threatened in an earlier Shin Bet interrogation. Mr
Makhoul told the paper at the time that a Shin Bet officer “called me a
rebel threatening the security of the state during time of war and said
he would be happy to transfer me to Gaza”.
Mr Makhoul’s case, said Mohammed
Zeidan, head of the Human Rights Association in Nazareth, had left
everyone in Israel’s human rights community “afraid”. “The Shin Bet
wanted to take him out of the game and they have succeeded,” he said.
“Ameer has been disappeared.”
Mr Zeidan added that the case
had strong echoes of what he called recent “unwarranted legal assaults”
by the Shin Bet on two other Palestinian leaders in Israel.
Sheikh Raed Salah, of the
popular Islamic Movement, was arrested in 2003 and spent two years in
jail awaiting trial on charges of assisting a terror organisation before
he was released in a plea bargain in which he admtted only financial
Since 2007 Azmi Bishara, the
leader of the Balad party, has been in exile after he was accused of
espionage while out of the country. Critics say the Shin Bet effectively
silenced him without having to produce evidence.
“It has become clear over the
past few years that this could happen to any of us,” he said.
On Wednesday, in a related
development, the parliament passed the first reading of a “loyalty
bill”, introduced by the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, that would
strip anyone found guilty of espionage of their citizenship.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and
journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and
the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle
East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments
in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.