The (Not So) Strange Case of Ameer Makhoul: Israel’s crackdown on internal dissent

Ameer Makhoul - Framed Up political prisoner of the Apartheid Israeli state

Ameer Makhoul - Framed Up political prisoner of the Apartheid Israeli state

The (Not So) Strange Case of Ameer Makhoul: Israel’s crackdown on internal dissent
Unity, 1st March 2011

A few weeks ago Unity carried a short report about an “Arab Israeli rights activist [sentenced] to nine years for spying for Lebanese Islamist resistance group Hezbollah”. This man, Ameer Makhoul, will now call an Israeli prison cell his home for the best part of a decade. However, his “crime” was not spying for Hezbollah; indeed the charges are utterly bogus and a confession was only obtained after 12 days of torture. His true crime is that Ameer was Director of Ittijah, an umbrella group of NGOs active on behalf of Palestinian citizens of Israel. [1]

Ameer himself was extremely outspoken during the ‘Operation Cast Lead’ attack on Gaza that left over 1,400 Palestinians dead. He was summoned by Israel’s secret police who accused him of incitement and told him that they would “tailor a file for [his] disappearance and prolonged separation from his family” unless he desisted. Ameer continued his entirely legal activities and thus it was that, in the dead of night, on 6th May 2010 he was abducted from his home by 16 armed state officials on front of his wife and children. He was then held for 12 days without access to a lawyer, independent doctor or family members. It was during this period that he “confessed” to the charges after being subject to, in the words of Frontline Defenders, “sleep deprivation and constant interrogation while being tightly shackled to an undersized chair in such a way as to cause him excruciating pain”. All the while, Ameer’s arrest was the subject of a media gag-order preventing any reporting on his case, until a number of bloggers defied the ban.

The “confession” stated that Ameer was recruited by a Hezbollah agent from Jordan named Hassan Jaja – actually an environmental NGO activist with no proven links to Hezbollah [2] – and that he installed a communications device on his computer that enabled him to send secret messages to Hezbollah. According to an observer at Ameer’s trial, the state’s computer expert “confirmed in court that he found no incriminating evidence against Ameer [and] no positive evidence against Ameer was found in all the over ten desktop and mobile computers taken from Ameer’s home and office”. Furthermore, the information Ameer was alleged to have passed on was already in the public domain.

Of course Ameer chose a plea bargain that saw the most serious charge, “conspiring to assisting an enemy in a time of war”, dropped: if convicted of this e would have faced life in prison instead of 9 years. Given the systematic bias against Palestinians in the Israeli legal system it is hardly surprising – or an indication of guilt – that Ameer would opt for the lesser of two evils. Ameer’s family maintain his innocence, and Ameer has vowed to continue his activism upon his eventual release.

Even Amnesty International has criticized the Israeli state over Ameer’s treatment, saying his jailing is “a very disturbing development” and that they fear that his “human rights activism on behalf of Palestinians in Israel and those living under Israeli occupation … may be the underlying reason for his imprisonment”.

However, while Ameer’s case is important as a single incident of miscarriage of justice, it is also hugely significant as part of an overall trend of state and state-tolerated crackdowns on ‘dissident’ – that is to say non-rabidly Zionist – NGOs and activists within Israel. There is a clear targeting of Palestinian community leaders; Ameer’s colleague Dr. Omar Saeed was jailed for seven months on similar charges; Azmi Bishara, a leader of the Balad Party is in de facto exile, again facing charges of “aiding the enemy”; Hadash chairman and member of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) Mohammad Barakeh was indicted on “assault” charges; Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, was jailed for five months for spitting at a policeman; Balad Party MK Haneen Zoabi – the first Palestinian woman elected to the Knesset – has faced vicious attacks and death threats for taking part in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla last year.

These are only examples of what is happening to Palestinian citizens of Israel in visible leadership positions. At the same time, progressive organisations and grassroots Israeli activists – both Palestinian and Jewish – have become targets of what has been called the most rightwing Israeli society and polity since the foundation of the state. Anti-occupation activists are regularly arrested and/or beaten, activists have been receiving threatening phone calls from the secret police, the Israeli state is moving to criminalise supporters of the boycott campaign, and the Knesset is now “investigating” the funding sources of human rights movements in a move described as “McCarthyite”.

According to a report in the Israeli Haaretz newspaper: “The Shin Bet [secret police] believes it is within its charter to carry out surveillance operations, such as phone taps, on individuals deemed as ‘conducting subversive activity against the Jewish identity of the state,’ even if their actions are not in violation of the law.” Meanwhile, a B’Tselem human rights report found that in the Petah Tikva detention centre “the ill treatment of Palestinians included cruel detention conditions in cells, isolation, disgraceful hygienic conditions, continuous cuffing of detainees hands, sleep deprivation, and physical and mental abuse”. There have been 645 complaints filed by detainees over their treatment in the facility, but not one has led to an investigation, let alone prosecution.

The Communist Party of Israel has warned that Israel “stands at a critical crossroads” and is “slipping further and further down the slope towards outright Fascism“. While I don’t necessarily wholly agree with this perspective, there is no doubt that life for progressive activists within Israel is becoming increasingly difficult, and we should take the Israeli CP’s warning seriously.

Notes:

1.       Even the term “Israeli Arab” is a Zionist construct used to deny the national heritage of those Palestinians who managed to escape the ethnic cleansing of what became the State of Israel in 1948.

2.       West Bank human rights activist Jamal Juma’ was also convicted for meeting with this same man.

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