Monday, May 10, 2010

Ameer Makhoul, What Little we Know

The gag order was lifted (it wasn't in place very long anyway, this time), and we now know that the police say they're investigating suspicions that Ameer Makhoul and Dr. Omar Said, two Israeli citizens, have been spying for Hezbollah.

Since the gag order gave our enemies a few days in which to spew bile, let's see what to make of this story.

1. There is nothing to say about the specific case. The investigation is underway, and the only people who see the entire picture are the investigators - and they' aren't telling. So of everything you'll be hearing in the next few days about the mens' innocence or guilt or the motives of the authorities in investigating, roughly 100% (give or take) will be hot air, speculation, malice, disinformation and similar unseemly phenomenon. The politicians, the journalists, even the bloggers: none of them know what they're talking about. Which of course won't stop them from talking. They already are (linked above)
Makhoul's brother Assam, a former MK for Hadash, 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 polices" against Israeli Arabs.
2. There is one flimsy indicator about the allegations, and it comes from a lawyer
Hussein Abu Hasin, a lawyer who has handled several cases of spying charges, told Haaretz that espionage laws in Israel were so wide-ranging that an internet chat or telephone conversation with anyone in an 'enemy state' could lead to prosecution.
I don't know if this fellow has any information or not, but his line of defense is interesting: not that the suspects didn't do anything, but rather that they did but the law is pernicious. Well, yes: but it's still the law, and most people manage to live their lives without breaking it.

3. Since we don't know about this case, are there any precedents to inform us? Yes. Israel is a country at war, and its enemies try to collect information about it, and over the years there have been quite a number of Israeli citizens who helped them do so. These have included career officers (Jews and Arabs), scientists spying for the USSR, a Jewish officer who spied for the Syrians, a fellow who spied for Iran, and various others who spied for Hamas and Hezbollah. This is no indicator of the present case, but it does disprove the knee-jerk responses about how if an Arab has been arrested it must be ethnic persecution and a threat to democracy.

4. The Shabak, the police and anyone else involved in these investigations have a proven record of mostly doing their job well. Countless Israelis owe their lives to their proven ability to thwart conspiracies to harm people. That doesn't prove they've got it right in this case, but it does tell us something about anyone using the "If it's the Shin Bet they must be evil" line. Coming from people who live far away this line is ridiculous. Coming from people who live here, it's also ungrateful.

5. This morning we were repeatedly told that this evening there would be a mass demonstration against the gag order and the anti-Arab machinations of the Israelis. (See the Haaretz article above). Well, no. When the time came, there were all of 300 demonstrators (the demonstration was on Zionism Boulevard in Haifa). I'm not certain what this means, such a small demonstration, but it could be an indication that: a. Once the story was out, many Palestinian Israelis decided the story might have enough truth to it to limit their anger and need to demonstrate; b. Perhaps the "Israeli Arab street" isn't as radical as its representatives and the media wish us to believe; C. Haaretz got it wrong (again), and the demonstration was never going to be large.

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