Israel must stop harassment of human rights defenderBlack and white, cut and dried, no nuance or ambiguity. Israel must desist from the harassment it's engaging in.
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.Ditto. Israel is doing it, and must desist.
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”.The form the harassment is taking is in the parenthesis. Their content doesn't express truth, or even potential truth, merely a form of mockery of a judicial process.
"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.”We know him. He's of our club, a human rights defender. People like us are expected to be harassed, and secret evidence about espionage is standard harassment. Do note, however, that Mr Luther (what a delicious name for a potential antisemite) is less certain of himself than the anonymous writer of the communique. True, the detention smacks of pure harassment, a form which is worse than impure harassment, and we'll regard him as a prisoner of conscience - but only if we're certain the allegations are true. Mr Luther isn't totally sure, he's hedging his bets, obfuscating. He's convinced enough t0 broadcast censure of Israel, but not enough to stand behind the allegation.
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.He saw a judge the morning of his arrest, and again six days later (the day before the AI communique). He also saw a doctor, and no-one is alleging that he's not receiving treatment for his head pains. He has yet to have time with his lawyer, but that's the law of his country. Similar laws exist in other democracies, perhaps even in the UK though I haven't checked.
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.The man is suspected of having contact with foreign agents, perhaps even agents of countries which are at war with his own. Mobile phones, laptops, a camera and documents would all seem to be the sort of things investigators should be interested in. The laptop of a suspected rapist might not be interesting to the police, but a spy? What investigators wouldn't be looking precisely at these items?
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”. The Palestinian activist 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.The man was warned that he was being investigated three weeks before he was arrested. True, he was banned from travel but only informed of the ban the next day, when he tried, but the ban was signed by the minster of the Interior himself. Not a sleepy fourth-tier duty judge at 3am. It was the minster himself.
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".AI appears not to have discussed the matter with the Israeli authorities. They spoke to the suspect, after he had been warned that he was under investigation, and in a time-honored method of creating himself an alibi, he informed them that if anything happened to him it would be proof of his innocence and his accuser's duplicity.
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.The relevance of this section is not clear. Is it meant to give context? If so, why not explain that a standard ritual of Israeli elections is that the politicians try to block the fringe parties of far left and far right, secure in the recognition that the Supreme Court will strike down the move; and that since the 1980s only one ban was allowed to stand, and that was against the racist Kahana party (Jews, not Arabs). Additional context for the espionage allegations might be that Israel is legally and practically at war with most its neighbors, and belligerents routinely engage in espionage against each other. (In the UK this is done by MI6).
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.This is all true, but there must be five million additional facts that are also true and somehow related. Why were these particular items deemed noteworthy, and no others? Say, the fact that in the past people have been convicted of espionage for Hezbullah? Isn't that equally relevant or equally irrelevant?
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.The roster of Israeli citizens who have been convicted of espionage over the years have included colonels in the career army, scientists with top-secret clearance, businessmen, and sundry others. Is there any particular reason to think that NGO activists are immune to the various motivations which occasionally lead people to betray their country?
"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.Unless Mr.Luther is himself engaging in espionage, there is no way at this stage of the investigation for him to know if there are or aren't genuine grounds for a prosecution. His comment about such grounds being unlikely is spite, no more - though I'm tempted to characterize it as pure spite. The demand that the proceeding be swift is simply rude. Israel is a sovereign state, with laws that dictate how long which stage of which legal proceedings may be and under which conditions. No one has said these laws are being infringed upon, so Mr. Luther's demand is baseless. His parting shot, about international fair trial standards, is slander. As any student of the matter knows, the legal standards of the Israeli system compare favorably with those of any other country. His comment therefore is not of the "when did you stop beating your wife?" class, but worse. It's more like asking a well-known widow why he doesn't stop beating his wife.
It's also odd. After all, the top of the communique said so clearly that Makhoul has no case to answer, since the whole thing is, how to put it, pure harassment.
On a related matter: Anatoly Scharansky was a prisoner of conscience, for nine long years. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a prisoner of conscience, until he was hanged. Nelson Mandela was a prisoner of conscience, for decades. At the moment there isn't a shred of evidence that Ameer Makhoul belongs to this illustrious club, nor that Israel belongs to the infamous club of countries that confines prisoners of conscience. True, there's a sleight of hand, whereby Amnesty International alleges that Israel does, and then damns it for doing so, but that's slander, not rational discussion based upon empiric evidence that can be tested against independent criteria and proved or disproved.
At the moment the only thing that can be said with certainly is that Amnesty International is destroying the moral power of the terminology of true human rights by using it as propaganda. The only people who will be harmed are the real victims in the many places where human rights are actually being trampled.
I'll be watching AI as this story unfolds, to see how they report on it.