The campaign to free Ameer Makhoul, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and political and human rights activist falsely accused of espionage, has achieved significant advances. Makhoul’s attorneys challenged the legality of the circumstances of his arrest and undermined the prosecution’s core allegations against him on September 16th in the Haifa District Court. State Prosecutors admitted that no evidence of espionage had been found in any of the computers and cellular phones seized from Makhoul’s home and office. Nor was any evidence of espionage found, they admitted, in the transcripts of thirty thousand wiretapped telephone conversations.
Makhoul’s lawyers further secured a ruling from the Nazareth District Court, September 14th, upholding Makhoul’s right to direct and confidential access to counsel. Makhoul’s right to counsel as a citizen of Israel had been routinely violated by prison authorities, who had been officially and conspicuously wire-tapping his conversations, conducted across glass barriers via telephone, with his lawyers.
Sixteen members of Israel Security Agency, commonly known in English as the Shin Bet, abducted Mr. Makhoul from his home at 3:00 am on May 6th, 2010. They searched his home and office, seizing personal items belonging to Makhoul and his family, as well as office equipment, documents and databases. Makhoul was detained incommunicado. A sweeping “gag order” was placed on the case forbidding publication by Israeli media of any information relating to the interrogation and the arrest. For twelve days he was subjected to torturous interrogation techniques including excessively prolonged sleep deprivation—a technique Makhoul’s interrogators have openly stated they used. When Makhoul complained of being in excruciating pain, the Shin Bet interrogators cuffed his legs to a chair with shortened legs and threatened that he would be permanently crippled from the interrogation.
Three weeks after his detention, Makhoul was charged with espionage, assistance to the enemy in a time of war, contact with a foreign agent, and other trumped up security charges. When he finally appeared in open court, Makhoul categorically denied the relevance of all charges against him.
On June 14th, State Prosecutors announced their possessing of ‘Secret Evidence’ against Makhoul. That evidence, they stated, would not be disclosed to his legal defense team for security reasons. Meanwhile, Makhoul’s repeated requests for a medical exam and blood test by an independent doctor from the Association of Physicians for Human Rights were continually postponed. Makhoul was unable to discuss these matters with his lawyers without having his conversations wiretapped.
Public Committee for the Defense of Ameer Makhoul Established
The Committee for the Defense of Ameer Makhoul was established in a public meeting held at the headquarters of the Galilee Society for Health Research and Services in Shafa Amr on September 8th. Participating in the meeting were 47 representatives of grassroots networks and professional associations, as well as concerned Jewish and Arab public figures. At this meeting, the Committee and those it represents assumed collective responsibility for the defense of Ameer Makhoul. It took such a step for the following reasons.
Ameer Makhoul was not arrested as an individual. He was not arrested due to any serious contention that he conducted illegal activities–let alone espionage. Makhoul was arrested to send a message to Palestinian citizens of Israel. That message was formulated by extreme right wing parties in the current Israeli government. They are targeting Makhoul because he is a legal, legitimate, and effective voice of a politically disadvantaged group –Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens.
Makhoul has been a voice of this disadvantaged group of Israeli citizens in numerous public meetings around the world. He is internationally recognized as a human rights defender and as a member of international coalitions and networks of international and regional organizations. In his capacities as Chairman of the Public Committee for the Protection of Political Freedoms in Israel and as General Director of Ittijah –a network of Arab NGOs in Israel with consultative status in the United Nations Economic and Social Council —Makhoul regularly encounters and talks to citizens of foreign countries—including Arab countries. Simply talking to another Arab does not constitute espionage in the legal framework of Israel or any other country. But contacting an Arab colleague seems to be the core of the espionage charges against Makhoul.
In 2009, the Shin Bet promised Ameer Makhoul that they would “tailor a file for his disappearance and prolonged separation from his family” if he would not tone down his political and human rights activism. They were incensed by his legal, outspoken statements against Israel’s 2009 invasion of Gaza and his repeated reference to Israel’s use of phosphorus bombs against civilian populations in Gaza –including a majority of children. Spurious charges of espionage, the use of illegal interrogation techniques, and fabricated claims of evidence that evaporate in the open air seem to fulfill that threat to disappear Makhoul. Amnesty International has called his arrest and continued detention “pure harassment designed to hinder his human rights work.”
The Tasks at Hand for All of Us
The Committee for the Defense of Ameer Makhoul faces two urgent tasks. But first, we want to note what has already been achieved—despite all of the obstacles. A gag order against discussion of Makhoul’s case crumbled – thanks to appeals by the defense, community protest and solidarity and Israeli and foreign bloggers who ignored the order and opened the way to public pressure. The legal team has won important victories. Illegal practices of prison authorities that violated citizens’ right to counsel have been waylaid.
The obstacle presented by state prosecutors’ invocation of “secret evidence” to silence activists remains to be challenged and ultimately undermined. The incrimination of talking to foreigners must be challenged as well. Already, it has become a tiny bit harder, we hope, for Israel to lock up intellectuals and activists under vague charges of “contact with a foreign agent” in the global village of the internet era.
Now, we have urgent and specific tasks at hand. The Committee for the Defense of Ameer Makhoul is working to mobilize legal and medical international observers for the trial of Ameer Makhoul and to raise funds to cover lawyer fees and related expenses for Makhoul’s defense. We have launched local publicity and fundraising campaigns to achieve those goals. We need your help to make our efforts even more effective.
We reach out to the friends of Ameer and supporters of his work on behalf of Palestinian citizens of Israel and human rights victims everywhere. At this critical moment, we ask for your direct involvement in the campaign for his freedom. Ameer’s trial is scheduled to proceed Tuesday October 5th. The time is now for you to get involved.
All interested individuals and groups are invited to contact the Chairman of the Committee for the Defense of Ameer Makhoul: Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh – email:[email protected]
Checks can be made out to The Committee for Defense of Ameer Makhoul
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Bank: Arab Israel Bank- ltd.
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Branch no.: 001 Haifa.
Beneficiary Name: The Committee for Defense of Ameer Makhoul- Haifa.
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