Today, 6 May, marks one year since Ameer Makhoul, general director of Palestinian NGO-network Ittijah, was arrested in the night from his home in Haifa. Ameer was held without access to a lawyer for almost two weeks, and subjected to “interrogation” methods that included sleep deprivation and being kept shackled to a chair.
On the occasion of the anniversary, Ittijah issued a statement in which they “continue to insist that Ameer’s imprisonment is of a political nature.”
The imprisonment of Ameer constitutes another expression of the Israeli authorities’ policies that aim to restrict and suffocate the legitimate political actions and demands of Palestinians who are citizens of the state of Israel. By marginalizing our collective memory and history, they wish to get rid of us and transform us from victims to the guilty ones.
It’s worth remembering today the context for Ameer’s arrest. In 2007, the Shin Bet declared, in a letter by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, that the security service aims to “thwart the activity of any group or individual seeking to harm the Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel, even if such activity is sanctioned by the law”. In other words, to lawfully and peacefully challenge the ‘Jewish character’ of the state makes you a target.
A recently-published Wikileaks cable fleshes out this approach, with (now outgoing) Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin expressing his belief that “many” of the “Arab-Israeli population” are taking “their rights too far”.
In January 2009, Ameer was picked up by the Shin Bet for his role in the protests against the Israeli massacre in Gaza. During the “chat”, one of the officers told Ameer that “next time he will be pleased to see Makhoul imprisoned, that Makhoul’s file is ready”, and that Makhoul “will have to say goodbye to his family since he will leave them for a long time”.
Thankfully, we are not bereft of Ameer’s courage and insights, even though he is behind bars. He continues to speak to his fellow Palestinians, and activists, in letters from jail – including most recently on Prisoners Day. When I met him in his office in January 2010, Ameer commented on the recent trend of aggressively nationalistic and discriminatory legislation being proposed and passed in the Knesset.
The legislation is not giving more tools to oppress the Palestinians. They have all the tools already. These laws are not going to give Israel more control and power – this, in fact, is the Israeli crisis.