Leader of Palestinian political party in Israel routinely harassed and detained at Ben Gurion airport

Israel/Palestine
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Awad Abdel Fattah addressing the Palestine Center in Washington, DC on Israeli repression of Palestinian political movements, May, 10, 2011. (Photo: Palestine Center)

Awad Abdel Fattah is the secretary general of Balad, a Palestinian political party in Israel which was founded by Azmi Bishara in 1995. Balad, or the National Democratic Party as its sometimes known, currently holds three seats in the Knesset represented by Said Naffaa, Jamal Zahalka, and Haneen Zoabi.

Balad issued a press release today charging that authorities at Ben Gurion airport routinely harass and detain Abdel Fattah. From the release:

The latest incident occurred last month, when Awad Abdel Fattah, the NDP’s secretary-general, returned from a speaking tour in Europe. Among his engagements, he met Finland’s Foreign Minister, Erkki Tuomioja, and leaders of political parties in Belgium and Sweden to discuss the increasingly repressive political atmosphere in Israel towards the country’s 1.4 million Palestinian citizens.

When Mr Abdel Fattah exited the plane in the early hours of May 3 he was pulled aside for interrogation and detained for more than two hours without his passport. When repeated requests for its return were ignored, and he was not given a reason for his detention, he told the security staff to keep the passport and headed towards baggage reclaim.

It was the third time in a month that he had suffered such treatment at Ben Gurion airport.

At baggage reclaim, Mr Abdel Fattah was surrounded by security staff and threatened with arrest. Only when Mr Abdel Fattah caused a scene in the baggage reclaim area, in front of other passengers, was he told that the decision to detain him been “an order from higher-up”.

This was confirmed a short time later by a senior member of the security police who arrived to speak to Mr Abdel Fattah privately.

Mr Abdel Fattah recounted: “He told me that the matter was not in the hands of the police but had come from the intelligence services. He suggested that members of my party in the Knesset should call the Minister of Internal Security.

“Minutes later, apparently because of the embarrassment I had caused them, they returned my passport and let me go. At this point, at 6am, I had been detained for three hours.”

This treatment should be seen in the context of the harassment other Balad members have received including Bishara, who has been living in exile in Qatar since 2007, and Haneen Zoabi who had her parliamentary privileges stripped following her participation in the Gaza flotilla.

Here’s the full press release:

Press release
National Democratic Party
7 June 2012

Head of Arab Political Party Harassed, Detained at Israeli Airport

The National Democratic Party has accused Israel’s security services of repeatedly harassing one of its leaders each time he leaves and enters Israel.

The NDP, which represents Israel’s large minority of Arab Palestinian citizens and has three members sitting in the Israeli parliament, has suffered a campaign of persecution from the Israeli security services for many years.

The latest incident occurred last month, when Awad Abdel Fattah, the NDP’s secretary-general, returned from a speaking tour in Europe. Among his engagements, he met Finland’s Foreign Minister, Erkki Tuomioja, and leaders of political parties in Belgium and Sweden to discuss the increasingly repressive political atmosphere in Israel towards the country’s 1.4 million Palestinian citizens.

When Mr Abdel Fattah exited the plane in the early hours of May 3 he was pulled aside for interrogation and detained for more than two hours without his passport. When repeated requests for its return were ignored, and he was not given a reason for his detention, he told the security staff to keep the passport and headed towards baggage reclaim.

It was the third time in a month that he had suffered such treatment at Ben Gurion airport.

At baggage reclaim, Mr Abdel Fattah was surrounded by security staff and threatened with arrest. Only when Mr Abdel Fattah caused a scene in the baggage reclaim area, in front of other passengers, was he told that the decision to detain him been “an order from higher-up”.

This was confirmed a short time later by a senior member of the security police who arrived to speak to Mr Abdel Fattah privately.

Mr Abdel Fattah recounted: “He told me that the matter was not in the hands of the police but had come from the intelligence services. He suggested that members of my party in the Knesset should call the Minister of Internal Security.

“Minutes later, apparently because of the embarrassment I had caused them, they returned my passport and let me go. At this point, at 6am, I had been detained for three hours.”

Earlier, his wife, Fathiyya Hussein (Abdel Fattah), who returned on the same flight from a business trip to Brussels, was threatened with arrest when she refused to leave the airport without her husband.

The NDP has suffered a campaign of persecution and intimidation from the Israeli security services over the past decade. Despite being a legal party, its former leader, Azmi Bishara, was forced into exile and its members are regularly called in for interrogation by the intelligence services, during which they are often warned to quit the party.

Mr Abdel Fattah has been arrested for his political activities on several occasions, including most recently in 2009 when he led a demonstration against Israel’s attack on Gaza, in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed.

Mr Abdel Fattah added: “The goal of this policy of targeting our party is to restrict our freedom of political action and to humiliate and insult representatives of the Arab public.

“It is part of the systematic persecution of our party and its leaders, an attempt to smear our image and make us look dangerous to the general public.”

Israel’s harassment of its Palestinian citizens at Ben Gurion airport has come under increasing scrutiny. A year ago the Supreme Court demanded that the airport authorities and the Israeli intelligence service, the Shin Bet, explain why security checks were being conducted in a discriminatory manner against Arab citizens.

Mr Abdel Fattah’s treatment coincides with other revelations of harassment and a lack of accountability from security staff at Ben Gurion airport.

Several passengers arriving from abroad with Arab names say security officials demanded they log into their private email accounts so that the contents could be read. Lawyers argue that the policy violates Israeli law.

About Adam Horowitz

Adam Horowitz is Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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16 Responses

  1. eljay
    June 7, 2012, 5:39 pm

    >> A year ago the Supreme Court demanded that the airport authorities and the Israeli intelligence service, the Shin Bet, explain why security checks were being conducted in a discriminatory manner against Arab citizens.

    Seriously? The Supreme Court of the Supremacist Jewish State of the Promised Land of Israel actually had to ask why its second-class Arab citizens were being discriminated against? That’s just weird.

    • seafoid
      June 8, 2012, 3:42 am

      Israel is like a ship carrying important cargo across the ocean. Boxes labelled “minority rights “- there has been a lot of storm activity over the recent past and the captain has decided to save what he can and throw the cargo overboard. There are other containers on the deck labelled “rule of law” and “judicial independence” but if things continue to deteriorate they’ll have to go too. Ultimately the ship -named “democracy” – may have to be flown under a flag of fascist convenience.

  2. giladg
    June 7, 2012, 6:10 pm

    Communist and Communism used to be a dirty words for many.

  3. Avi_G.
    June 7, 2012, 6:37 pm

    No wonder. He was born an Arab. That’s his crime.

    Mistakes often do happen, though. For example, most Israeli Mizrahi Jews had their names changed when they came to Israel in the 1950s. Some refused to do so and kept their original Arab names.

    Sometimes, they are mistaken for Palestinian citizens of Israel (i.e. “Arabs”) and get the treatment that goes along with that label.

    However, when that person (Mizrahi Jew mistaken for an “Arab”) protests (Unlike Arabs who are afraid to protest because they know the consequences and take the humiliation lying down), then security personnel will double check whether that person is registered a “Jew” under “Nationality” and whether he/she served in the army.

    If it turns out that he/she is a Jew, then security personnel will apologize profusely. If he/she turns out to be a Palestinian citizen of Israel, then security personnel will make his life more miserable. And they have many ways of doing that.

  4. American
    June 7, 2012, 8:34 pm

    This would be like the US authorities detaining and harassing a Black American member of congress because he traveled to some other country and talked about the unfair incarceration rate of black men in the US justice system.
    Can you imagine the fury here and other countries if some black member of US congress got this kind of treatment in the US?

    • Samuel T
      June 7, 2012, 11:04 pm

      American,

      “Can you imagine the fury here and other countries if some black member of US congress got this kind of treatment in the US?”

      Due to the preponderance of Security personnel who happen to be black, the cry of prejudicial treatment is largely silenced. Should a member of congress be treated differently because of the office he (or she) holds? Certainly in recent years their have been abundant reasons to question the Integrity of members of Congress. To give someone a free pass because of their political affiliation would in fact, be prejudicial and discriminatory in nature.

      • Fredblogs
        June 8, 2012, 6:44 pm

        Can you imagine the fury against the American Islamic Party (if there were one) if the head of the party turned out to have been complicit in the 9/11 attacks? Because that’s the equivalent of what the former head of Awad Abdel Fattah’s political party did.

  5. Fredblogs
    June 7, 2012, 9:23 pm

    Considering Azmi Bishara was accused of passing information to the enemy in a time of war (giving target information to Hezbollah). I say “accused” because he fled the country rather than stand trial. However, the accusations were made because they had proof in the form of the man’s own wiretapped conversations with Hezbollah. Also proof of hundreds of thousands of dollars transferred to him in case, from abroad, without being registered as the law requires and without having permission for a second income, which the law requires of Knesset members.

    I love the bit about him asking for “Half a book, in English”

    link to ynetnews.com

    After that, it isn’t exactly shocking that Israel doesn’t trust members of his party.

    • Annie Robbins
      June 7, 2012, 10:06 pm

      yeah, writtten by the same journo who brought us

      Indeed, in recent weeks the Administration shifted from persuasion efforts vis-à-vis decision-makers and Israel’s public opinion to a practical, targeted assassination of potential Israeli operations in Iran. This “surgical strike” is undertaken via reports in the American and British media, but the campaign’s aims are fully operational: To make it more difficult for Israeli decision-makers to order the IDF to carry out a strike, and what’s even graver, to erode the IDF’s capacity to launch such strike with minimal casualties.

      The first and most important American objective is to eliminate potential operational options available to the IDF and the State of Israel. I have no intention of detailing or even hinting to the options which the US government aims to eliminate by exposing them in the media. A large part of the reports stem from false information or disinformation, and there is no reason to reveal to the Iranians what’s real and what isn’t. However, it is blatantly clear that reports in the past week alone have caused Israel substantive diplomatic damage, and possibly even military and operational damage.

      link to ynetnews.com

      • Fredblogs
        June 8, 2012, 2:15 am

        Ah, playing the man and not the ball. If you don’t like my source, go find your own. The man was a traitor who took money to advise people firing missiles at his own country. Then fled when the jig was up.

    • SimoHurtta
      June 8, 2012, 6:33 am

      Have Israeli Jews earned the loyalty of Israeli Arabs? Israeli Arabs have numerous reasons to resist the racist/religious order in Israel.

    • eGuard
      June 8, 2012, 7:00 am

      He is accused and then Security takes care of him? Maybe Israel should introduce a juridical system. Or just justice.

    • Woody Tanaka
      June 8, 2012, 7:00 am

      “Considering Azmi Bishara was accused of passing information… After that, it isn’t exactly shocking that Israel doesn’t trust members of his party.”

      So let me get this straight… You are actually defending the hours-long harassment of someone who, themselves, did nothing wrong, simply because someone who has similar political opinions is accused of doing something wrong.

      Then given that Jonathan Pollard is a zionist, and given that he was not only accused of being a spy for a foreign power, but actually confessed to doing it (and, I might add, it is said that his treachery led to the deaths of Americans), then you would be okay if the American authorities took every zionist aside when they pass through customs and harass them for hours on end??

      • Elliot
        June 8, 2012, 8:19 am

        Well said. Israeli overkill all over again. And even if this were Azmi Bishara, it does not follow that whatever contacts he had with Hizbullah mean he’s going to hijack a plane or die in a suicide mission.

  6. Samuel T
    June 7, 2012, 10:56 pm

    People, people, people…

    Everyone that has the opportunity and privilege of going through “Airport Security” is experiencing (a level) of affliction to their Civil Liberties. Whether being questioned, or patted down, detained, searched, asked to remove articles of clothing AND it progresses from there (or digresses) to the point of the oral cavity search. This happens routinely around the World. In the United States, the only reason I can see that more complaints from black people are not being championed as discrimination is, that a number of Airport Security happen to be black.

    This gentleman may “feel” singled out because of his political affiliation. However, due diligence must be exercised in the “prevention of a terrorist attack.” Is this heightened security due to post 9/11 paranoia? Perhaps. However, Israel has been exposed to many more ongoing threats to their security, historically, then the freedom enjoyed by many Americans.

    I was travelling with a team of 16 people in 1985 when en-route to Kenya, East Africa we stopped in at the lovely airport in Cairo, Egypt. All of our [Canadian] Passports were seized by Airport Security who were well assisted by members of the Egyptian Militia, uniformed and fully equipped with side arms and assault rifles. Members of my team noted that they spent additional time with me. Was that because of my prominent nose? being unshaven? or wearing an army fatigue jacket with bulging pockets? (from Kodak film) OR a combination of those visible traits?

    To give you further perspective, over half the members of our team were under the age of 20. One of the women on our team made the mistake of taking a flash photo of another member of the team outside, on the tarmac and was quickly surrounded by a number of Egyptian Militia, with weapons drawn. After interceding in that event by declaring we were not Americans, we were Canadians…the camera was returned, the ladies were released and nobody took any more photos.

    Was I given additional consideration because I look Jewish (in some opinions) Or because I look Arabic (in other opinions). I may never know, nor was I overly concerned or offended. Airport Security at Heathrow was perhaps more polite, when they patted me down, but every Airport had their Security Personnel who were executing due diligence based on their training, or lack of it.

    The gentleman above. Is he taking an approach that says because of his political affiliation or because of his heritage, he should NOT have to undergo the drudgery of passing through Airport Security. Are they targeting him because he’s “special” OR does he believe he shouldn’t be targeted because he is, “special” and entitled to special and additional consideration?

  7. piotr
    June 8, 2012, 12:22 am

    Sometimes “unofficial versions” distributed by Israeli military and intelligence is so puzzling that it is hard to imagine how Israel survives in “hostile environment”. For example, a military unit stops a groups of militant bicyclists, the commanding officer has his finger broken by a rascally bicyclist and no member of the unit can trace who did it (and when). For all we know, Col. Eisner could be dying from stab wounds and his beloved soldiers would not notice.

    Here we learn that Bishara was practically directing Hezbollah rocket fire while valiant Israeli intelligence was listening. Not only they listen with amazing passivity, but subsequently they allowed him to leave the country. Perhaps they went through the trouble of securing a warrant from Supreme Court to tap Bishara’s conversations, but afterwards the tapes were waiting for a year or more to be translated from Arabic.

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