Jeff Halper was released from an Israeli jail today after being arraigned for his efforts to break the Gaza siege through the Free Gaza Movement recent journey. Ynetnews reports:
Professor Jeff Halper, the only Israeli citizen [ed., there were actually FOUR Israeli citizens] to participate in a sea-borne attempt to sail into Gaza on Saturday, was released on Wednesday after being detained by police on Tuesday.
Minnesota-born Halper, an Anthropology lecturer from Ben Gurion University…was arrested after he passed through the Erez crossing back into Israel, since he had violated a military order prohibiting Jewish civilians from entering Gaza that was legislated pursuant to the Disengagement in 2005. Police originally thought to release Halper conditionally following preliminary questioning, but apparently decided to keep him in lock-up overnight.
There were two potential charges considered against Halper: As stated, his presence in Gaza violates a military order that delineates the region as a military-only zone. Additionally, he was considered a public hazard, since his presence in Gaza would have made him a prime target for kidnapping, which could have had massive negative repercussions on the state and its citizens.
This second justification is laughable as it places Halper in the same category as kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit who WAS kidnapped. But Halper certainly would not have been kidnapped since he was considered a hero by all Gazans. Again, this is a transparent and rather petty attempt to remind the world that Gazans are lawless, violent thugs who would kidnap ANY Israeli they could get their hands on–even someone considered a hero by the native population. Patently absurd. But again, I guess you can’t blame the Israeli police for trying to pass this off as a legitimate argument.
What is perhaps most interesting in this story is the following which indicates a decided split in the thinking between the local police and the attorney general’s office:
Police met Wednesday morning with Halper’s lawyers, as well as with representatives from the Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry, to discuss his status. Despite wanting to file an indictment against Halper, the discussions, and in particular a consultation with the Attorney-General’s Office, motivated police to release him conditionally.
It is important for the peace community to exploit this difference of opinion in government circles and lobby for a sensible approach to Halper’s case. Israel will gain nothing by criminalizing a legitimate act of civil disobedience. In fact, if we organize on Jeff’s behalf we can make it be known that following a hardline against him will in fact cost Israel in goodwill.
So far, the foreign ministry’s better judgment has prevailed in allowing the FGM boats to reach Gaza without intervention. It would be a shame if such moderation were spoiled by Israeli overreaction to Halper’s alleged violation.
Here the report notes the local police’s determination to punish Halper despite the attorney general’s effort to deescalate the situation:
The head of the Sderot Police Station said that, despite the Attorney-General’s advisory opinion, it intends to file an indictment against Halper for his actions.
We also need to pressure the U.S. media to do a better job of covering this story than they did with the earlier FGM voyage. So far, reader Ira Glunts informs me that the Washington Post has run a short item on Jeff’s arrest. I hope this is the first of many such stories.
Here is Jeff’s statement to the press:
Halper said that he pleased about his release. He referred to his illegal action as part of a “historic moment, because we succeeded in breaching psychological barriers and this shows that it’s possible to make a connection between the two peoples without the interference of governments and shows that there is a partner on the other side.”
“Israel implements a policy of holding the rope at both ends. Allegedly, the state isn’t occupying Gaza but it is in charge of the entrances into Gaza, such that it is actually operating in Gaza,” he added.
If this statement by Jeff’s lawyer is a verbatim quotation, then he has made a major, and very basic mistake in representing his client:
…One of the professor’s lawyer, Yaron Gat, said that Halper had not met with any individuals hostile to Israel, nor had he cooperated with terrorists, but rather merely wanted to promote human rights in by bringing humanitarian supplies to Gaza.
“We are pleased that the attorney general and other government entities understood that this was a purely civil action that, while illegal, was only meant to promote human rights, and that they decided accordingly,” Gat said.
Israeli activist S notes:
…That is blunder on the part of the lawyer. You never admit that your client did something illegal. And especially in this case, when you want to leave yourself room to argue so many possible arguments – that the order itself is not valid, that it was ultra-vires, that it does not apply to humanitarian missions, that it was overridden by the Israeli Foreign Ministry announcement that they can enter, that it violates international law, etc. etc.
A professional lawyer never helps the prosecution tie the noose around his client’s neck. Never admit to any fact or allegation. The state already has so much more power over you, and often abuses that power – why help them in any fashion?
But certainly no great harm was done, as this was an out-of-court statement, apparently made to the press, which does not affect Jeff’s rights at trial. If this case does indeed proceed to trial, I am confident Jeff’s lawyers will raise all the above-mentioned arguments in a persuasive manner.”
Again, there are a number of errors in this article and I can only hope the reporter misquoted Jeff’s lawyer.
Here are some ways you can do something concrete to protest Jeff’s detention:
Minister of Interior Meir Shitreet
Phones +972 2 640 8410
+972 2 670 1411
Fax +972 2 670 1628
Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni
Phone: +972 2 530 3111
Fax: +972 2 530 3367
Minister of Defense Ehud Barak
Phone: +972 3 569 2010
Fax +972 3 691 6940
Attorney General Menahem Mazuz
Fax: +972 2 6285438
Halper will hold a press conference tomorrow (August 28th) at 4.00 p.m. at the American Colony’s Pasha Room. If any reader can come up with phone numbers and e mail addresses for the U.S. embassy in Israel and State Department, I’ll add those as well since Jeff is a U.S. citizen.
On a separate note, the Free Gaza Movement has decided to take Palestinians with them on their return journey to Cyprus:
12-14 Palestinians who have previously been denied exit visas by Israel will be traveling to Cyprus on the two boats. Some of those leaving are students with vaild visas or dual citizenship, who have been accepted to universities abroad. Additionally, one Palestinian professor will finally be able to go back to teaching in Europe, and one young Palestinian woman will finally be reunited with her husband.
Since the organizers of the Free Gaza Movement will not be entering Israeli territorial waters, and since they will request inspection from the Gaza Port Authority before they depart as well as from Cypriot authorities when they arrive in Cyprus, they expect no interference on the part of the Israeli authorities when they leave Gaza. By Israel’s own admission, it has no authority to inspect the boats or the passengers when they leave Gaza.
This seems a deliberate and strategic provocation toward Israel, but one that is entirely justified. You’ll recall that three Gaza students who won Fulbright awards were denied visas by the U.S. after Israel reported derogatory information about them. Several hundred Gaza students are prevented every year from accepting their places at universities abroad. It’s an important gesture to bring some of them out via the FGM boats. There is no reason an ordinary Gazan should be denied the basic right to travel outside their country for legitimate educational or personal reasons.