The Israeli Shin Bet continue riding roughshod over the rights of the nation’s citizens. In the past few months, it was Anat Kamm and Uri Blau who were subjected to gag orders (specifically Kamm) and her name couldn’t be spoken publicly in the media. We broke that gag order with the help of brave Israelis and Palestinian media like Maan. Now the Shin Bet has come once again in the dead of night breaking down doors, ransacking homes and carting away human rights activists (a citizen of Israel in this case) all in the supposed name of national security and the cult of secrecy. No one in the Israeli media can breathe a word about this man or his arrest. He has simply become a national persona non grata.
Below is part of a joint statement released by Israeli Palestinian human rights NGOs announcing the arrest and protesting it:
[Ramallah, 6 May 2010] This morning at 3:10 a.m., Israeli Security Agency (ISA) agents accompanied by Israeli police raided Ameer Makhoul’s family home in Haifa and arrested him. Mr. Makhoul is a human rights defender and serves as the general director of Ittijah – The Union of Arab Community-Based Associations and as the Chairman of the Public Committee for the Defense of Political Freedom in the framework of the High Follow-up Committee for the Arab Citizens of Israel.
The 16 ISA agents and police officers immediately separated Mr. Makhoul from his family, including wife Janan and daughters Hind, 17 and Huda, 12, and conducted an extensive search of the home. According to Janan, the police confiscated items including documents, maps, the family’s four mobile phones, Ameer and Janan’s laptops, the hard drives from the girls’ two desktop computers, a camera and a small tape recorder containing un-transcribed oral histories Janan collects as part of her work. At one point during the police search, Janan says, one officer violently restrained her, twisting her arm and pushing her when she attempted to leave the home’s living room to observe the confiscations. The security forces also refused to identify themselves and showed her a warrant authorizing Mr. Makhoul’s arrest only after she repeatedly insisted. The order was signed on 23 April 2010 and cited unsubstantiated “security” reasons as the grounds for Mr. Makhoul’s arrest.
Meanwhile, approximately 40 minutes after their arrival, a group of the security forces left with Mr. Makhoul in custody. At around the same time, the Israeli authorities raided the Ittijah office and confiscated documents and the hard drives from all of the organization’s computers.
A hearing in Mr. Makhoul’s case was held at the Petah Tikva interrogation center later this morning, and his detention was extended for six days. Reports also indicate that Mr. Makhoul has been banned from meeting with an attorney for at least two days.
This arrest comes shortly after Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai signed an administrative order prohibiting Mr. Makhoul from exiting the country for a two month period. In the order, which was signed on 21 April and is based on Article 6 of the 1948 emergency regulations, Yishai states, “I have reached the conviction that the exit of Ameer Makhoul from the country poses a serious threat to the security of the state, and therefore I issue this order to prevent him from leaving the country until the 21st of June, 2010”.
[UPDATE: I have discovered an Israeli website which is reporting this story and, if I’m correct, appears to be breaking the gag order (unless I’m misunderstanding the nature of it). Rehavia Berman in Youpost is reporting that the Interior Ministry order mentioned in the above paragraph was designed to prevent Makhoul from attending a conference on the Status of Women and Advancement of Democracy being held in Jordan. The Shin Bet persuaded the minister on the basis of secret information that Makhoul’s attendance at this event would endanger the security of the State.
When the police entered the victim’s home the family demanded that they identify themselves, which they were required to do by law. They refused. They also refused to reveal the arrest warrant until Makhoul’s wife demanded it a number of times. The warrant noted that he was wanted for unspecified security reasons.
A final editorial note in the article makes this brave, defiant statement to the security apparatus:
Youpost’s editors categorically reject this attempt by the security forces to treat Israeli citizens as they are used to treating residents of the Occupied Territories. We are publishing the news of his arrest and want him to be charged and brought up for speedy, fair trial which preserves the rights of the accused under the law. Conversely, if the authorities are not prepared to conduct themselves in this manner, then we demand that it free Mr. Makhoul and cancel the order restricting his movement. ]
Imagine a democracy in which they can prevent a citizen of the country from consulting their own attorney for two days and detain you for six days under charges no more specific than suspicion of posing a security threat? And what security threat does Makhoul pose? I’ll tell what his threat is: he defends the rights of the Israeli Palestinian minority. And that appears to be a potent threat in the eyes of Israel’s security goons.
One of the reasons why the Anat Kamm affair resonated so much within Israel was that an Israeli Jew was arrested in secret and slapped with a gag order. They do this sort of thing fairly regularly with Israeli Palestinians and there is much less uproar. That may be the case with Makhoul as well. But there is no possible way the authorities can come with any legitimate violation or crime on Ittijah’s part, whereas with Kamm she had leaked classified IDF documents.
This is an assault on the civil society/human rights movement in Israel. It is also no accident that Ittijah is a grantee of the New Israel Fund, which itself has been under full frontal assault by the uber-Zionist Im Tirtzu movement and the intellectual thugs like Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor. Though perhaps the Shin Bet cannot yet arrest Naomi Chazan for posing a security threat, they sure can do this to NIF’s Israeli-Palestinian grantees.
A year or so ago, the security service announced that henceforth they would view any Israeli Palestinian nationalist activism, even organizing that was purely legal and non-violent, as a grave threat to the Jewish state. This arrest falls squarely within such a repressive agenda.
Israel’s supporters, especially those among liberal Zionists who pride themselves on supporting the Only Democracy in the Middle East, should realize there is now precious little democracy left to support. It is time to speak out for the Israel you believe in. Either you support a national security state dictated by the Shin Bet. Or you support a real democracy. If the latter then you must denounce in no uncertain terms this thuggery. It doesn’t matter that the victim is Israeli Palestinian. If you don’t support him, you turn your back on the democratic principles on which David Ben Gurion based Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which made no distinction between Israel’s ethnic or religious groups in awarding rights.
I call upon all of us to express our disgust to the Israeli embassy in Washington and to your local Israeli consulate. If the past is any guide, the government isn’t concerned as much about protest outside Israel. But if we can do in this case what we did in Kamm’s case, which is to bring the matter to the attention of the Israeli media, bloggers and common citizens, they themselves will hopefully raise a cry for transparency and an end to the odious gag order.
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Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.