Those of you who followed this blog during the thick of the Anat Kamm-Uri Blau case, noted a critical juncture at which the weight of the secret gag order charade became too heavy. After the Israeli media itself began obliquely ridiculing the Shin Bet for maintaining a secret that the whole world knew, including many Israelis among them, the gag collapsed like a house of cards.
We have come near to that in the case of Ameer Makhoul, director of the Israeli Palestinian community activist NGO, Ittijah, who was arrested in the dead of night at his Haifa apartment a few days ago after a team of 20 police and security agents ransacked his premises and stole cell phones, documents, computers and maps, including the research project of his teenage daughter. The charge was…well, there was no charge: the police carried a warrant which they initially refused to show the victim in defiance of police procedure. All it said was the Shin Bet had “secret information” justifying his arrest for “security reasons.” That’s it. And he was forbidden to consult his lawyer for two entire days.
The critical break in the assault on Makhoul may’ve come with an initial article in yesterday’s Haaretz (and one today in Ynet) which reported a mysterious rally held the day after Makhoul’s arrest by Israeli Palestinians in order to denounce the persecution meted out to community activists by the security services. Seventh Eye, the blog specializing in media criticism, wrote an account of the Israeli media’s dereliction of duty in covering the Makhoul case:
Israeli Arab Groups: Israel Is Persecuting Us read a headline on page 10 of Haaretz facing the obituaries. “Steps taken reminiscent of dark dictatorships,” read one prominent line quoted from the announcement of the meeting. The story itself speaks of an “emergency gathering” last Thursday night sponsored by tens of organizations from every part of the spectrum of the Arab community, despite the fact that the initiative for the meeting came only on the day of the event itself.
Why did the officials of these NGOs gather so urgently for such a meeting? What united every facet of the Arab community? Haaretz doesn’t say anything about this directly. Because the control of the state over information reaching the public doesn’t include the internet itself, citizens interested in learning the details of what is done by the ruling authorities in their name, may surf websites not bound by gag orders.
Among newspapers that are not Haaretz, there isn’t even an indirect reference to this event.
This situation has now changed in that Ynet, as I noted above, today published a similar piece to Haaretz, though Yediot was more explicit in noting there was a reason it couldn’t publish all the facts of the case. It also referred to this blog’s efforts to uncover the story and bring it to the attention of the Israeli and international audience:
Anat Kam II? Another affair freely discussed in blogs, websites around world, but in Israel press is muzzled. Arab rights groups: Gag order further evidence of police persecution of Arab community.
Again the whole world knows – but nobody tells us: A new security affair…has caused a storm in the Arab community of Israel. And just like in the Anat Kam case, in this case too the press is muzzled – even as the case gets extensive mention in blogs and website [sic] around the world.
Blogger Richard Silverstein in the website “Tikun Olam”, one of the first to write about the Anat Kam case, has already noted this new affair. In Facebook a protest group has already been set up…
Today, Haaretz also published a new story which reported on the protest planned for Haifa on Monday night and jointly sponsored by the left-wing political parties, Balad and Hadash. Haaretz was even more timid than Ynet though in its refusal to use the “G” word or more explicitly refer to those sources which have broken the gag:
Members of Arab advocacy groups, including Adallah, Mossawa and I’lam Media Center, are angry that they can’t provide details about the circumstances or the reasons for the protest, even though some information has been reported by journalists and bloggers in the United States and Europe, as well as by the Arab press in countries including Israel.
As I noted earlier, I learned another lesson from the Kamm-Blau affair, which featured a Facebook group that disseminated information rapidly and efficiently to its members. I created a group on behalf of Makhoul which after three days has nearly 2,000 members. I’ve learned an enormous amount from the links posted on the Wall there. I’ve also discovered valuable news sources including this one, which mourns the death of Israeli democracy through sharp satire. The post, by well-known Israeli political blogger, “Tom,” features three black and white outlines of images which it asks children to color in as if it was a drawing contest. Here are the sets of text accompanying each image:
Where Has the Arab Disappeared? Where Has Ameer Disappeared?
Weekly Child’s Drawing
Ameer Makhoul went to sleep in his home with his wife and children. Suddenly he disappeared. Along with him documents, maps, computers, his and his children’s cell phones disappeared as well. Can you help Ameer’s family find him?
Children: color in the drawing, leave just the disappeared for handling by the authorities who protect us. Send your drawings to:
Life is Here, Arabs are There
Where Has Democracy Disappeared?
Citizens of the Only Democracy in the Middle East went to sleep smug and blind, when suddenly Democracy disappeared. Some of them claimed it never existed. Can you help the citizens find Democracy? Or at least the remains of her dismembered body? Children, color in the drawing, leaving just Democracy for handling by the security forces.
During the Kamm-Blau affair I noted the power of social networking sites like Facebook to draw together hundreds and thousands of people in support of Israeli political activism and social justice. This was aided by the fact that Facebook is even more popular in Israel than here. Not only is the same the case in our new cause, I’ve noticed a new wrinkle which should alarm the Israeli security services: we’ve managed to bring together people speaking Hebrew, English and Arabic and representing Israeli Jews, Palestinians, and English speakers throughout the world, in a broad campaign to free Makhoul and end the persecution of Israel Jewish and Palestinian human rights and peace activists. This truly is an era in which security forces find it next to impossible to control the democratic impulses of the internet. We may not be able to bring Israeli-Palestinian peace, but we can do our best to fight back against some of the worst excesses of Israel’s security apparatus.
I invite you to join the Free Ameer Makhoul Facebook group and contribute the information, ideas, and thoughts you have to the movement.