When you are a political activist facing a sentence of life to be handed down by a security state in which all the levers of power are arrayed against you; when you are a father and husband facing the prospect of never seeing your daughters till they themselves are grown, married and with children of their own; when you are a man who has faced a lifetime of oppression as a member of a largely despised Israeli minority and understands that every card is stacked against you. When you face all of these factors in weighing your future and your options in facing “justice,” what do you do?
Do you respond as Ethel Rosenberg did? Though the historical record now indicates that her husband was likely a spy and hence guilty of some of the charges against him (though they certainly didn’t constitute a capital crime), the record also indicates that Ethel was press-ganged by a national security apparatus which used her as leverage to extort a guilty plea from her husband. But Ethel turned the tables on the government and didn’t play the role the government expected. She refused to pressure her husband and was so infused with discipline and belief in the couple’s cause that neither broke and they went to their deaths for it.
If you are Ameer Makhoul, what do you do? If you are Richard Silverstein or whoever reads these words–what do YOU do? Do you cave in the belief that you are entitled to save yourself for the sake of family, your political work, your life? Or do you hang tough and never give an inch?
Ameer Makhoul has made his choice. He has signed a plea bargain admitting to a number of the charges levelled against him by the Israeli secret police (though his attorneys say that some of the original charges were removed from the final deal). The Haaretz headline says he admitted to espionage, contact with a foreign agent, and abetting an enemy.
The national security goons will never tell you what Makhoul really did. But I have reported here about what I know of those contacts. Makhoul met, during a conference he attended in Amman, with Hassan Jaja, an expatriate Lebanese environmental activist and landscape designer living in Jordan. This is the alleged Hezbollah agent to whom the Israeli Palestinian activist spilled precious state secrets. What did he tell him? That Haifa bay faced environmental pollution?
Imagine yourself Nancy Pelosi, who when she was Minority Leader during the Bush presidency, travels to Syria and meets with that country’s president. The Wall Street Journal calls for your prosecution under the obscure Logan Act, which prohibits Americans from traveling abroad to conspire with an enemy state. All this happened. But imagine what could’ve come afterward: when Pelosi returns she finds a subpoena from the FBI investigating her for her actions. The Republican Justice Department files suit against her and even wins a conviction accompanied by a serious jail sentence. Imagine Nancy Pelosi spending five or tens years in federal prison, all for meeting Bashar Assad.
Fantasy, you say? Of course. But not for Ameer Makhoul. He had a meeting with a man, which for any other person in the world would be an ordinary meeting over coffee involving consultation about issues of mutual concern. But for a politically hounded Israeli Palestinian activist, this meeting becomes the grounds for stealing his liberty and throwing him into a cell for possibly the rest of his life.
Makhoul’s wife is circulating tonight a statement read on her husband’s behalf at the International Conference of the World Social Forum, which addresses these same issues:
I urge you, my brothers and sisters, to come to Haifa on the day of my trial [Thursday, October 28th 2010] so that you can see for yourselves that the Israeli court and legal system are mere manifestations of the Israeli state’s injustice. Thus, we do not seek justice in these systems, but we choose to…accuse them of being instruments of oppression, not righteousness. A Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli prison can never be found innocent.
They target us, the 1948 Palestinians, and our relations with our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the West Bank, in the Gaza Strip and in exile, as well as our relations with the Arab world. For according to the myths of Israeli security, these are considered to be “relations with the enemy.” However, our enemy is not and will never be any people or national, religions or ethnic group. As much as they would like to accuse us as such, the Jews are not our enemy.
Or, as the Talmud would have it: leyt din, v’leyt dayan (“there is no judge and no justice”)
You will undoubtedly hear a floodgate of self-congratulation from apologists for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians trumpeting Makhoul’s “confession” and “admission of guilt” (according to Israeli headlines). But you and I and every reasonable person knows what happened here. Makhoul chose a tactical retreat in order to preserve what he could of his liberty.
What evidence do I have of this? Look at the history of similar Shin Bet prosecutions. They are known for targeting effective political leaders and hounding them into prison or exile. They did this as early as the 1960s when they drove Mahmoud Darwish into exile. A more recent victim was Amzi Bishara, whom the Shin Bet drove from the country. In 2004, they arrested Mohammed Kana’neh, giving no reason for doing so. Eventually, he too accepted a plea deal involving a 30-month sentence which, on appeal, was lengthened by another two years. Yes, under Israeli justice, when the defense appeals they ADD to your sentence if you’re a Palestinian security suspect.
The Shabak has a very narrow repertory and very little imagination. The list of crimes of Palestinian security suspects is long, but remains the same no matter the name of the suspect. In the old days, perhaps you met with a radical leader of the PLO. Today, you meet with Hezbollah. So yes, there are a few modifications over time to account for changes in political fashion. But the broad outlines remain virtually the same.
Returning to Makhoul’s plea bargain, the prosecution is seeking a ten-year sentence in connection with the reduced charges. The defense is lobbying for a seven-year term. Seven years instead of life. That’s a tough calculation to make. But can anyone fault a condemned man for choosing a lesser sentence so that he can live to fight another day?
The Haaretz story as much as alludes to my own perspective on the plea deal and the reasons Makhoul agreed to it:
Makhoul’s lawyer said that notwithstanding the plea bargain, his client did not pass on classified information to an enemy agent, and that all of the information was already known.
Makhoul said in court yesterday that the story “is not yet finished.”
Makhoul said that although many of the charges that were brought against him were irrelevant, he decided to accept the plea bargain after consulting with his lawyers and with his family.
If you read Hebrew and don’t mind reading an article that is liable to make you ill, you can read Dan Margalit’s smug, self-satisfied pimping for Israel secret police and its role in this case. Margalit brags that Makhoul was allegedly made to eat crow and rescind every charge he made against the Shin Bet (no torture, no mistreatment). The Bibiton bought-and-paid-for reporter also rubs the noses of the Israel-Palestinian activist solidarity community (that would be you and me) who championed Makhoul’s innocence. “Look at ’em, now,” Margalit seems to be saying. “Boy, they’ll have to eat crow after this.”
I detest the man, as I wrote to the Israeli friend who sent me this piece of garbage. The Talmud talks about those who sin unintentionally and those who do so intentionally. For unintentional sin, the punishment is much lighter than for intentional sin. Margalit’s sins of bolstering the evil of the Israeli crimes against Palestinians are not unintentional. His are fully intentional. Unfortunately, only history can mete out punishment for the Margalits of the Israeli power elite. The wages of his sin will be future irrelevancy when history eventually rights the wrongs and clears the record of Israeli injustice and Occupation.
We may have a long time to wait for the liberation of political prisoners like Ameer Makhoul and the ending of Israel’s massive system of injustice. But we and the Palestinians will win this fight. And Israel will be the better for it. Not weakened or destroyed as the apologists have it. Justice when it finally comes in a national conflict does not ultimately harm either victim or perpetrator. It heals both (cf. South Africa, Northern Ireland, Kosovo). And it will do so in this case as well. Of that you can be sure.
If I were Hamas, I would add a new name to the prisoner list of those they are seeking to free in exchange for Gilad Shalit: Ameer Makhoul.
- Israeli Arab convicted of spying (bbc.co.uk)