The Shin Bet continues its deliberate campaign to criminalize humanitarian aid work in Palestine by arresting yet another aid worker on trumped-up terror charges. The new case involves a Spaniard, Juana Ruiz, working for the Spanish NGO, Health Work Committees, in the West Bank. She was arrested in Bethlehem and has been held incommunicado for two weeks under relentless, abusive interrogation lasting six hours per day. She has neither been indicted nor charged with a crime. But the Shin Bet has conveniently leaked to the media that she has engaged in aiding a terror organization through money laundering. This is a charge used routinely in similar past cases in which the security apparatus seeks to sabotage the work of aid groups on behalf of Palestinians.
Ruiz’s lawyer has not been able to consult with her privately as called for under the Geneva Convention. She also has a medical condition which her jailers have refused to treat.
The real reason for her arrest is that she is married to a Palestinian. They live in the village of Beit Sahour. That’s the first strike against her. The second is that the finance director of her NGO is purportedly a PFLP militant whom the Shin Bet suspects of involvement in the murder of an Israeli woman in 2019. It claims he financed the attack himself. And that he did so with funding from HWC. NGO Monitor, the anti-Palestinian organization which acts as a mouthpiece of the security apparatus has presented the “charges” concisely on its website:
Health Work Committees (HWC)
- Since 2014, the Basque Autonomous Community provided at least €6 million for projects partnering with HWC.
- HWC has been referred to as a “sister organization” of the PFLP “affiliate” UHWC.
- On June 9, 2015, the Israel defense minister announced that the Jerusalem branch of the Health Work Committee is an unlawful association, designated as a terrorist organization by the Israel High Court of Justice (HCJ 3923/15; emphasis added).
- Walid Hanatsheh (Abu Ras), HWC’s finance and administration manager, is on trial for allegedly being the leader of PFLP “military” operations and commanding the PFLP terror cell that carried out the August 2019 bombing attack (see UAWC above). According to the indictment against him, Hanatsheh bankrolled the bombing. Following his arrest, the PFLP labeled Hanatsheh a “leader in the Popular Front.”
You might think from the passage above–which offers two links purportedly showing that HWC and its “sister organization” UHWC are “PFLP affiliates–that it’s a slam dunk and HWC is as good as a Palestinian terror cell. But the sources linked do not offer any proof of such claims. This is standard operating procedure for NGO Monitor, which has been successfully sued for slandering Palestinian NGOs in the past.
Nor has the Shin Bet presented any such evidence in court against Juana. Or I should say, that if it did present evidence it did so in camera, and only to the judge. Not to the defense lawyers. In the Israeli security system, the security services may may argue that showing such evidence to the defense will compromise Israel’s security. And the judge invariably sides with the Shin Bet. That gives the defense lawyers no chance to either examine the evidence or refute it. Such is the shabby standard of justice in Israel. But presumably arresting and abusing her till (or if) she flips on Hanatsheh is a convenient way of building a case against both of them.
In a similar case, Mohammad El Halabi worked as a staff member of the Australian affiliate of World Vision. He too was accused of money laundering on behalf of Hamas. Here is how I described in 2016 the wild conspiracy case cobbled together by the Israeli security services against him:
If you were to believe the Shabak, a senior manager of World Vision has been a Hamas operative for over a decade and underwent military training under the Islamist group’s auspices. In 2005, Hamas planted him in the organization and directed him to loot its coffers of “tens of millions of dollars” and transfer the funds to Hamas. This amounted, if one believes the security services, to 60% of the budget of the Gaza office. The money was used by Hamas to fund its military wing, specifically to build tunnel infrastructure.
Among other charges against al–Halabi is that he created programs to aid Gaza farmers near Israel’s border. But that in reality he was using the project to establish surveillance outposts for Hamas along the border. Here again, is another reason Shin Bet would want to frustrate such projects. It would not wish to see thriving agricultural operations on the border. It would rather see this area open and barren in order to improve Israeli reconnaissance and surveillance..
Unlike many Palestinian arrestees, El Halabi has refused to cop a plea. In fact, no less a right-wing Israeli media outlet than the Jerusalem Post has called him the “Palestinian Dreyfus.” The Israeli authorities have left him to rot in prison for nearly five years. No indictment or charges filed. The victim has refused to play the game: by refusing to accept a plea. This denies Israel the right to claim that he’s admitted to the charges against him in return for a reduced sentence. Of course, they throw the threat of a 20-year sentence against him (as they did against another Palestinian arrestee, Dirar Abusisi) and offer him 10 years if he pleads guilty. If he refuses, then he stays where he is till he’s broken enough that he gives up and admits guilt. It’s a cruel game played by the Shin Bet. But this is the corrupt, rotten form of “justice” offered by the Israeli justice system to its Palestinian victims.
A dark irony related to the Ruiz case is that a Palestinian journalist, Muath Hamed, who exposed a Mossad operation recruiting Palestinians in Turkey to spy for Israel, was interrogated by a Mossad agent while in the custody of Spanish police on Spanish soil. Such questioning violates every diplomatic norm. But Spanish law enforcement seems to have quite a cozy relationship with the Mossad.
Though the Spanish foreign ministry has protested the treatment of Ruiz, it might want to remind their Israeli counterparts that if they expect Spain to permit such outrageous behavior on Spanish soil, that the least Israel could do is desist from imprisoning its citizens on such patently fabricated charges.