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The Only Democracy? » Discrimination, Human Rights Activists in the Crosshairs » Israeli Govt. Criminalizes Its Arab-Citizen Leaders: May 14 Update

Israeli Govt. Criminalizes Its Arab-Citizen Leaders: May 14 Update

(crossposted on Daily Kos)

On Monday I reported here the arrest of two prominent Palestinian citizens of Israel – Dr. Omar Saeed and Ameer Makhoul – at a time when these news still banned from publication in Israel. The ban was partially lifted a few hours later, crumbling under the pressure of both the Israeli-Palestinian public openly protesting the arrests, and the Israeli blogosphere ignoring the gag.

I suggested that the arrests signify a step up in the ongoing government campaign to criminalize politically legitimate activities of Israeli-Palestinians. Shin Bet secret-police chief Yuval Diskin has repeatedly expressed his eagerness to do this, with respect to leaders supporting the one-state concept (such as the above two). Since Monday, Palestinian and Israeli commentators voiced concerns similar to mine; most prominently perhaps Gideon Levy, whose words appear below the fold.
Also: more details about Dr. Omar Saeed from a close Israeli friend and colleague; the judge who granted the gag order, as Exhibit A for challenges to the independence of Israel’s judiciary; and blogosphere speculations about the charges themselves (whose details are still gagged).

Diskin’s Crusade against Palestinian-Israeli Equality

There has been increasing awareness and acknowledgment of just how thoroughly Palestinian citizens of Israel are being discriminated against. The binational NGO Sikkuy even introduced a few years ago an annual “inequality index” to gauge the nation’s progress or deterioration on the issue.

But as Israeli Palestinians begin lobbying more strongly for their rights, and as successive governments pay lip service regarding their intentions to promote equality, an unexpected wrench was thrown into this from Yuval Diskin, head of the Shin Bet secret police. In May 2007 he sent a chilling memo to Israeli-Paletinian NGOs.

The Shin Bet security service believes it is within its charter to carry out surveillance operations, such as phone taps, on individuals deemed as “conducting subversive activity against the Jewish identity of the state,” even if their actions are not in violation of the law.

In a letter sent on Sunday to the Adalah Arab rights group and written at the behest of Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin outlined the security service’s authority to carry out investigations against Israeli citizens.

The letter is a response to an inquiry by the Arab rights group that asked Shin Bet to define its authorities in the wake of the security services recent statement that it would probe political activities aimed at changing the ‘Jewish identity’ of Israel.

While the political system received Diskin’s manifeto with mixed reactions (at that time there was still a centrist majority in Knesset rather than a right-wing one), the Shin Bet doesn’t play in the political game; rather, it determines the rules of the game in which politicians play. And thus, around the same time (spring 2007), the most charismatic Israeli-Palestinian politician, then-Member-of-Knesset (MK) Dr. Azmi Bishara, was hounded out of the country for fear of being jailed as a traitor. After the details were un-gagged, it turned out that the Shin Bet accused Dr. Bishara of passing to Hibzullah information about strategic targets during the 2006 war, in return to money.

Now, the Shin Bet does have the formal authority to bring forth charges. But consider these teeny bits:

  • MK’s receive excellent salary and benefits, and Bishara was already guaranteed a very generous state pension having served for 15 years. A philosopher by training and a visionary firebrand speaker by talent, he also doesn’t seem like he type who’d place becoming a millionaire above all else.
  • The Hizbullah has time and again proven to be an over-performing guerilla force in all respects – logistics, intelligence, preparation, and fighting. Does it really seem serious that after 25 years on the ground, they need information from a big-mouth politician and philosopher, of all people, to understand what are the strategic targets in the part of Israel just south of their border?
  • After Diskin’s vision about what how his modest little “security” outfit should treat Israeli-Palestinian organizations was made public, and knowing Shin Bet tactics especially w.r.t lying with a straight face, does anyone really think they would mind bending a few rules in order to frame him?

Well, 3 years have passed. Bishara is in exile, neutralized from Israeli politics, but his Balad party actually increased from 2 to 3 Knesset seats. Other Israeli-Palestinian leaders such as Sheikh Raed Saleh have been repeatedly harassed by authorities. And now, since 2009, there is a new government whose tone towards Palestinian citizens of Israel has been set by racist thug Avigdor Lieberman. The minister of police (“internal security”) is from his party. So Diskin has even more encouragement to pursue his pet project.

Here’s what Gideon Levy had to say about this recent assault and the broader picture of our self-congratulatory “tolerance” towards our Palestinian minority:

No one knows yet what exactly they are accused of and on what grounds. Perhaps the Shin Bet security mountain will produce a mole hill, perhaps not, but in the context of another ugly and collective wave of mudslinging against the Arabs of Israel, it’s time to reveal an indictment of a different sort: What can we possibly want from our Arab citizens? The truth is, more than anything, we would like them to disappear, although not their hummous restaurants…

We would like their MKs, if we still agree to let them have MKs, to visit the Jewish communities of the United States, prostrate themselves on the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav and take part in the March of the Living at Auschwitz. Just as long as they don’t visit their brethren in Arab countries…

Let them take Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s loyalty test. Let them obey the Citizenship Law and not marry members of their people from the occupied territories. Let them obey the so-called Nakba Law and not dare mention the events of 1948, even in a whisper, ever. Let them not dare buy an apartment in Upper Nazareth or Carmiel, which were built on their lands, and let them not try to rent an apartment in Tel Aviv. Let them not even think of enjoying themselves at our clubs, though there’s no chance the security guards would let them in. Let them adopt an Israeli accent, preferably Ashkenazi, so security guards at Ben-Gurion International Airport won’t stop them…

And of course, let them not dare meet with “foreign agents,” almost all of whom are citizens of neighboring countries.

If indeed the “minorities” or “Arab Israelis” – we also forced these titles on them, why should we call them Palestinians? – meet all these impossible conditions, maybe we will accept them somehow. Then we will continue to gobble up pita and hummus, coffee and baklava on the house, and let them build our homes – on condition that they don’t listen to Arabic radio while working.

More about Dr. Omar Saeed

Details emerge about Dr. Saeed, the lesser-known of the two arrested leaders. Saeed’s longtime friend and colleague Dr. Stephen Fulder, an Israeli Jew who was born and raised in England, came to his defense, releasing a personal statement in Hebrew and English. Following is the complete statement from Dr. Fulder.

Dr. Omar Saeed, my long time friend, co-worker, peace and ecological activist, and fellow academic, was arrested and accused of spying for Hizbullah. The [Israeli] newspapers have given him all kinds of damaging and untrue labels. I want to correct these impressions.

1. Dr. Omar Saeed is an important international intellectual figure, a scientist, pharmacologist and one of the world’s top experts on traditional Arabic medicine, medical history and medicinal plants. He has written many scientific papers, some of which I have written with him. He is the author of a forthcoming academic text which will be the most authoritative text on Arabic medicine in the world. He is the founder and director of the largest botanical garden of medicinal plants in the Middle East. This subject is his passion and his main activity in life. Many years ago he was active politically, and he has been the deputy head of his village of Kfar Kanna in the Galilee. Now his passion is his professional subject, and his social activity is mostly within an NGO in education, ecology and co-existence.

2. Dr. Saeed has never shown, in the 15 years I have worked closely with him both as a co-worker and as a close friend, any hate or tendency to conflict. He is a peace worker who longs for peaceful co-existence. He has taken many actions in his life to bring healing to his community and to the relationships between Jews and Arabs. He works with and is close to both Jews and Arabs in daily life, in work and in the intellectual community. The herbal projects he is involved with are examples of peace projects in which both Jews and Arabs participate. For example he has invited and given classes to many thousands of Arab and Jewish children at the botanical garden, bringing them together to study something of interest to all communities. All those who have worked with him on a daily basis and know him, including many Jewish colleagues, know him to be a friend, a warm partner, a lover of peace and a great man with a big heart.

3. Dr. Saeed is constantly travelling throughout the world, in particular Jordan, where he buys herbs, carries out research, and meets experts from Arab countries. It is shameful that this activity is the reason for the suspicion of the Israeli security apparatus. I am completely convinced that a great mistake and a serious injustice is happening right now. Omar is still in prison on remand.

Dr. Stephen Fulder (Author, Researcher).

Meanwhile, about the same man Dr. Fulder described here, Foreign Minister Lieberman said today: “There is far more than general suspicions, and I suggest we really understand that there are quite a few people even here among us with the same values and world view as Iran, Hezbollah, and North Korea. They are much closer to the values of these countries that the values of a free democratic state like Israel. These people should be isolated from society.”

Whom do YOU choose to believe? Join the Facebook group to free Ameer Makhoul and Omar Saeed.

I am leaving the other updates promised in the intro, for tomorrow or Sunday. By the way, tomorrow Palestinians mark Nakba Day.

Here is a video from the Alternative Information Center on Ameer Makhoul’s detention.

Written by

Assaf Oron works as a statistician and moonlights (voluntarily) as a human-rights activist and blogger. He arrived in Seattle from Israel in 2002 for studies, and for now is sticking with the local greyness, dampness and uber-politeness, while plotting his glorious repatriation to the land of eternal sunshine and rudeness. Meanwhile, he tries to explain to anyone who cares to listen, what the Occupation is and why it must be ended now, not later. Assaf is webmaster for the Israeli human rights organization "Villages Group"

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