[Ppnews] The Torture of Ameer Makhoul

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri May 28 11:58:36 EDT 2010

May 28 - 30, 2010

Lawyers Say Spying Confession Inadmissable

The Torture of Ameer Makhoul


A leading human rights activist from Israel's Palestinian Arab 
minority was charged yesterday with the most serious security 
offences on Israel's statute book, including espionage.

Prosecutors indicted Ameer Makhoul, the head of Ittijah, an umbrella 
organisation for Arab human rights groups in Israel, with spying on 
security facilities on behalf of Hizbollah after an alleged meeting 
with one of its agents in Denmark in 2008.

Mr Makhoul, who had been held incommunicado by Israel's secret 
police, the Shin Bet, for much of the time since his arrest three 
weeks ago, appeared in court and pleaded not guilty. In his first 
public statement, he told the court: "The Shin Bet controls the 
Israeli justice system."

As a gag order was lifted on the case, his lawyers said Mr Makhoul 
had been tortured during his detention, including being told by 
interrogators that they would leave him "disabled". The three lawyers 
said he had been forced to make a false confession, which they would 
argue was inadmissible.

Mr Makhoul's arrest had angered many in Israel's Palestinian 
minority, nearly a fifth of the population, who suspect he is being 
persecuted for his leading role in promoting internationally the 
boycott movement against Israel and his prominent opposition to 
Israel's attack on Gaza nearly 18 months ago.

He has been backed by human rights groups abroad, including Amnesty 
International, which declared him a prisoner of conscience and 
accused Israel of "pure harassment".

Mr Makhoul's brother, Issam, a former MP for a joint Jewish-Arab 
party, told Israel Radio yesterday that Mr Makhoul had been 
threatened by the Shin Bet back in January 2009, shortly after he 
organised protests against the Gaza attack. The Shin Bet had told him 
that they would frame him and "make him disappear", Issam Makhoul said.

Mr Makhoul's wife, Janan, who saw her husband in court for the first 
time since he had been arrested, said he was in constant pain and had 
impaired vision. She added: "He is very exhausted and he told me 
about the torture he underwent in his interrogation. Thirty-six hours 
without sleep tied to a chair stuck to the floor."

Mr Makhoul, 52, is charged with assistance to the enemy in a time of 
war, conspiracy to assist an enemy, aggravated espionage and contact 
with a foreign agent. According to the indictment, he passed on 
"strategic intelligence" to Hizbollah agents on at least 10 occasions 
via encrypted e-mails.

The militant Lebanese group is said to have used Mr Makhoul, whose 
organisation is based in the northern city of Haifa, to provide 
information on security installations in the north.

Mr Makhoul is alleged to have provided details of the locations of 
two Shin Bet facilities, a Mossad office, a military base and a 
Rafael armaments factory, as well as trying unsuccessfully to gather 
information on the security arrangements of Benjamin Netanyahu, the 
prime minister, and Ehud Barak, the defence minister.

A senior Shin Bet officer told the liberal Haaretz newspaper: "Part 
of the information that Makhoul transferred could be delivered by 
anyone with a pair of eyes and Google Earth [a computer program 
providing satellite images]. But Makhoul, as an Israeli Arab, has 
freedom of movement and access across Israel."

Prosecutors also accused him of passing on the names of six Israelis 
as potential spies and providing analysis of trends in Israeli 
politics and society.

Hizbullah, prosecutors suggested, was especially keen to learn about 
its success in hitting Israeli security installations with rockets 
during its military confrontation with Israel in 2006.

In a related case, Omar Said, 50, a pharmacologist and political 
activist, was charged yesterday in a Nazareth court with contacting 
and transferring information to Hizbollah after meeting an agent in 
the Sinai resort of Sharm El Sheikh. He denied the allegations and 
said he too had been forced into making a confession.

Hassan Jaja, a Lebanese businessman living in Jordan, is alleged to 
have initiated contacts between Hizbollah and Mr Said and Mr Makhoul.

The Adalah legal centre, which represents Mr Makhoul, said his 
indictment was based on a confession extracted during nearly two 
weeks in which he was denied a lawyer, kept in a small isolation 
cell, deprived of sleep and food, and shackled in a painful position 
to a small chair.

The combination of methods, known in Hebrew as the "Shabeh", created 
high levels of mental stress and acute, continuous physical pain, 
said Abir Baker, a lawyer with Adalah. The interrogation method 
violates international law and was banned by Israel's supreme court in 1999.

Hasan Jabareen, head of Adalah, said that, when Mr Makhoul complained 
of serious pain, the interrogators tied him even tighter, threatening 
that he would be "left disabled".

Issam Makhoul said the family was concerned that the court had denied 
his lawyers the right to see a medical report from a state physician 
who visited him twice during his interrogation.

Ms Baker said recent amendments to Israel's security laws had given 
the Shin Bet "dangerous powers" to deny suspects the right to see a 
lawyer for up to 21 days, with limited judicial oversight.

Such powers were being used almost exclusively against Palestinian 
citizens held in detention, she said, though the state had refused to 
provide figures on how frequently the law was being employed.

She said, during periods when suspects could not see a lawyer, 
interrogators were more likely to use illegal torture methods.

A report by the Abu Dhabi-based National newspaper in January 2009 
supports Issam Makhoul's claim that his brother was threatened in an 
earlier Shin Bet interrogation. Mr Makhoul told the paper at the time 
that a Shin Bet officer "called me a rebel threatening the security 
of the state during time of war and said he would be happy to 
transfer me to Gaza".

Mr Makhoul's case, said Mohammed Zeidan, head of the Human Rights 
Association in Nazareth, had left everyone in Israel's human rights 
community "afraid". "The Shin Bet wanted to take him out of the game 
and they have succeeded," he said. "Ameer has been disappeared."

Mr Zeidan added that the case had strong echoes of what he called 
recent "unwarranted legal assaults" by the Shin Bet on two other 
Palestinian leaders in Israel.

Sheikh Raed Salah, of the popular Islamic Movement, was arrested in 
2003 and spent two years in jail awaiting trial on charges of 
assisting a terror organisation before he was released in a plea 
bargain in which he admitted only financial misdemeanours.

Since 2007 Azmi Bishara, the leader of the Balad party, has been in 
exile after he was accused of espionage while out of the country. 
Critics say the Shin Bet effectively silenced him without having to 
produce evidence.

"It has become clear over the past few years that this could happen 
to any of us," he said.

On Wednesday, in a related development, the parliament passed the 
first reading of a "loyalty bill", introduced by the far-right 
Yisrael Beiteinu party, that would strip anyone found guilty of 
espionage of their citizenship.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. 
His latest books are 
and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the 
Middle East" (Pluto Press) and 
Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair" (Zed Books). His 
website is <http://www.jkcook.net>www.jkcook.net.

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