Israeli secret police holding journalist in cell with no bed or window

Majd Kayyal in Beirut. (As-Safir/Facebook)

Update, 17 April UTC 16:09: Kayyal released from Shin Bet detention

The legal advocacy group Adalah has reported on its Facebook page that, following its urgent appeal, Majd Kayyal was released from Shin Bet detention today.

Haaretz states that Kayyal was “released to house arrest” and that his next court hearing is 22 April.

Original post

The journalist and activist Majd Kayyal has met with lawyers for the first time since his detention by Israel’s Shin Bet secret police last Saturday.

In another significant development, reported by the Associated Press, Shin Bet has said it dropped any suspicion Kayyal had been “recruited by a militant organization” but was still “considering indicting him for traveling to Lebanon.”

Following the lifting of a gag order on all public discussion of the situation, the legal advocacy group Adalah said its lawyers met with Kayyal, a 23-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel, on Wednesday evening at a Shin Bet detention center.

In addition to the gag order, an Israeli judge had prohibited Kayyal from meeting with lawyers for the five days since he was arrested.

No bed or window

“Kayyal informed his lawyers that since the beginning of his detention, he has been held in a cell with very poor conditions. The cell does not have a bed or a window for sunlight. The cell is lit with a bright yellow light 24 hours a day, to the extent that Kayyal lost track of the time and day,” Adalah states in a press release.

“Kayyal also went through very long hours of intensive investigations, including questions about his personal life. The investigation revolved around his trip to Beirut, which Kayyal had publicized on his social media pages. He was also interrogated about his meetings with a number of participants at the As-Safir conference he attended,” the statement notes.

Kayyal was arrested following his return from Lebanon, where he attended public events marking the fortieth anniversary of the Beirut-based Arabic newspaper As-Safir, for which he writes. Kayyal is also a web editor for Adalah and known for his activism for the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

“Kayyal told the investigators that all of his meetings in Beirut fell within the context of his work as a journalist. During the interrogation, Kayyal underwent a polygraph test, which showed that he was telling the truth,” Adalah states.

Despite the lifting of the gag order and the ban on meeting with lawyers, Kayyal has been ordered held until 22 April. Adalah has said it will file an appeal to seek his immediate release.

In addition, Israeli police have searched Kayyal’s home twice, reportedly seizing items including computers. A photo posted by Arabs 48 shows Kayyal’s ransacked suitcase full of his clothes and books.

Double standards

Adalah places the persecution of Kayyal in the context of Israel’s broader repressive measures specifically targeting Palestinian citizens of Israel:

In Adalah’s view, the core issue is the prohibition on Palestinian citizens of Israel from entering numerous Arab countries, which in this case prevents journalists like Kayyal from enjoying their right to work, communicate and be in physical contact with Arab journalists and Arabic language newspapers. The Emergency Regulations Law (1948) and the Israeli Infiltration Law (1954) apply a sweeping prohibition on entering several Arab and Muslim countries, including Lebanon, which are defined as “enemy states.” Applications to the Israeli Interior Ministry by Arab citizens for permits to travel to these countries are generally refused regardless of the trip’s purpose such as family visits, professional trips or cultural events. These laws affect all Palestinian citizens in Israel and violate their right under international law as a national minority to maintain their relations with their own people. Moreover, the crimes for which Kayyal is accused of are essentially the fulfillment of his duty as a journalist, and his rights to freedom of movement and freedom of expression.

By contrast, Israeli media – and apparently the authorities – consider it a major achievement when Israeli Jewish journalists enter Arab countries, perhaps considering this a sign of normalization of ties or national prowess.

There have been several recent instances of Jewish Israeli journalists “sneaking” into Syria with no reported negative consequences.

In another instance in 2007, Lisa Goldman, a Canadian who settled in present-day Israel, traveled to Lebanon to file reports for Israel’s Channel 10.

Goldman, accused of breaching journalistic ethics, told CNN she was driven by “pure curiosity.”

Goldman, who now works for the New America Foundation, is also not known to have been detained incommunicado, interrogated, banned from meeting with lawyers, or to have suffered any other negative consequences.

Gag order

Following the lifting of the gag order, Israeli mainstream media have begun to report on Kayyal’s case, including Haaretz, which had remained totally silent about it.

At the blog +972, Dimi Reider notes Israeli mainstream media held back “in line with its habitual kowtowing of the security services line.”

But he notes that “media outlets abroad took the lead on ignoring the ban, with [The] Electronic Intifada even posting the classified transcript of the remand hearing, which prompted a question on the arrest at the State Department hearing on Monday. On this occasion, a growing number of Israeli independent publications also chose to defy the ban.”

These included Hebrew blogs and the Arabic-language press serving Palestinians in present-day Israel.

Israel Social TV has posted this video of a rally outside Haaretz headquarters yesterday protesting media complicity in Israel’s repression of Kayyal and other Palestinians.

The video carries the ironic Hebrew title “Palestinian journalism – a danger to security.”

Arabs 48 reported that supporters of Kayyal were to hold a protest in his hometown of Haifa this evening, demanding his release.

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Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.