PA official Ziad Abu Ein was first Palestinian extradited from US to Israel

An Israeli occupation soldier argues with PA official Ziad Abu Ein during a demonstration in the occupied West Bank village of Turmus Aya, 10 December. Abu Ein died a short time later after being assaulted by soldiers.

Shadi Hatem APA images

Ziad Abu Ein, the Palestinian Authority minister who died shortly after being attacked by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank on Wednesday, was given a hero’s funeral today.

He had been taking part in a demonstration and tree-planting in the village of Turmus Aya to oppose Israel’s ongoing theft of Palestinian land.

Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer called Abu Ein’s death a “cold-blooded murder” and urged an international investigation.

Extradition battle

Israeli media are today reporting that Abu Ein, 55, who headed a department that deals with Israeli settlements and land confiscation, “spent several years in Israeli prison for his role in a 1979 terrorist attack in Tiberias” which killed two Israeli 16-year-olds, Boaz Lahav and David Lankri.

But details of his situation from more than thirty years ago show that it was not the open and shut case Israeli media now present.

Back in 1981, The Christian Science Monitor reported:

A precedent-setting US court decision paving the way for the extradition of a Palestinian to Israel has been virtually ignored by the US press. But it nets headlines almost daily in Jordan and other Arab countries.

The man at the center of the controversy is 20-year-old West Bank resident Ziad Abu Ein. Mr. Abu Ein has been held in a Chicago jail without bail since August 1979. Israel has charged him with planting a bomb which killed two children in a crowded Tiberias marketplace.

Abu Ein claims that the two Palestinians who signed confessions incriminating him while held in Israeli prisons in connection with the same incident have since retracted their statements. He also claims to have 14 witnesses who can verify that he was miles away at the time of the bombing.

Here’s the crucial part:

Neither the retracted confessions nor Abu Ein’s documented assertion that he was elsewhere at the time of the incident was admitted as evidence in the extradition hearings. The court reasoned that such testimony contradicts rather than explains the Israeli charges and as such is appropriate only in the criminal trial itself.

None of that mattered. The US court sent Abu Ein back to Israel, where Palestinians could not (and still cannot) count on anything resembling a fair trial and routinely faced torture in order to extract confessions.

Just like Palestinian American community leader Rasmea Odeh today, Abu Ein’s case garnered broad support from Arab American activists at the time.

He was defended by veteran civil rights lawyer Abdeen Jabara who said at the time that the extradition decision was “almost totally political” and “absolutely shocking” from the standpoint of both law and fact.

Former South Dakota senator and American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee founder James Abourezk told The Christian Science Monitor that Abu Ein was “not getting a fair shake. The only reason he’s being treated like this is because he’s a Palestinian. That’s currently an unpopular ethnic group.”

Abu Ein’s defenders, as the article explains in detail, said the State Department had pressured the courts to extradite him.

Abu Ein served only a few years in prison before being released in 1985 as part of a prisoner exchange.

When he returned to the occupied West Bank along with hundreds of other freed prisoners, he said he thought he was at risk of retaliation by Jewish settler militias that were regularly attempting to assassinate Palestinians.

“Everybody knows my face. They know me well,” The Chicago Tribune quoted him saying. “(The Israelis) can do whatever they want with me because they have the weapons and the power.”

“I believe that God is once and death will be once,” Abu Ein added. “If they kill me, I will be a martyr for the cause.”

“Security coordination”

Abu Ein’s death has also brought new criticism on the Palestinian Authority’s policy of “security coordination” with the Israeli occupation.

Under this policy, the PA and Israeli forces work closely together to suppress Palestinian resistance and to keep the occupied population under control.

“The murder of Abu Ein, a minister of the Palestinian Authority, must be a clear imperative to finally cancel the treacherous ‘security coordination’ between the PA and the occupation which has led to the imprisonment and killing of Palestinians and betrays and undermines all Palestinian organizing and resistance,” said Samidoun, the Canada-based Palestinian advocacy network.

Under such pressure at home and abroad, PA officials are now saying they will “limit” work with the occupation.

But given the high-level commitment to security coordination, which PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has termed “sacred,” such statements should be treated with skepticism.

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Bravo Ali, you are the first to give the background to the Abu Ein extradition from the US. The only account I was able to find was that of the Christian Science Monitor from 1981 (as I had remembered the case from that time). It should have been picked up by others as it is apposite now - especially after the similarities with the Odeh case. Thank you for being there.

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.