Guy Butavia is an Israeli activist and longtime volunteer with Ta’ayush, a Jewish-Palestinian group that makes regular excursions to the South Hebron Hills area of the occupied West Bank to document military and settler violence and to support Palestinian residents defending themselves from it.
A month after Butavia was released from Israeli detention, he spoke to the Alternative Information Center about what happened to him and how it demonstrates a chilling trend in the Israeli government’s attacks against Palestinians and human rights activists.
“In recent years we are witness to attempts to privatize things the state doesn’t want in its name,” Butavia says in the video interview at the top of this article, noting that non-state groups are allowed to do things that might otherwise be prohibited.
While giving the state plausible deniability, such “private” groups, can do everything from going after activists to seizing Palestinian property, Butavia says.
Butavia and Nawi were arrested after a television news program aired footage of Nawi obtained by Ad Kan, a semi-private organization founded by a former official in Israel’s internal security ministry.
Members of Ad Kan had infiltrated Ta’ayush and told Nawi a fabricated story that the family of Nasser Nawaja had agreed to sell their land to Jewish settlers.
In response to Ad Kan’s false claims, Nawi vowed that he would turn over to the Palestinian Authority anyone who conducted such illegal land sales.
Under the Jordanian penal code that still applies in the occupied West Bank, selling land to a foreign state or doing deals with an enemy state or its residents is punishable by prison or hard labor. In 2009, however, a Palestinian military court sentenced a man from the Hebron region to death for selling land that didn’t belong to him using forged documents, under the Palestine Liberation Organization’s 1979 Revolutionary Code. But the Palestinian Authority has not carried out any executions since 2005.
Still, selling land to settlers in the context of a military occupation is almost universally seen by Palestinians as one of the worst forms of collaboration.
After the report was aired on national television, Nawi was arrested at Israel’s main international airport. A week later, Butavia was also arrested at the airport.
Butavia notes that the government has made numerous attempts to incriminate him and Nawi, including trumped up charges that they had attacked soldiers or were carrying large amounts of illicit drugs.
In those cases, the activists had managed to defend themselves, winning an apology in one case and even compensation in another.
“I think we moved to another stage,” Butavia says soberly. “This is worrying because the rules of the game are changing. All sorts of things we assume to be basic are changing.”
Butavia was held for a week and was interrogated on suspicion of being an “accomplice to manslaughter, conspiracy to commit murder, passing on information to a foreign agent, transporting a person without a legal entry permit into Israel and use of drugs.”
Butavia says that his investigators sat across from him with documents they had obtained from Ad Kan.
A Jerusalem court eventually ordered Butavia’s and Nawi’s unconditional release, stating that the police had provided no substantiation of the suspicions against them.
But Butavia told The Electronic Intifada that the court did order them not to speak to each other for two to three months, as the police had requested, significantly hindering their work.
In the video, Butavia says that he cannot discuss details of his interrogation but that torture methods were used against him and others: “Things with which you don’t imagine you’ll have to cope. It appeared that for them, the goal justified the means.”
Butavia refers to experiencing “psychological warfare” as well as physical violence and allegations of pedophilia.
He believes the attack on him and Nawi has succeeded in silencing others.
Speaking of an atmosphere of paranoia and distrust that has been cultivated, Butavia says that people are afraid to speak, fear being recorded and don’t know who to trust.
For now, the prosecution is still waiting to pursue charges against the activists.
“They succeeded to do what they want at least for now,” he says. “But we aren’t giving up. We’ll continue this war, I hope we’ll enlist internal and external strength to explain to the world what is happening here.”