While Britain keeps Sheikh Raed Saleh as a political prisoner, another Palestinian citizen of Israel who has been persecuted for his work advocating for his community’s rights remains in Israeli prison.
Palestinian civil society leader and boycott, divestment and sanctions advocate Ameer Makhoul is serving out a nine-year prison sentence after he accepted a plea deal on trumped-up security-related charges. Makhoul has written several articles written from prison and published by The Electronic Intifada.
Makhoul was abducted by Israeli forces in his Haifa home in May 2010. He was held incommunicado for two weeks and his lawyers allege he was subjected to ill-treatment and possibly torture at the Petach Tikva interrogation center.
His wife, Janan Abdu, herself an activist in the community and a therapist working with abused women and children, was interviewed by Amnesty International earlier this month. She told Amnesty that in the space of less than two months, her husband was arrested, and then both of her parents passed away. She said:
In our family, we talk of before and after 6 May 2010. Our lives changed completely. The state pushed us, not to the limit, but beyond. I can’t work anymore as a therapist, because I was myself experiencing trauma and I was investing all my time and energy in the campaign to free Ameer. When I’d treat Jewish women at the shelter where I work, I could be seen as ‘the wife of…’. I’m proud of Ameer, of what he is. I believe in him. So my basic income is gone. Our case was all over the media in Israel. Our privacy was taken away. Some websites even published our names, address and phone number. Even my daughters’ picture was in the newspaper. They are 13 and 17. I received threats over the phone and through letters. One letter had a picture of Hitler. I had to change my phone number.
Many of my friends say I should go to the police to report it, but I don’t trust the system anymore. How could I after what they have done to us, my daughters and husband. It’s all one system, the system that kidnapped and tortured my husband. We don’t have any protection against the overwhelming power of the State. The right to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, I doubt if the right to a fair trial, means anything here. Israeli courts legalize these violations of fundamental human rights and allow large derivations from it. What cows are to India, security is to Israel: when they call in security, human rights vanish. This is what makes us afraid, because human rights should be a protection against abuse of power by the State.
The order to search our home was given by a judge. There was a gag order for the press. Ameer did not get permission to see his lawyer for two weeks. The judge refused a blood test after he claimed to be tortured. How can I trust the legal system? I want to believe in justice. I am a social worker and all my life I worked to help victimes, children, women, Arabs and Jews. But now I became very suspicious of the system from my own experience.
The Electronic Intifada also published this interview with Abdu last summer. The detention of Makhoul is “obvious that it’s part of the persecution of Arab activists and political leaders. It’s a message to all of us, to keep us silent, to make us afraid,” Abdu said.
The political persecution of Ameer Makhoul has provoked outcry from organizations like Amnesty International, which considers Makhoul a prisoner of conscience.
According to a summary of recent advocacy developments related to Makhoul’s case that was sent to The Electronic Intifada, on 18 May Patrick Braouezec, a member of parliament in France, sent a letter to the French Minister of Foreign Affairs which described the “scandalous conditions” of Makhoul’s arrest. The letter mentions that Makhoul is often denied family visits and “most of the time he is not allowed to send or receive letters or books.” Braouezec adds in his letter: “The State of Israel uses [arrest and detention] as a means to intimidate Palestinian Israeli activists, but it acts in violation of international law.”
Meanwhile in Belgium, Amnesty International Belgium began a campaign marking its 50th anniversary in support of Palestinian political prisoners Ahmad Qatamesh, Samar Barghouti, Ajuad Zidan and Makhoul.
And on 25 May, the International Council of the World Social Forum, with which Makhoul was a member, called for the release of Makhoul and all other Palestinian political prisoners. “The persecution of Ameer Makhoul and other Palestinian civil society leaders — whether citizens of Israel or living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza — demonstrates Israel’s increasingly extreme policy of repression,” the letter states.
(In April, The Electronic Intifada pubilshed this interview with Mireille Fanon-Mendes France, in which the daughter of the historical liberation thinker Frantz Fanon tells Adri Nieuwhof how she served as a character witness in Makhoul’s trial. Fanon-Mendes France and Makhoul worked together for several years representing their organizations at the World Social Forum International Council.)
And on 31 May, the Arab Organization for Human Rights sent a letter to the president of the UN Human Rights Council to file a complaint against Israel, stating that Israel’s treatment of Makhoul, including subjecting him to a travel ban prior to his arrest and convicting him on the basis of secret evidence, “represent a flagrant violation of the UN Declaration and the EU guidelines on human rights defenders.”
The letter adds: “AOHR strongly believe that [Makhoul’s] arrest and trial is part of an escalated Israeli campaign to restrict civil society organizations and public action, in an attempt to crush the popular movement to defend the rights and the existence of the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel.”