Groups urge Clinton to intervene in case of jailed rights defender

Jailed human rights defender Ameer Makhoul. (Adri Nieuwhof)

The following open letter was sent to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 26 July 2010:

As human rights advocates and representatives of nongovernmental organizations working to promote internationally recognized human rights standards in the US and around the world, we welcomed the important message you delivered to the Community of Democracies in Krakow on 3 July 2010. We wholeheartedly agree that civil society is an essential element in a free nation and plays an important role in identifying and eradicating injustices. As you rightly noted, it was through the critically important work of human rights activists and civil society that the US was able to be put on the path of racial equality.

Because of the commitment you expressed in Krakow and that you have demonstrated during your tenure with nongovernmental organizations working on behalf of vulnerable constituencies, we wish to bring to your attention a troubling development not highlighted in your 3 July remarks. Particularly in the last six months, we have watched with dismay as both real and figurative walls close in on civil society and human rights defenders in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. The most recent case of this is that of human rights defender Ameer Makhoul, an Israeli citizen and head of Ittijah — the Union of Arab Community Based Organizations. Headquartered in Haifa, Ittijah operates as an umbrella organization for civil society member groups working for the advancement of political, cultural, social and economic rights of the Palestinian minority in Israel. At 3:00am on 6 May 2010, Mr. Makhoul was arrested at his home, and both his home and the Ittijah office were searched and personal items, office equipment, documents and databases were seized. Mr. Makhoul was held for two weeks incommunicado while a strict gag order was imposed on the case, and while, according to his lawyers, he was subjected to torture including sleep deprivation and stress positions.

Three weeks after his arrest and detention, Mr. Makhoul was charged with espionage, contacting a foreign agent and other trumped up security charges. Mr. Makhoul denies the charges against him and maintains that his statements were obtained under coercion. His lawyers also contend that their meetings with Mr. Makhoul have been wiretapped by prison authorities. Not only is this a violation of Israeli law, it deprives Mr. Makhoul of a vigorous, unfettered defense.

According to Phillip Luther, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program, “Ameer Makhoul is a key human rights defender, well-known for his civil society activism on behalf of the Palestinian citizens of Israel” and “his arrest and continued detention smacks of pure harassment, designed to hinder his human rights work.” Likewise, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the World Organization Against Torture and the International Federation for Human Rights, has also stated that it seems that his arrest is only aimed at sanctioning his human rights activities. We believe Mr. Makhoul is being prosecuted for his human rights advocacy on behalf of Israel’s Palestinian community and especially for his nonviolent activism seeking to hold Israel accountable for war crimes and other gross violations of human rights.

Madame Secretary, in light of the following, we respectfully request that your office investigate the arrest, unlawful treatment, and detention of Mr. Makhoul and use its considerable diplomatic influence to bring an end to his arbitrary detention and to ensure that Israel, a leading recipient of US military and economic aid, comply with its commitment under US law and international legal norms. We also ask that the State Department call on Israel to cooperate with the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in its investigation of the case of Ameer Makhoul.

We thank you for the leadership you have shown on the issue of the protection of human rights defenders and the pledge of the US State Department to work to develop initiatives that support civil society and strengthen governments committed to democracy. Please let us know how we may be of service to you in your investigation of the case of Mr. Makhoul.

Undersigned organizations:

National Lawyers Guild, New York, New York; Center for Constitutional Rights, New York, New York; International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Brussels, Belgium; Grassroots International, Boston, Massachusetts; Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, Olympia, Washington; Justice First Foundation, Inc.; CODEPINK Greater Boston, Massachusetts; Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions - USA; Jewish Voice for Peace USA; Resource Center for Non-Violence, Santa Cruz, California; UC California Hastings Chapter, National Lawyers Guild San Francisco, California; Citizens for Justice in the Middle East, Kansas City, Missouri; Chicago Faith Coalition for Middle East Policy, Chicago, Illinois; Cincinnati Palestinian Rights Meet-Up, Cincinnati, Ohio; Corvallis-Albany Friends of Middle East Peace, Corvallis, Oregon; International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network; International Solidarity Movement, Northern California; Progressive Democrats of America Israel/Palestine Action Group; Middle East Peace Advisory Committee, Middle East Peace Now - Minnesota; Middle East Peace Committee, Los Angeles, California; St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, St. Louis, Missouri; Free Palestine Movement; Utahns for a Just Peace in the Holy Land; Virginians for Middle East Peace; Coalition for Palestinian Rights-Minnesota; Way to Jerusalem. Washington, DC

Undersigned individuals:

Susan M. Akram, clinical professor, Boston University, School of Law*, Boston, Massachusetts; Huwaida Arraf, Esq., human rights activist; Ajamu Baraka, Executive Director US Human Rights Network*; Medea Benjamin, Co-founder Global Exchange and CODEPINK; Phyllis Bennis, Institute for Policy Studies*, Washington, DC; George Bisharat, professor, Hastings College of Law*,University of California, San Francisco, California; Audrey Bomse, Esq., legal coordinator, Free Gaza Movement; Helena Cobban, owner and manager, Just World Publishing, LLC, Charlottesville, Virginia; Cindy and Craig Corrie, Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, Olympia, Washington; Jamil Dakwar, Esq., human rights advocate, New York, New York; State Rep. Rod Driver, president, Justice First Foundation, West Kingston, Rhode Island; Norman Finkelstein, writer and lecturer, Brooklyn, New York; Linda Frank, Tacoma, Washington; Elizabeth Geschiere, MN Break the Bonds*, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish, Nonviolence*, Stonypoint, NY; Julianne H. Gustafson-Lira, human rights activist, Houston, Texas; Najib Joe Hakim, San Francisco, California; Zaha Hassan, Esq., human rights advocate, Portland, Oregon; Nadia Hijab, author and human rights advocate, Washington, DC; Susan K. Jacoby; Jewish Women for Justice in Israel/Palestine, Boston, Massachusetts; Michael Lerner, editor, Tikkun Magazine*, Chair, The Network of Spiritual Progressives*, Rabbi, Beyt Tikkun Synagogue*, Berkeley, California; Marilyn Levin, United for Justice and Peace Coalition, Palestine Task Force, Boston, Massachusetts; Joseph Levine, Department of Philosophy*, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts; Peter Miller, human rights activist, Portland, Oregon; Jeanne Mirer, president, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, New York, New York; Dr. Nancy Murray, Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights, Boston, Massachusetts; Alice Rothchild, MD, co-chair, American Jews for Just Peace, Boston, Massachusetts; Azadeh Shahshahani, Esq., co-chair, International Committee, National Lawyers Guild, Atlanta, Georgia; Dianne Shammas, Ph.D., Laguna Beach, California; Richard Silverstein, Tikkun Olam, Seattle, Washington; Salena Tramel, Grassroots International,Boston, Massachusetts; the Rev. Richard K. Toll, chair, Friends of Sabeel-North America, Portland, Oregon; Rebecca Vilkomerson, Jewish Voice for Peace USA; Peter Weiss, vice president, Center for Constitutional Rights, New York, New York; Mona Younis, Ph.D., human rights advocate, North Bethesda, Maryland; Hossam Bahgat, executive director, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights; Dr. Kathleen Cavanaugh, Irish Center for Human Rights*, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland; Dr. Jeff Handmaker, Assistant Professor International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University*, Rotterdam, The Netherlands; Bahey Eldin Hassan, general director, Cairo Institute for Human Rights, Cairo, Egypt; Dr. David Heap, Associate Professor and Graduate Chair, French Studies Dept. & Linguistics Program*, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada; Joseph Schechla, coordinator, Housing and Land Rights International, Cairo, Egypt

*For identification purposes only