1 August 2003 — Israeli police stormed a summer camp for Palestinian youth yesterday, and arrested fourteen of the organizers, after the camp had been accused of incitement against Israel in a TV report on Wednesday. The camp was organized by the Al Balad Cultural Association in the Arab village of Kabul in northern Israel, and was due to end this Sunday. At a court hearing today, the police could present no evidence of incitement. The presiding judge declared that four of the arrested should remain in court until Monday, to allow police to find evidence for the case.
According to Ibrahim Makkawi, an activist at the summer camp who witnessed the raid, the case started with a television report by Israeli Channel 10 on Wednesday. Channel 10 had filmed the camp and interviewed children on Wednesday, with cooperation from the organizers, who assumed that the TV station would prepare a regular report about the camp. In the report, however, the TV station accused the organizers of the camp of spreading hatred and anti-Israeli propaganda, and promoting anti-Israeli violence and suicide attacks. The story, a cut-and-paste job in which the filmed materials were taken completely out of context, was repeated the following day in the Israeli newspapers “Haaretz” and “Yedioth”. The media attention apparently forced the Israeli government to react, and led to the police action yesterday, when some 30 to 40 police officers raided the camp. Faced with the choice either to shut down the camp voluntarily or to see it forcefully shut down by the police, the organizers decided for the first option.
Al Balad strongly rejects the accusation of incitement, and claims that no illegal action was undertaken at the camp. Al Balad has been organizing summer camps of this kind for fifteen years and has never had a problem with police or other officials. The aim of the summer camp is to educate Palestinian children about their cultural heritage and identity, an education that Palestinian children do not receive in the government school system. The summer camps deal with issues such as the violent foundation of the Israeli state, the destruction of Palestinian villages and Palestinian refugees. While disliked by Israeli officials, none of the actions undertaken at the camp are illegal, including the flying of the Palestinian flag (legalized in 1993).
Al Balad and Ittijah strongly protest the raid of the camp and the arrest of organizers. We urge the state to halt the investigation and release the remaining four detainees. Al Balad and Ittijah protest the hostile and intentionally misleading coverage by Channel 10, “Haaretz” and “Yedioth”. We demand that these media retract their statement that “the children in the camp are taught about Palestinian terrorists (“martyrs”)… sing songs that praise suicide attacks and express their hope for returning to Jaffa, Ashdod and Haifa and building a Palestinian state from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.”
Ittijah has strong confidence in the morality of its member Al Balad Cultural Association, and stands behind the association without reservation. Ittijah sees the actions of the police and Israeli media as more incitement against Palestinian civil society inside Israel, similar to the arrest and detention of the leaders of the Islamic Movement. Ittijah demands that the Israeli government, the police and the media stop their smear campaign against the representatives of the Palestinian people in Israel.
For more information: Ittijah - Union of Arab Community Based Associations, P.O. Box 9577, Haifa 31095, Israel. Tel. +972-4-850-7110. Fax +972-4-850-7241. Website: www.ittijah.org