Peace activists in Israel: Choice between bad and worse at court…

An Arab-Israeli political activist accepted a plea bargain on charges of espionage yesterday. Ameer Makhoul, head of the peace group Ittijah, was accused of spying for the Lebanese Hizbollah party. He admitted guilt for crimes that will see him serve seven to 10 years in exchange for more serious charges being dropped.

His family and colleagues maintain his innocence, but feel he had no choice but to make the deal. “It was a choice between bad and worse”, said his wife Janan, “they would have sentenced him for life.” Over 90% of Palestinians accused of security offences against Israel over the past decade have been convicted.

Makhoul’s case has been extremely controversial. He was denied access to a lawyer for two weeks after his capture and his supporters allege that he was subjected to forms of torture during detention that included beatings and sleep deprivation. He had been held for seven months prior to the trial.

Jana feels the case against her husband was weak. “The police gave no material evidence (during the trial). They checked all his emails, his Skype calls and 3,000 phone calls but found nothing. An Israeli policeman told our lawyers they suspected he had been drugged in prison but the Shabak would not allow a test.”

The specific accusations were of giving the Lebanese group information on locations of military bases inside Israel, although this information was easily available online. “Everyone in Haifa knows where the Shabak building is”, Janan told us, “Amir was charged about the Rafel military centre (close to Haifa) but this is not a secret. There is a signpost for it.”

Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh, founder of Ittijah, feels “there is no doubt”, that Makhoul was targeted for his political views. He was previously investigated without charge two years ago, and his conviction may reflect the increasing harassment of peace groups in Israel. Kanaaneh claims that in Makhoul’s daily work he would “communicate with international circles”, which was used to falsely connect him with Hezbollah.

Kanaaneh is not worried that admitting guilt will damage the reputations of Makhoul or Ittijah. “Nobody seriously suspects him of passing information, his name is clear in the community.” His wife agrees; “he was forced to accept the deal. The story is not finished it will be told later.”

Makhoul will be sentenced in December.

Learn more about Ittijah and the case history:




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