The silenced minority speaks out

Posted on 15 August 2010

First published in PSC‘s Palestine News, summer 2010 issue

For a state that ignores international laws and conventions in murdering Palestinians and internationals, and shrugs off all condemnation with no apology or regret, it’s little surprise that it spends a great deal of energy persecuting voices of dissent within its own citizenry. Particularly when that voice of dissent is Palestinian.

Ameer Makhoul, Omar Said, Hanin Zoabi, Sheikh Raed Salah, Lubna Masarweh and Mohamad Zeidan are all Palestinians with Israeli citizenship; and they are all paying a high price for their political activism challenging and confronting a state that would rather expel them than accept them as equal citizens with equal rights.

On April 22nd this year, Ameer Makhoul, director of Ittijah, a Palestinian NGO based in Haifa, was prevented from leaving Israel. Israeli minister of the interior, Eli Yishay, stated “I have reached the conviction that the exit of Ameer Makhoul from the country poses a serious threat to the security of the state.” Two weeks later Makhoul’s home was raided in the dead of night by Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet. Makhoul was arrested, and computers and papers were seized from his home and office.

Makhoul has since, at various stages of his detention, been denied access to a lawyer, been repeatedly tortured to obtain a confession and, as is common with political persecution of Palestinians, neither he nor his legal team has been given access to any evidence the state claims to have. The charges are serious: assistance to the enemy in a time of war, conspiracy to assist an enemy, aggravated espionage, and contact with a foreign agent. Makhoul vigorously denies all charges.

Prior to Makhoul’s detention Dr Omar Said, a leading expert in traditional Arabic herbal medicine and an environmental activist, had already been arrested. He is also leader of the Arab nationalist party, Balad and a committed proponent of co-existence between Arabs and Jews. He, too, has been charged with espionage.

In both cases the authorities slapped a gagging order on the press. It was through the strenuous activities of political activists, both inside Israel and beyond, that the details of the cases against Makhoul and Said became public knowledge. Both men vehemently protest their innocence, and for those of us who know them, we do not believe that the charges against them are true. Israel uses political persecution as an attempt to delegitimise Palestinian demands for equality.

Hot on the heels of these cases of political persecution against Israel’s minority came the lethal raid on the Free Gaza flotilla. Among the passengers were a number of Palestinian Israelis. Lubna Masarweh is an organiser with the Free Gaza movement. Hanin Zoabi is one of the few Palestinian members of the Knesset, Mohamad Zeidan is chairman of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee and Sheikh Raed Salah is a leader of the Islamic Movement.

Following the commando assault on the Mavi Marmara, passengers who had not been killed or injured were transferred to Israel and held in prison. Masarweh, Salah and Zeidan were then released to house arrest. As an MK, Zoabi should have parliamentary immunity but was stripped of this on July 13th.

The scenes that followed, particularly in the Knesset chamber, demonstrate the antagonism toward Palestinians in Israeli society. While Zoabi was trying to speak at the podium, hostile MKs verbally and then physically attacked her. Zoabi was branded a traitor, has received numerous death threats and now has bodyguards to protect her. There have been calls for her citizenship to be revoked.

Individually, each of these cases is shocking. Israel, after all, persists in describing itself as a democracy. The hostility against the people concerned and the lengths at which Israel goes to in suppressing them is extraordinary.

But it is important to view these cases in a wider context. Politically active Palestinians who criticise Israel and actively promote the right to a Palestinian identity automatically become targets. Israel has always viewed its non-Jewish citizens as hostile enemies, linking their (legitimate) activities in demanding equal rights and recognition as citizens of Israel to the resistance of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and beyond.

The hostility Palestinians face in daily life is ever present and is now increasing at a dangerous pace. The rise in such public attacks on Palestinian Israelis also paves the way to more extreme legislation that will be used to force vocal Palestinians into prison or exile.

Israel, to maintain its façade of democracy, is desperately trying to ensure this minority is silenced by any means necessary, but this strategy will likely fail. Israel uses propaganda to place Palestinians within a framework of violence, terrorism and, more recently, radical Islam. It has succeeded to a degree, but as recent public support has shown, this rhetoric is being challenged more and more. And as attacks against Israel’s Palestinian minority continue to rise, so too does the prospect of greater internal conflict.

Georgina Reeves worked for Ittijah, based in Haifa, in 2001 before moving to work in the West Bank.

Family and supporters urge you to write to Ameer Makhoul at Room 4, Department 1, Gilbou Jail 10900.
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