Middle East Monitor / September 11, 2019
Political prisoner Amir Makhoul has been released after almost a decade in an Israeli dungeon. He has given his first interview to the anti-apartheid activist, Adri Nieuwhof, who has been corresponding with him in prison all these years.
Makhoul was the director of a Ittijah, a union of Palestinian community organisations within present day Israel. His 3am arrest by the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police “smacks of pure harassment, designed to hinder his human rights work,” said Amnesty International in May 2010 when he was detained. They confiscated all the family’s computers, mobile phones and many personal items, and scoured Ittijah’s offices.
“It was a traumatic arrest for [myself] and for my daughters,” Janan Abdu told the Electronic Intifada in 2012. Abdu is Mahkhoul’s wife and a human rights activist in her own right. The children spent “two weeks not seeing their father. I lost my two parents during the month of [Amir’s] jailing and I wasn’t able to even see Amir or hug him. My daughter graduated from school without her father beside her. When you speak about the personal level, it’s so hard.”
Makhoul was initially detained without access to a lawyer. Three weeks after his arrest, the Shin Bet accused him of making contact with an agent for Lebanon’s Hezbollah, but they presented no evidence.
Despite closely scrutinising almost a dozen computer hard drives and spying on more than 30,000 phone conversations, the Shin Bet relied entirely on Makhoul’s own forced confession, obtained under torture.
After six months in detention, facing a potential life sentence for “aiding the enemy in a time of war,” with his bogus coerced confession already in place, Makhoul eventually saw no other option but to accept a plea deal. He was sentenced to nine years in jail plus a one year suspended sentence.
Upon his jailing, Amnesty explained that “Amir Makhoul is well known for his human rights activism on behalf of Palestinians in Israel and those living under Israeli occupation. We fear that this may be the underlying reason for his imprisonment.”
Mieke Zagt, program officer for ICCO, an inter-church anti-poverty organisation based in the Netherlands, said that the verdict was not credible. “We do not consider this trial as a transparent and clear trial that conforms with international standards, so anything that comes out from such a process, it’s difficult to consider this a fair verdict,” he said.
Since his recent release, Makhoul has been harassed by the Shin Bet, which has warned him that it is keeping an eye on him.
The broad spectrum targeting of prominent Palestinians with Israeli citizenship (those who insist on their rights and dignity) is a clear sign of how Israel is an apartheid regime in its totality – and not just in its West Bank occupation.
Israel targets Palestinian political, community and religious leaders of all stripes, across the political spectrum. Those who use any methods, and not only those who use or advocate armed resistance.
Unarmed Palestinian activists with Israeli citizenship across the political spectrum have been targeted in various fashions. From legal harassment and threats to trumped-up or fabricated political charges, to outright exile imprisonment. From Raed Salah, to Amir Makhoul, to Haneen Zoabi to Azmi Bishara. The Palestinians of 48 are particularly targeted as a threat – the “enemy within”.
Palestinians across all of historic Palestine are resisting. Through the worst obstacles, and decades of silence, oppression and imprisonment, the Palestinians still resist their Israeli-imposed liquidation as a people, both political and physical.
For a year and a half, Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip have been marching towards present day Israel for their right to return to the homes they and their parents and grandparents have been expelled from since 1947. They want nothing more than their human rights as guaranteed under international law.They want nothing more than to return home.
In response, Israel has been mowing them down with sniper fire like pigeons. Two of the latest victims of this Israeli murder campaign are Ali Sami Ali Al-Ashqar, 17 and Khalid Abu Bakr Al-Rabai, 14. Both children were shot dead by Israeli occupation forces during the regular Friday protests, on Friday 9 September. Since the demonstrations started, Israel has killed 210 Palestinians during the protests, including almost 50 children.
The entirety of the Gaza Strip is part of Israel’s prison complex, having been accurately described as the world’s largest open air prison. It has been under Israeli-Egyptian siege since 2007.
Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, besieged Gaza Strip and within Israel are all struggling to attain their rights and being imprisoned and killed as a result. The least we can do is take part in small acts of solidarity in the West, including joining the BDS movement.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist living in London who writes about Palestine and the Middle East