The Shin Bet security service will thwart the activity of any group or individual seeking to harm the Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel, even if such activity is sanctioned by the law.
Letter sent by Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, on behalf of Shin Bet, 2007
On Thursday, prominent political activist Ameer Makhoul, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, was indicted with serious charges of espionage and ‘aiding an enemy’.
As General Director of NGO-network Ittijah, Makhoul’s arrest and detention is attracting international attention as concern mounts about the increasing crackdown on dissent in Israel.
A second man, natural medicine expert and political activist Omar Said, was also indicted, and both men face a lengthy legal process.
As Ittijah described, the arrests and interrogations of Said and Makhoul “were conducted in gross violation of their fundamental rights to due process”.
Once the gag order was lifted this week, more details emerged:
His hands were cuffed to the back of the chair in a way that stretched his arms and shoulders sharply backward. His legs were folded backwards flanking the chair, with his knees turned toward the floor.
When, after hours of being bound in this stress position while under intense interrogation, Makhoul complained of being in excruciating pain, the GSS interrogators proceeded to cuff his legs to the chair. They also threatened that he would be permanently crippled from the interrogation.
While Israel’s security services have issued denials, there is a track record here. The kinds of techniques used against detainees by the GSS were documented in a joint B’Tselem/Hamoked report in 2007. The annual report for 2009 published [PDF] by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) mentions how “interrogations carried out by the General Security Services are always exempt from the requirement of video documentation”.
A December 2009 report by The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) described how “investigations of complaints of torture against General Security Service (GSS) interrogators” are prevented and that “the system enjoys the acquiescence and encouragement of the law enforcement system for torture that occurs in GSS interrogations”.
The targeting of leaders in Palestinian society in Israel should not come as a surprise.
In 2007, the Shin Bet made it clear – like in the quotation above – that it believes it to be “within its charter” to go after “individuals deemed as ‘conducting subversive activity against the Jewish identity of the state,’ even if their actions are not in violation of the law”.
Meanwhile, a ‘citizenship loyalty’ bill has recently passed its first reading in the Knesset, which “calls on Israel to revoke citizenship or permanent status from any person convicted of terrorist activity or of espionage on behalf of a terrorist organization”.
In January 2009, Ameer Makhoul was briefly detained and interrogated by the Shin Bet, as Palestinians in Israel protested the Israeli attacks on Gaza.
In a press release at the time, Ittijah described how one officer leading the questions said that “next time he will be pleased to see Makhoul imprisoned, that Makhoul’s file is ready”, and that Makhoul “will have to say goodbye to his family since he will leave them for a long time”.