I live in a state that refers to itself as the only democracy in the Middle East, yet has seized my husband, Ameer Makhoul, and refused to allow him to see his lawyers for 12 days. During that time, Ameer was subjected to unlawful methods of interrogation including sleep deprivation and stress positions. Israeli officials claim that he is a spy and had contact with a foreign agent; no evidence has yet been revealed to us. Arresting agents, milling through our house at 3 in the morning and waking our daughters, answered my questions as to why they were arresting him with a threat of violence. 'You want violence? We can have violence. Be quiet."
One of the world’s foremost human rights organizations, Amnesty International, is raising significant concerns about Ameer’s case. "Ameer Makhoul is a key human rights defender, well-known for his civil society activism on behalf of the Palestinian citizens of Israel," said a statement by Amnesty International’s headquarters in London. "His arrest and continued detention smacks of pure harassment, designed to hinder his human rights work. If this is the case, we would regard him as a prisoner of conscience [and] call for his immediate and unconditional release.”
Israel is cracking up. It is becoming untethered from reality when it arrests men like my husband, who leads Ittijah, which serves as the umbrella organization for Palestinian NGOs in Israel, as well as the Arab Follow-up Committee for the Defense of Civil Liberties. Unable to defeat other political viewpoints in the international arena, it suppresses them. Political dissent, commonplace in democracies the world over, is increasingly criminalized here. Last month, a bill was introduced by 19 MKs from different parties in the Knesset that could shut down any organization that investigates and mounts legal challenges against war crimes by the Israeli military. Now, Sunday, Israeli officials absurdly prohibited Professor Noam Chomsky from entering the occupied West Bank. According to Chomsky, the last country to bar him was Czechoslovakia right after the Soviet invasion of 1968. Pleasant Stalinist/Brezhnevian company Israel is now keeping; and company that should be a wake-up call to a world that has too often slumbered through Israel’s repression of us.
The current regressive campaign has its roots in a comment three years ago by the head of Israel’s General Security Services (GSS). He claimed that Palestinian citizens’ organizational efforts for equality constituted a “strategic threat,” even if pursued by lawful means. That’s not how democracy works. We may be a minority of 20 percent, but our rights to organize and insist on full equality and civil rights ought to be sacrosanct and not under threat from the GSS.
The Shin Bet’s action against my husband and Dr. Omar Said – another prominent political activist - unmasks the repressive conditions under which Palestinian citizens of the state labor. According to the human rights organization Adalah, there are more than 35 Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens.
The peculiar thing is that for all the power of the state arrayed against us, I am not afraid. The principle that I am the equal of Jewish citizens and all other citizens is a powerful motivating principle. The fear, I believe, is on the other side. Many of Israel’s Jewish leaders are realizing that they are losing the support of the international community. Rather than rationally addressing the concerns of the international community regarding occupation in the Palestinian territories and repression of minority citizens, hard-right conservative leaders are lashing out in the hope that we can be silenced and that the world will avert its eyes as it did in 1948 when over 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or forced to flee.
Israel’s Likud leadership hopes for a “peace deal” that would relegate Palestinians to disconnected enclaves throughout the West Bank while its foreign minister is on record as hoping to transfer thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel to the control of the Palestinian Authority.
Prior to my husband’s arrest, the Israeli Minister of Interior issued a two-month ban on Ameer’s travel outside the country, a measure that has been frequently employed against Palestinian political activists. For all the efforts to separate us from friends, colleagues, and relatives in the Palestinian territories and diaspora, we are determined to remain steadfast because we are rightfully living in our own land. The world is a different place from the one of 60 years ago when we were intimidated into silence by the repressive Israeli governments attempting to make us strangers in our own land under the strict military regime which lasted until 1966. This month, even with major Western news organizations obediently heeding Israel’s military censor and not reporting on my husband’s arrest until the censor gave the go ahead, we are able to express our concerns through the internet.
The Arab world is not our enemy. Palestinians may be imprisoned in Gaza by the Israeli siege, but we will resist the current effort to shackle the minds of the Palestinian minority in Israel. For decades we were separated from our professional Arab colleagues in the region. We will not easily allow a return to those grim days under the current repressive government.
Janan Abdu is a social worker, feminist activist and researcher with Mada al-Carmel, Haifa-based Arab Center fro Applied Social Research.