Friday, January 14, 2005

Racist prosecution in Israel falters, Jan. 14, 2005

Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA)
Press Release, January 13, 2005
SUBJ: Trial of Sheikh Ra'ed Salah and Members of the Islamic Movement
Court Confirms Plea Deal in Islamic Movement Case - Terrorism Charges Dropped

On Wednesday, January 12, 2005, the Haifa District Court officiallyconfirmed in its verdict the plea bargain agreed on by the prosecution (thestate) and the defense lawyers. The high-profile security trial ended with aplea deal which confirms that allegations of the five defendants'involvement in terrorist activities could not be proved by the prosecution.

The defendants admitted to the charges of maintaining contact with a foreignagent, rendering a service on behalf of an illegal organisation, possessionof funds belonging to an illegal organisation, and making use of prohibitedproperty. The goods acquired from the illegal resources, such as sugar, oil,medicine and clothes, were distributed in the form of humanitarianassistance in the West Bank.

The five defendants never denied these chargesas they even coordinated the transport of above-mentioned goods with theIsraeli Defense Force officials deployed at the check points to Jeninrefugee camp in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The defendants hadfurther maintained that the illegal status of the contact organisation was not known to them.According to the verdict of the Haifa District Court, which corresponds to the plea bargain, Sheikh Ra'ed Salah will be released from prison within sixmonths, after having served two thirds of his sentence.

Mahmoud Abu SamraMahajni will serve another year in prison, while the other threeco-defendants will be released in the coming days, having already served their prison sentence since their arrest in May 2003.

The verdict does not reflect the initial calls for up-to-15-years prison sentences and the imageof a major terrorist trial which the prosecution and the mainstream Israelimedia attached to it.

All charges linking the Islamic Movement and the affiliated Institute for Humanitarian Relief to terrorism were dropped.

Attorney Hussein Abu Hussein, a member of the defense team, believes that the turning point of the trial was the hearing of Professor Rafi Israeli, a lecturer in Middle Eastern Studies at Hebrew University, as a witness forthe prosecution. Professor Israeli was called as an expert witness in orderto explain the ideological link between the Islamic Movement in Israel and Hamas, and his testimony was dominated by racist remarks about Arabs and Muslims.

"The Arab mentality is made of 'a sense of being a victim,''pathological anti-Semitism,' and 'a tendency to live in a world ofillusions,' said Prof. Rafi Israeli on the witness stand, adding that theArabs neglect sanitation in their communities. 'Most of the Arab villagesare dirtier, physically - it's a fact,' he said" ("Court Erupts over Expert's Testimony on 'Arab Mentality'", Haaretz, December 23, 2004).

During the cross-examination, defense counsels Avigdor Feldman and Riad Anis quoted from a publication of Professor Israeli, in which he describes the Arab citizens of Israel as a fifth column that "sucks on the udders of the country" ("Court Erupts over Expert's Testimony on 'Arab Mentality'",Haaretz, December 23, 2004).

During the testimony of Professor Rafi Israeli, a delegation from the Arab Association for Human Rights and two legal experts from the InternationalCommission of Jurists Sweden (ICJ - Sweden), the attorneys Birgitta Elfstroem and Arne Malmgren, attended the hearings.

The international observers summarised their impression by saying, "We are afraid that thetrial against these five members in the Islamic Movement is an act of war onArabs and Islam and also to crack down opposition parties and groups".

The Arab Association for Human Rights appreciates the verdict reached by theCourt. The sentence confirms that accusations of links to a terroristorganisation and a foreign intelligence service (i.e. the Iranian secretservice) - as suggested by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - were politicallymotivated rather than founded on factual evidence.

Please note that the HRA's urgent call for international observers to thetrial is thus void. We would also like to take this opportunity to expressour appreciation for the wide-spread interest in the background of the caseand the legal proceedings.