Ameer Makhoul, a Palestinian Israeli Christian and director of Ittijah, the Haifa-based Union of Arab Community-Based Associations, a network of Palestinian NGOs, was arrested by the Israeli government in 2010. He was accused of being a spy for Hezbollah. Makhoul squarely denied the charges, yet accepted a nine-year plea deal. Like so many political prisoners, frightened by the draconian life sentence with which he was threatened, Makhoul chose to confess to a crime he did not commit, rather than try to achieve justice in a two-tiered system in which, in the words of leading Israeli newspaper Haaretz, [v]irtually all – 99.74%, to be exact – of cases heard by the military courts in the [illegally occupied Palestinian] territories end in a conviction, according to data in the military courts’ annual report.
It is quite likely that Israeli forces also illegally resorted to torture to force Makhoul to falsely confess. His lawyers stated he was tortured during his detention, and that interrogators told him they would render him disabled if he did not give in. Amnesty International said Makhoul’s jailing is a very disturbing development, indicating Ameer 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.
The international human rights organization added,
We are also extremely concerned by allegations that he was tortured and otherwise ill-treated following his arrest on 6 May last year in a dawn police raid on his home in Haifa, by the fact that he was not permitted to see his lawyers for 12 days after his arrest, and by the gag order that prohibited media coverage on the case during this time.
The confession on which Ameer Makhoul’s conviction and sentencing were based was admitted as evidence by the court, despite allegations that this statement was made under duress and that he was tortured during his interrogation. It also appears that the information allegedly conveyed by Ameer Makhoul was publicly available.
Ameer Makhoul’s sentencing comes at a time when human rights activists are coming under increasing pressure in Israel and being accused by some in the government and by members of the Knesset of being anti-Israel and unpatriotic because of their reporting on and campaigning against human rights violations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The wife of the alleged Hezbollah member who supposedly recruited Makhoul as a spy published a letter in Jordanian newspaper Alghad, categorically denying that her husband was even involved with Hezbollah, arguing that the persecution of Makhoul was an attempt to prevent Israeli Palestinians and members of the Palestinian diaspora from communicating with one another.
Four years after Makhoul was arrested, a variety of human rights organizations – including the Arab Association for Human Rights, the Arab NGO Network for Development, Baladna: Association for Arab Youth, CIVICUS (the World Alliance for Citizen Participation), and the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organization Network – demanded that Israeli authorities immediately and unconditionally release him.
Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS Mandeep Tiwana said Ameer Makhoul has unjustly spent years in prison as a result of his legitimate and peaceful activities as a human rights defender. His trial and conviction were marred by a number of flaws and inconsistencies and we are calling on the Israeli government to release him immediately.
Ameer Makhoul is yet another victim of the Israeli government’s unrelenting campaign to muzzle Palestinian human rights defenders peacefully advocating for genuine human rights reform in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Tiwana added.
Palestine Backs Your Struggle: We Shall Overcome
For the past several years, in spite of the serious problems in his case, the leading Palestinian human rights advocate has languished in an Israeli prison. On 9 December 2014, Makhoul penned a Solidarity Letter from Palestine to Afro-Americans in USA. The Electronic Intifada obtained a digital scan of the letter. In the missive, the political prisoner expresses solidarity with black Americans in their struggle against the epidemic of police brutality and killings and the structural racism of the US Justice System.
Palestinians have a long history of standing in solidarity with black Americans and oppressed groups around the world. This legacy continues strongly to this day, while Palestinians continue to endure almost 50 years of illegal military occupation and constant military attacks. Makhoul, like so many Palestinian activists, notes how similar the struggle of black Americans and Palestinians is and insists that they are both fighting the same enemies: racism and colonialism.
A transcript of the unedited letter is included below.
Solidarity Letter from Palestine to Afro-Americans in USA
Dear Sisters and brothers,
As Palestinian political prisoner (PPP) in Israeli jail, I would like to express my sympathy and solidarity with you.
In addition I express my admiration and respect to your voice and to the way you raise it to demonstrate your human anger, protest and struggle to protect your life, human dignity and to uproot racism.
Salaam and salute to all Americans as well as all people worldwide who support your struggle. Your cause is touching hearts everywhere. Your protest is on behalf of all humanity. Your voice is our voice, is the voice of all free people.
I send my condolences to those whose their beloved failed as victims of the racist easiness shooting. Even within Israeli jail, very much far away from you, we are mouring your beloved.
Such racist official violence exaspirates the conscience of all, and of course of all 7000 (PPPs) in Israeli jail whose seek freedom liberty and justice for themselves as well as for their people of Palestine.
It is ironic to recognize how similar the killing products, hands and minds which kills you and contrary which kill my people.
The bullets which your fellows shooted by raise again the reproducted colonial Message of the white man, while the real sniper is the rooted racism which targets Afro-Americans because they are Afro-American.
It is not a matter of dumy bullets, there is no dumy racism, no racism is by the way, racism is the way of racist until free people stop it. How impressive that your victims message as yours is not back killing but overcome killing, eliminate racism and colonialism.
Your human act of response as well as anger is so legitimic. Be sure that you are not alone neither in USA nor worldwide. Palestine backs your struggle:
We shall overcome.
We can breathe. Freedom and human dignity. Always.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Although the sadness and anger. Life is stronger.
I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, where Liberation from colonial racism and occupation becomes closer.