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Shin Bet releases detained Al-Jazeera reporter after 49 days' imprisonment

How the occupation justice system saved face in the case of Samer Allawi

In his influential book about the occupation circa early 1987, “The Yellow Wind,” David Grossman describes an unusual scene in a military court in the West Bank. The defense shows incontrovertible proof that the defendant cannot possibly be guilty of the crime attributed to him. This causes a problem, which Orwell first expressed in his “To shoot an Elephant”: Acquitting the defendant means the occupier can err, which may cause derision towards him; Convicting him, on the other hand, is a clear travesty which may cause unrest. The judge finds a disingenuous solution: He convicts the defendant of a crime he was not charged of, and sentences him to serve the precise number of days he already did. In this way, an innocent man is freed, but the Occupation does not lose face.

Something of the sort took place two days ago (Monday). Samer Allawi, the head of the Al Jazeera station in Afghanistan, was secretly arrested by the GSS (General Security Service, AKA Shin Bet) at the beginning of August, as tried to cross from the West Bank to Jordan. The case was kept under a partial gag order. The GSS claimed (Hebrew) that there were “strong suspicions” against Allawi, and that “various bodies” are involved in his interrogation, possibly meaning foreign intelligence services, and therefore opposed his release.

Among other issues, Allawi complained he did not receive proper medical treatment, and Physicians for Human Rights appealed on his behalf (Hebrew) to the courts, demanding he be allowed to see an independent physician – which is the right of every prisoner. A representative of PHR told me yesterday that preventing Allawi from receiving medical care, which was criticized by the court as well, looked to them as an attempt to pressure Allawi.

In what is quickly becoming the norm when the GSS tries to break down a prisoner, Allawi was prevented from seeing a lawyer for a period of time after his arrest; his lawyer, Advocate Salim Waqim, told me he was held incommunicado for 13 days. During this time, says Waqim, Allawi was put in a cell with professional informants, who – among other tactics – claimed to be members of terrorist organizations, and threatened to harm him (specifically, tear out his eyes) if he did not tell them his true role. Denying a prisoner access to a lawyer is an effective means of extracting a confession. Allawi was first allowed in court eight days after his arrest; his interrogators had not told him him what he was suspected of, and were reprimanded for this by the court. The usual methods were used: Unreasonably long interrogation sessions, up to 20 hours in length, during which Allawi was cuffed to the chair (which may well be considered to be a form of sleep deprivation), the threat of taking hostages (arresting family members), etc.

Alwai was released on Monday, after being convicted in a plea bargain of conspiring to provide service for an illegal association, namely Hamas. The amended indictment, says Advocate Waqim, charges Allawi of conspiring to maliciously report about US armed forces activity in Afghanistan, thereby causing support for Hamas to rise.

If your brows rose when reading this sentence, you’re not alone. Note the charge of conspiracy – the indictment had to admit this conspiracy did not materialize. One of the two conspiracy charges also noted that Allawi met a Hamas representative during a press conference, which is something journalists, even Israeli ones, do on almost a daily basis. Advocate Waqim noted that Allawi was interrogated almost exclusively about Afghanistan, not his activities in the West Bank. This, along with the comment of the Shin Bet officer, should make us wonder just how much US intelligence was involved in this case (Waqim thought about CIA agents; this looks more like DIA territory to me, but I guess we’ll never know for certain).

Advocate Waqim also said that he was approached by the prosecution on the last day his client was deprived of his right to an attorney, and they offered him the usual Faustian deal: Drop all charges except two minor ones, and letting his client go free – or they could go to court, which may take a couple of years, some of which his client (whose health was in peril, remember) would spend in jail and the rest without ability to work. Waqim protested, said the deal was unfair – and then told his client he should probably take it. This method, of forcing a prisoner to choose between conviction and immediate release or a long trial, much of it spent in jail, is a favorite of the Israeli justice system in the West Bank. Allawi was promptly convicted (Hebrew), and sentenced to the 40+ days he already spent in detention. Waqim told the Israeli press that “the mountain gave birth to a mole, and even it was stillborn.”

The most noteworthy thing here is the fact that Allawi’s status – as a journalist for an international television news network – made sure his case would get plenty of coverage. The average Palestinian detainee, whose arrest (perhaps, given the regular prevention of access to a lawyer, we should write “kidnapping” instead) is laconically reported by the IDF Spokesman every mourning, has no such luck. The injustice in their cases is likely to be greater. Allawi, after all, was released after just six weeks.

And, as these lines are written and Israeli Jews sit down to their holiday dinner, the West Bank is, as it is for every Jewish holiday, under internal curfew – Palestinians can’t move from town to town to visit their families. As in the case of Allawi, most Israelis prefer not to know what is being done in their names.

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    COMMENTS

    1. I just have to say, Yossi, I have great, great, great admiration for you and your fellow enlightened and open minded reporters, being able to report on such doings by your government year after year.

      I truly hope that one day the world can be a place of peace and justice. But it sure as heck isn’t so now.

      Reply to Comment
    2. This outrageous abuse of “justice” is not only practiced where you are. In the last week the New York Times had an article about the increased power of the prosecution that intimidates the defense into plea bargaining. There is also an excellent book called Courtroom 302 the describes in detail the plea bargaining that goes on in the Cook County court system (Illinois – USA) that has the many defendants at the very bottom of society pleading guilty on an assembly line basis simply to speed through as many cases as possible to make “the justice system” appear to be working. Even the judges admit it’s wrong.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Historian

      What are the sources for this story?

      Reply to Comment
    4. It’s all in, historian. Read.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Warren,

      being able to report on such doings by your government year after year

      I was under the impression this is our job. A shame many colleagues see things differently, but…

      Reply to Comment
    6. Historian

      Okay, I read.

      The key sources here are Allawi’s lawyer, Selim Wakim, Adalah, Phyisicians for Human Rights and you’re quoting at least one paper whose article shows a strong bias against the Shabak.

      Do you have any sources other than biased groups that attack Israel at every turn, including at times when they exaggerate or support lies? Selim wakim, for example, is on the board of the Arab Association for Human Rights. This is a group founded by Mohammad Zeidan, not a friend of Israel’s (although he enjoys its educational and political freedoms) as can be seen here: http://electronicintifada.net/content/interview-we-need-new-united-strategy-one-people/8659

      Can you count how many times this graduate of the Hebrew University – therefore a recipient of an Israel subsidized education, like so many other Israeli and non-Israeli Arabs – says the word “racism” with respect to Israel’s treatment of its minorities? Allawi’s lawyer is on the board of the NGO Zeidan founded.

      Shouldn’t that raise some question marks in your mind?

      No?

      Does it raise question marks that in their appeal on behalf of Allawi, the Physicians for Human Rights mention that he is the fifth journalist to be interrogated by Israel in recent months? I thought they were appealing Allawi’s confinement conditions.

      Does it raise question marks that Adalah, beneficiaries of Israeli eduation and left wing Jewish Israeli money, tend to attack Israel legally as often as possible?

      You’re a journalist, according to your bio. Do you think that your report is comprehensive? Do you think that since you focus on reports given by 4 sources that show a strong anti-Israel bias, that perhaps there is more you can do to uncover what is actually going on here?

      According to one of your sources, the Israelis did claim to have had doctors look at Allawi a number of times. Also, Allawi did not appear to be sick when he was in court. Allawi had at least 3 court hearings. Allawi admitted his guilt.

      So I’ll tell you what I walked away with.

      Allawi is guilty of something, but whatever it is either didn’t come out or wasn’t clear or provable enough to stick him with long confinement. Second, he wasn’t tortured. Third, it’s uncertain that he was even given the treatment he claims because he is being advised by a lawyer who knows how to handle Israeli law and who belongs to a group that used the media to constantly besmirch Israel. Fourth, he was clearly afraid of fighting this in the long term, which is why he cut the plea.

      Now, I have no idea whether I’m right or wrong. But your article and the links you provided don’t offer any information that inform me either. You could be entirely wrong on the basis of your sources. If I may, I propose you get a couple of journalists (not extreme left Lefties, but a couple of center-Left people) to try to get to the bottom of what happened here. Then we’ll have some other, hopefully unbiased, sources to consider.

      Thanks for the admonishment to “read.” From now on when I read these posts, I will read the links. They are a treasure trove of information and obviously these 972mag articles can’t be read without their links.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Piotr Berman

      Guardian:

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/sep/28/al-jazeera-accuses-israel-detention-bureau-chief?newsfeed=true

      Our “Historian” is amusing as usual. “Allawi admitted his guilt.
      So I’ll tell you what I walked away with. Allawi is guilty of something, but whatever it is either didn’t come out or wasn’t clear or provable enough to stick him with long confinement.”

      Isn’t it puzzling that Historian cannot figure out what Allawi is found guilty of EVEN after he had his day in court in which he was sentenced! For … Here is the point: the accusation is so baffling that even one one tries to make “pro-authorities” interpretation, one fails. The crime of “”criticising American actions in Afghanistan and voicing support for the Palestinian ‘resistance'” makes no sense, and if Allawi admit only that, he is innocent. More precisely, NOTHING was found that would justify his detention, and this is precisely what perfectly justifies a “short detention” under military rule. And long detention too, remember — there exists administrative detention.

      What is harder to establish is how Historian arrived at the conclusion that in actuality Allawi is guilty of SOMETHING. Was Shabak incompetent? Was the judge a leftist, ever hostile to the welfare of the state?

      Concerning “getting to the bottom”: realistically, Yossi could try to get a Shabak person give him info “off the record”. A little problem with that is that intelligence agencies are in the business of collecting information and disseminating disinformation (not just Israeli, all of them).

      Concerning “besmirching”: I really think that if Yossi “constantly tries to besmirch Israel”, that was his day off. It is not an edifying story, but not an atrocity. Suppose that Shabak would do something more outlandish and cruel: say, kidnap an engineer and break the law of a few countries in the process, keep him incommunicado for month and torture out of him self-accusations so preposterous that they beggar the mind, say … organizing Hamas Academy of Rocket Sciences (the guy knows nothing about the rockets) AND jailing Gilad Shalit. And then they keep him in a dungeon forever, without a trial.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Historian

      Um, yeah, abu Sisi will have his day in court soon – http://www.jpost.com/Defense/Article.aspx?id=215100 – and we’ll see whether you are right. Bummer that some Hamas members get their just desserts outside their borders. I feel your pain.

      You didn’t respond to any of my points about Allawi because you didn’t read them carefully. Sorry if you’re getting all confused. I suspect that Israel has better things to do than grab reporters who are bound to get a bunch of press in their favor. I also suspect that Israel has better things to do than keep asking the courts for extensions to the detainment, particularly once human rights groups get involved. Yet, the Israelis did both these things. Either they’re idiots or they had grave suspicions. At the end of the day, Allawi admitted his guilt. I know that bothers you, but what can you do? http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=239638.

      Reply to Comment