2 Arab Israeli activists accused of aiding Hezbollah

By Janine Zacharia
Friday, May 28, 2010

JERUSALEM -- An Arab Israeli community activist was charged Thursday with espionage after allegedly giving information about the location of Israeli defense facilities to Lebanon's militant Shiite Hezbollah movement.

The indictment of Ameer Makhoul, the general director of Ittijah, a union of Arab organizations in Israel, coincided with what some here say is a broader campaign by Israel to intimidate activists who speak out against the idea of Israel remaining a homeland for Jews.

When Israel was created in 1948, the Palestinian Arab community was split between those who remained inside Israel's borders -- and became Israeli citizens -- and those who relocated to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip or elsewhere. Today, Arab Israelis make up one-fifth of Israel's citizens.

According to the indictment, Makhoul met with a Hezbollah agent in Denmark in 2008 and agreed to serve as a secret source of information. Omar Saeed, another Arab Israeli activist, was also accused of having contact with Hezbollah, on a separate occasion, and transferring information that could be of assistance to it. Both men denied the accusations.

Dan Rabinowitz, a professor of sociology at Tel Aviv University who has written a book about Arab Israelis, said the indictments coincided with growing fears in Israel regarding efforts, both domestically and abroad, to challenge the legitimacy of the Jewish state.

Israel is trying "to make life more difficult and more complicated for political activists and for [nongovernmental organizations], for people who might have reservations of how the state deals with its Palestinian citizens, all the way to the very foundation of the Jewish state," Rabinowitz said. "Life is being made more difficult for any people with a critique of Israel."

A senior Israeli official denied that Makhoul's arrest was politically motivated, saying it came because he had "connections with certain enemies around us."

Much of the recent tension stems from Arab Israeli demonstrations against Israel's widely criticized bombardment of Gaza in January 2009, a campaign carried out to stop rocket fire into Israeli towns.

Perceiving the protests as disloyal, Israel's election committee subsequently tried to ban Arab Israeli parties from participating in the 2009 elections but was unsuccessful.

Other pending legislation seeks to limit fundraising by such organizations as Adalah, a law center that advocates for Arab minority rights in Israel and whose lawyers are representing Makhoul and Saeed.

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