JERUSALEM, JUNE 19 -- A judge ordered an Israeli Arab poet placed under house arrest today on charges of incitement through his writings in one of the strongest measures taken against an Arab intellectual here in recent years.
Shafik Habib, 49, an Israeli citizen from Deir Hanna, was arrested after the army confiscated a collection of his poems from a Palestinian in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Authorities charged that the poems, written in Arabic, called for attacks on Israel with stones, firebombs and bullets.
Habib denied the charges and said the poems had been openly published by Arab newspapers in Israel. Texts were not immediately available for independent assessment of the allegations.
Contacted by Western news agencies, Habib called the judge's action "a very serious move against an Arab intellectual." By arresting him, he said, police were trying to set a precedent. "We live in a democratic country," he told the Associated Press. "There should be freedom of expression."
The judge, Eitan Magen, in Akko in north Israel, also ordered that all poetry by Habib be submitted to a military censor before publication. In a hearing today, however, Habib's lawyer argued that since the poems had been printed by Arab newspapers in Israel, which are already subject to military censorship, the poet could not be liable for incitement.
Arab writers and politicians called the action one of the most drastic by Israeli authorities against an Arab citizen in recent years. Israel regularly jails Palestinian intellectuals and activists in the occupied territories without trial, but rarely takes such action against its 800,000 Arab citizens, who are protected by the country's legal system. Jamal Kawwar, chairman of the Palestinian Israeli Writers' Union, said Habib was the first Israeli Arab to be arrested because of his writings.
The action comes as relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel are worsening. Although Israeli Arabs have largely refrained from joining the Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories, Arab cities and villages in Israel were rocked by mass protests last month following the slaying of seven Palestinians by an Israeli gunman near Tel Aviv.
Judge Magen said Habib must remain in his home until further hearings are held on a police request to jail him until his trial, for which no date has yet been set.
The domestic news service Itim quoted the police charges as saying that Habib's work encouraged readers to violence "liable to bring about death or injury." It said Habib's passport was seized and that he was ordered to pay a $5,000 bond.