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Update – September 16, 2018

The Israeli court in Hadera remanded the detention of comrade Raja Eghbarieh until Thursday, September 20, based on the declaration of the prosecution that by this date they are going to present an indictment against him.

Dozens of members of Abnaa Al-Balad and supporters from the Arab Palestinian public demonstrated in front of the Hadera court at the time of the remand hearing – condemning the detention of Eghbarieh as political persecution. They promised that all the oppressive measures by the Israeli regime will not silence the legitimate Palestinian resistance against Israeli Apartheid.

Free Raja Eghbarieh!

On Tuesday morning, September 11, while Israel was celebrating the Jewish New Year, the Israeli police raided the home of Raja Eghbarieh, one of the leaders of the Abnaa Al-Balad movement, in Umm Al-Fahm. They searched the house, confiscated documents, smartphones and computers, and carried Eghbarieh with them. On the next day he was brought before a remand judge in the Israeli court in Hadera. The police representatives clarified that they were interrogating him for his posts on Facebook. They said they have already waged a “covert investigation” for a long time and now want to carry on while he is under detention. They claimed that some of his posts consisted “incitement to violence” and “support for a terrorist organization”.

Raja Eghbarieh in Hadera court

Raja Eghbarieh in Hadera court

The defense lawyers claimed that all of Eghbarieh’s posts were, naturally, public. They said that he was already interrogated for seven hours and admitted publishing all the posts on his Facebook page. He explained during his interrogation that all his publications are legitimate expression of political opposition to Israel’s occupation and repression against the Palestinian people. They said that there is no reason to remand his detention, even if the state wants to indict him on the charges against his pronunciations.

The judge refused to accept documented evidence that the 67 years old detainee was suffering from several serious medical conditions or to consider any terms of release on bail. In the end she remanded his detention until Monday, September 17.

The Limits of Israeli Democracy

On Thursday, September 13, Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel, filed an appeal in the District Court in Haifa. Some twenty supporters and relatives of Eghbarieh, accompanied by four lawyers, gathered in the small hall of Judge Mazen Daoud.

Hassan Jabareen after Raja court appeal in Haifa

Adalah Lawyer Hassan Jabareen after his appearance in the appeal in Haifa

Attorney Hassan Jabareen, founder and general director of Adalah, presented the defense arguments. Hearing him you could easily be carried away and believe that we all live in a democracy, that the right for free speech is a sacred right, and nobody is arrested just for publishing his criticism against government policy on Facebook. The decision of the judge from Hadera was surely a mistake that contradicts both the law and the practice in the courts.

On the other side, representing the police was a uniformed officer named Barakat. To Jabareen’s claim that (almost) nobody is arrested just for posting on Facebook he answered with a long list of names and file numbers of people that were arrested for long periods before and after indictment for just that. For one of the names of his list he emphasized that the accused was a young man with no precedents, unlike Eghbarieh who is an influential political leader. Hearing the list of those arrested just for posting on Facebook, Jabareen could not stop himself but interrupted the officer: “They are all Arabs! Are there no Jews posting sharp words on Facebook?”

The Presumption of Dangerousness

The Israeli “law enforcement” apparatus maintains, in practice, a different legal system for Jews and Arabs. But most laws are formally worded in a general way – not conditional on the religion or nationality of the accused. One crucial way to sort things out is called in the legal system “the presumption of dangerousness”.

The decision whether to hold a suspect or an accused in detention can rely on any of several justifications. One of the most common of them is how “dangerous” the accused is. In the general case this supposed dangerousness should be tested on individual basis. In some cases even murderers were released on bail pending trial. But for offences “against state security” there is a blanket all-embracing “presumption of dangerousness” that allows the state to keep the accused for infinite time in prison until the end of the trial even if the supposed offence itself is very light. The long detention periods constitute a major pressure on the accused to agree to a plea bargain that in many cases will take them out of prison earlier than the trial itself could last.

One main argument of Jabareen in the appeal was that this “presumption of dangerousness” doesn’t apply for offences that are based on political expression. The judge rejected this claim.

The hearing was set for 15:00. After an hour or so of arguments, the judge said he will give his decision later on the same day. He received a CD from the police with “materials” – supposedly posts from Eghbarieh’s Facebook – to look at. It was almost 20:00 when he finally announced his decision. He rejected the main claims of the appeal, but accepted two minor claims. First, he agreed with the police that some of the interrogation steps require that the accused will be in detention – but not much of it. He agreed with the appeal that the remand judge in Hadera had to consider alternative measures to full detention, like house arrest. Based on these he shortened the detention period by one day, and it is now set till Sunday, September 16.

On Sunday the police may agree to release Eghbarieh or ask for another remand.

Who are Abnaa Al-Balad?

Abnaa Al-Balad (“Sons of the Country”) is a left political movement that is active between Palestinians in the territories that were occupied by Israel in 1948. To understand the roots of this movement one should understand the special history of those Palestinians that were left under Israeli rule after the 1948 Nakba in which most Palestinians were expelled and hundreds of towns and villages destroyed. It was a society under trauma, and for the first 18 years they lived under direct military rule.

In the initial period after the Nakba the only political party that was active within this section of the Palestinian population was the Israeli Communist Party. This communist party supported the basic claims of Zionism for a “Jewish state” but wasn’t Zionist itself and took an active role in defending the daily rights of the Arab Palestinian population. The first attempt to build an Arab Nationalist party, Al-Ard movement, was crushed by Israeli oppression. Abnaa Al-Balad movement, which started in the late sixties and gradually organized from local groups into a political movement, was the first movement that succeeded to resume systematic Palestinian political struggle after the Nakba.

In the eighties Abnaa Al-Balad went through deep divisions, much of them around the issue of participation in the Israeli Knesset. Finally the movement adopted a Marxist ideology and took the position of boycott of the Knesset. In spite of constant government persecutions and internal divisions Abnaa Al-Balad succeeded to keep its position as one of the recognized political movements in the Palestinian political map within the 48 areas. It is the smallest of just four movements that have grassroots organization and participate in leading Palestinian struggles, cooperating and competing with the Islamic Movement, the Communist Party and Balad. It was never registered under the Israeli law but was not outlawed either.

Abnaa Al-Balad defines itself as a Palestinian movement, promoting national identity, relating to Palestinian and wider Arab politics and rejecting integration in Israeli politics. It can claim major success in restoring the Palestinian identity of the Arab population after the Nakba and in setting the political agenda on several issues like creating wide consensus around the right of return. In addition to boycott of the Knesset it is mostly characterized by its consistent support for the establishment of one secular democratic state in the whole of Palestine.

Who is Raja Eghbarieh?

Raja Eghbarieh is the most significant leader in the history of Abnaa Al-Balad. The movement actually started in Umm Al-Fahm in 1969 as a local club that took part in municipal elections. In the eighties, as leader of the movement’s youth, he led the opposition to the traditional leadership that wanted to take part in Israeli elections and had an important role in adopting the leftist orientation. In the beginning of the first intifada, in December 1987, after a stormy general strike within 1948 Palestine, Eghbarieh, with some 10 other leaders of the movement, was put under administrative detention for six months.  After the first national conference of the movement, in 1990, he was elected to be its first general secretary.

After the Oslo Agreement, Abnaa Al-Balad wanted to build a wider front of Oslo opponents and skeptics. Eghbarieh led the discussions and negotiations that culminated in the establishment of the “Balad” party, the election of Azmi Bishara to head it and the participation of Balad in a common list with “the democratic front” in the 1996 Knesset elections.

In 1998 Abnaa Al-Balad abandoned her partnership in Balad and struggled to rebuild its independent public presence. But it soon split into a “pragmatic” faction led by Eghbarieh and a more “hardline” faction led by Muhammad Kana’aneh. After a long process of rapprochement the movement was officially reunited in 2012 with no single major leader.

For all this period Eghbarieh was not only a political leader within his movement but also represented it in different bodies that united the 1948 Palestinians in struggle against Israeli racism and oppression, mostly the “higher follow up committee”. In this role he had made important contributions as part of the united leadership of the Palestinian masses in many crucial struggles.

Silencing Palestinian Voices

Throughout the discussion of the appeal in the Haifa court, one precedent was repeatedly mentioned. It was the trials, past and present, of the leader of the Islamic Movement, Sheikh Ra’ed Salah, who also happened to be from Umm Al-Fahm. The police representative didn’t shy of stressing the political aspects of the trials – in both cases, he claimed, the accused are political leaders whose words carry influence with the public. He didn’t mention any post by Eghbarieh that is calling for violence, but he stressed his positions that “oppose the state of Israel” and the fact that “he writes many posts and receive many likes and shares”.

Sheikh Raed Salah in court

Sheikh Ra’ed Salah in court – endless persecution

Not only the Islamic Movement and Abnaa Al-Balad are persecuted. In the last few years Balad is also constant target to interrogations, detentions and trials. Many speakers for Israel’s government and Zionist parties express their intention to prevent Balad from entering the Knesset again.

After the recent ratification of the Nationality Law, which officially declares Israel as an exclusive Jewish state, there was a wide call in Palestinian circles to reconsider the usefulness of Arab participation in the Knesset.

Just as the Israeli state is using its heavy hands to silence any form of Palestinian political expression, the very same repression proves to the population at large and to the world the basic claims of those very same voices: that Israel is not a democracy but a colonialist system based on Apartheid and ethnic cleaning.