Thursday, January 20, 2005
Arab Americans subject to human rights abuses and arrest in Israel
"The Department of State’s annual human rights reports have documented for many years a depressing litany of extra-legal human rights abuses perpetrated against the Palestinian people by Israel: countless home demolitions, land confiscations, arbitrary arrests, and widespread torture. Similar practices have also been reported in detail by numerous Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights organizations for years.
But it may come as an unpleasant surprise for the American public to learn that for over 30 years, Israel has also repeatedly detained, tortured and incarcerated Americans of Arab origin, without suffering any sanctions or even a public reprimand from Washington.
Responding to a question in the April 2, 2002, press briefing, a State Department spokesman confirmed that Israel was holding at least 18 American citizens on "security" charges, and had detained at least 22 more since "the current violence began last fall." He also noted that "we have no way of knowing for certain the numbers of American citizens who may have been detained for short periods and released." Since it is a legal obligation of every host government to notify the local diplomatic mission within 48 hours of the detention of a foreign national, this is an alarming admission.
In addition, Israeli and international human rights organizations have gathered evidence that such prisoners are routinely denied family visits for long periods and deprived of access to legal counsel. Their interrogations routinely include torture.
Few Arab-Americans are willing to go public with the details of their torture in Israeli prisons once they gain release and return to America, fearing that they will be targeted by the FBI as so many Arab-Americans have been, or reviled by their fellow citizens as possible security risks. Fear of U.S. reprisal has only increased in the aftermath of Sept. 11. But three men (Anwar Mohamed, Yousif Marei and Bishar Saidi) who endured this experience came to Washington twice to present their cases to the Department of State, Congress and the public. I regard them as brave because Shin Bet officials told them as they left Israel, "Don’t cause us any trouble. We can get you wherever you are"."