Two Arab Israelis charged with spying for Hezbollah
Two Arab Israelis were indicted Thursday on charges of spying for the armed Lebanese group Hezbollah, but their supporters dismissed the allegations and accused authorities of harassing Israel’s Arab minority.
State prosecutors accused Amir Makhoul, director of Ittijah, a network of Arab advocacy groups, of meeting a Hezbollah operative in Denmark in 2008 and agreeing to serve as an agent for the militant group.
Israeli authorities say he passed along information about security facilities in Israel, including some sites belonging to the Israeli spy agency the Mossad, the domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet and defense contractor Rafael. He is also accused of helping Hezbollah recruit other agents in Israel.
Makhoul denied the charges after a court appearance Thursday. His attorneys say Israeli authorities coerced a confession through unlawful interrogation tactics.
Omar Sayid, a political activist from the Galilee, was indicted separately on a lesser charge of making contact with a Hezbollah agent in the Sinai desert in 2008.
According to the indictment, Sayid turned down the Hezbollah agent’s recruitment offer but gave the agent the names of two other people who might assist the group.
“The entire story is inflated and intended to hurt the Arab public in Israel,” Sayid told reporters after his hearing Thursday.
Both men were arrested several weeks ago but were denied access to attorneys until recently. Information about the cases was banned from publication in Israel by a court-issued gag order, which was partially lifted Thursday.
The men are being represented by the Arab legal rights group Adalah, which petitioned for the release of Makhoul’s medical records. They suspect the records will provide evidence of harsh physical treatment and perhaps torture. The court initially rejected the petition, but Adalah issued a statement Thursday saying it was going to gain access after all.
Issam Makhoul, a former Knesset member and Amir Makhoul’s brother, told Israel Radio that the indictment was inflated and “won’t hold water.” He demanded a special investigation into the prosecutions.
Yishai Cohen, an Israeli police official, told Israel Radio that Amir Makhoul acted “almost like a professional spy,” using special encryption software to hide his activities. He said Makhoul ignored previous warnings by Israeli security agents that foreigners he had contacted were Hezbollah intelligence agents.
A police spokesman denied that Makhoul was mistreated.
Sobelman is a news assistant in The Times’ Jerusalem Bureau.