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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Israeli Lawyer Freed After 110 Days for Peaceful Protest

A prominent Israeli human rights lawyer of Palestinian heritage, Ahmad Khalifa, has been released to house arrest after spending 110 days in prison for organizing a peaceful protest against the war in Gaza.

A supreme court judge ruled on Wednesday that Ahmad Khalifa, 42, a lawyer working with Human Rights Defenders Fund, an Israeli non-governmental organization, should be detained at home subject to electronic monitoring while his case is pending.

He was arrested on 19 October and charged with “incitement to terrorism” and “identifying with a terrorist organization.” No evidence has been presented by prosecutors to support the accusations against him, and he is facing up to eight years in prison if convicted, according to his colleagues.

Khalifa, a well-known community figure in the Arab Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm, used commonly known anti-occupation chants during the protest, for which he was arrested, sustaining mild injuries.

He was denied medical treatment and taken straight to prison, where he alleges he and other Arab and Palestinian prisoners were denied food and clothing and suffered degrading abuse at the hands of wardens. Conditions in Israeli prisons have rapidly deteriorated since the outbreak of the war, on the orders of the far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Several attempts by Khalefa’s lawyer, Afnan Khalifa, to get her client released to house arrest, citing his lack of criminal record and community standing, were denied before the case reached the supreme court. In the hearing on Wednesday, Judge Ofer Grosskopf rejected the prosecution’s argument that Khalefa is a “dangerous person,” adding that “detaining a lawyer for four months demands an explanation.”

Khalefa is one of about 220 Israelis – most, but not all, members of Israel’s 20% Arab minority – who have been caught up in a crackdown on civil rights and freedom of speech in Israel after the 7 October attack by Hamas that sparked the latest war in Gaza, already the most devastating in the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Also Read: Biden Criticizes Israel’s Handling of Gaza Situation as ‘Excessive’

About 1,200 Israelis were killed, another 250 were abducted in the assault, and about 27,000 people have been killed in Gaza, where 85% of the 2.3 million population have been uprooted from their homes amid a dire humanitarian crisis.

Those affected by the freedom of expression clampdown have been arrested and jailed or lost jobs or access to education, mostly because of social media posts. The well-known singer Dalal Abu Amneh was arrested at her home, held in detention for two days, and then to house arrest for a further five, for an Instagram post that read “There is no victor but God” alongside a Palestinian flag emoji. She has been subject to a torrent of public abuse since for what the police described as hate speech.

A Jerusalem teacher, Meir Baruchin, was fired and jailed for criticizing the military on Facebook before treason charges were dropped, and the leftwing politician Ofer Cassif is likely to be expelled from the Knesset over his public support for South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the international court of justice.

Few of those arrested have been indicted, however. Khalefa’s colleagues at the Human Rights Defenders Fund say the state is attempting to “make an example” out of him “by pursuing bogus terrorism indictments … as part and parcel of the ‘zero-tolerance policy’ adopted since October.”

“Their message is clear: this is what awaits those who speak out against the Israeli army’s policy of mass destruction in Gaza,” it said in a statement.

The crackdown on support or sympathy for Palestinians stands in marked contrast to bloodthirsty and dehumanizing statements made by prominent Israelis and government and military officials, including the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the defense minister, Yoav Gallant.

Gallant said his country was fighting “human animals” in Gaza, and Netanyahu implored Israel to remember “what Amalek has done to you” – a piece of scripture calling for the extermination of the men, women, and children of the enemies of ancient Israelites.

The International Court of justice ruled last month that Israel must “take all measures within its power” to avoid acts of genocide in its war in Gaza, including the “prevention and punishment of genocidal rhetoric.”

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