Israel Charges Bedouin Medical Student With Grave Security Offenses. His Crime? Passing Out Lecture Notes

Taer Jouda was held by the security service for a month, denied a lawyer for the first two weeks and rejected efforts to become an informant: 'He just wants to be a doctor'

Taer Jouda at his home in Arara
Taer Jouda at his home in Arara. Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The state has charged an Israeli studying medicine in Jordan with grave security offenses — because he spoke with a fellow student and gave out summaries of material from his courses.

Taer Jouda from the Bedouin community of Arara was held by the Shin Bet security service for a month and, he says, subjected to violent interrogation. For the first two weeks he was not allowed to see a lawyer.

Rulings by a district court and the Supreme Court were critical of prosecutors. They denied a request to extend Jouda’s detention, allowed him to return to Jordan to study and disallowed one of the charges. The state seeks to prosecute him on another charge.

Jouda is about to begin his fourth year at Irbid University. Two weeks after returning to Israel to visit his family this summer, he was arrested. His lawyer says the Shin Bet tried to recruit Jouda as an informant, but he refused. “He just wants to be a doctor, not to work for the security service,” the lawyer said.

Jouda said he was restrained in painful positions while in custody. He was charged on July 9 and released on July 20, but the charge sheet does not indicate how he harmed state security. The first charge states that he talked to a fellow student who is a Hamas activist. In response to a question, Jouda explained the difference between the northern and southern branches of the Islamic Movement in Israel, noting that the southern branch, unlike the northern, is represented in the Knesset. This information is freely available, but caused Jouda to be accused of contacting a foreign agent and passing intelligence to the enemy. This charge was dropped in the wake of the court’s criticism.

A second charge had to do with Jouda’s contacts with the student union in Irbid. It says Jouda gave summaries of course materials to new students who belonged to a Hamas-affiliated group. Although the material related only to the curriculum, the state argued that he had contacted an enemy agent, harming state security.

Beer Sheva District Court Judge Nasser Abu Taha said prosecutors did not show the student group’s link to Hamas. Had it existed, he said, Jordanian security forces would have dealt with it. “It is a religious group, but not every Islamist group is Hamas,” the judge said.

The judge refused the state’s request to detain Jouda for the duration of the proceeding. He recommended that the charges be dropped, saying the harm caused to Jouda, as a fourth-year medical student, would be disproportionate. He added that the attributed action and limited public interest in it would probably not lead to a conviction.

Abu Taher did, however, block Jouda from leaving Israel. His lawyer requested that the restriction be lifted, and last week Be’er Sheva District Court Judge Israel Pablo Akselrad acceded to the request, saying that in light of the charges, it would be unreasonable to ruin Jouda’s chances of becoming a doctor.

The state appealed the ruling in the Supreme Court, but on Monday Justice Daphne Barak-Erez upheld the ruling, pointing to the problematic charges filed against Jouda.

Prosecutors did not prove a link with Hamas, and Jouda’s statements were obtained under duress, making the evidence against him weak, she ruled.

Prosecutors said that students abroad are a convenient target for recruitment by terrorist organizations, and that reasonable suspicions of contact with terror group activists are sufficient reason for detention.

The Shin Bet said that its investigation was done according to the law and under court supervision.