The military censor on Monday lifted a gag order on news that two Israeli Arab political activists were arrested last week on charges of spying and contact with a foreign agent from Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Omar Said, a member of the Balad movement, and Ameer Makhoul, director general of the charity Ittijah (Union of Arab Community-Based Associations) were detained by the Shin Bet security service and police anti-terror squads.

Makhoul was arrested in the early hours of Thursday morning, Said on April 24.

Reports of the arrests circulated widely on unofficial websites and blogs but government censors had banned the Israeli press from reporting them until the gag order was lifted late Sunday night.

Sayid was detained and his house was also searched, police said. The activist, who also practices alternative medicine, has been questioned by police on several occasions over trips abroad in the past few years.

At around 3:00 A.M. on Thursday, armed security forces raided Makoul's home in Haifa.

Makhoul's brother Assam, a former MK for Hadash, said the family had no details of the investigation but they suspected authorities had singled out the activist because of his campaigns against the government's "racist and discriminatory polices" against Israeli Arabs.

The veteran activist is well-known among Arab charities and NGOs and is a regular participant in conference on discrimination in Israel and abroad and has been a virulent critic of government policy.

Unofficial sources say Makhoul was in contact with a number of foreign activists, some with links to groups classified by the government as terror organizations.


Hussein Abu Hasin, a lawyer who has handled several cases of spying charges, told Haaretz that espionage laws in Israel were so wide-ranging that an internet chat or telephone conversation with anyone in an 'enemy state' could lead to prosecution.

"The use of these laws has become draconian," Hasin said.

The arrests have sparked outrage among Israeli Arab organizations and rights groups, who claim that activists disappear from their homes in the middle of the night. They also accuse the courts of being at the beck and call of security services, who often bar suspects from visits with lawyers or from obtaining legal counsel.

Late last week, Israeli Arab rights groups, including Adallah, a center that promotes rights for Arabs in Israel, petitioned a Petah Tikva court to lift the gag order in the case. Adallah also plans to petition the High Court over the general matter of gag orders, in an effort to challenge the policy by which the orders are issued.

A mass rally is planned for Monday night in Haifa to protest the arrests of Said and Makhoul.