Majd Kayyal
Majd Kayyal. For five days he was not allowed to meet with his lawyer. Photo by Panet
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The arrest of Israeli journalist Majd Kayyal should worry Israelis. Kayyal, who lives in Haifa, was arrested a week ago at the Jordanian border after returning to Israel from a three-week visit to Beirut. At first, defense officials accused him of contact with a foreign agent and traveling to an enemy country, so extreme measures were taken.

For the five days Kayyal was detained he was not allowed to meet with his attorney, and his arrest was concealed under a sweeping gag order. Only after intervention by human rights group Adalah and Haaretz was the gag order lifted; the suspicion of contact with a foreign agent vanished and Kayyal was released to house arrest.

The arrest and its concealment are serious matters. Detaining someone in secret sets a dangerous precedent, not to mention the discrimination. Over the years, many Jewish Israeli journalists have traveled to “enemy states,” and no one interrogated them on their return. Kayyal was arrested and interrogated secretly only because he was an Arab.

Israeli law – particularly emergency regulations and the law against illegally crossing the border – prohibit Israeli citizens from entering an enemy country for any purpose whatsoever. This law must be abolished. Israelis who visit an Arab country in fulfillment of their journalistic duties, or to meet with relatives, or for any other innocent reason, are not criminals. They should not be considered as such as long as they do not compromise state security.

This law is draconic and infuriating, particularly as it is applied to Arab citizens. For them, Arab countries are part of their cultural, religious, linguistic, historical, social and sometimes familial fabric. The state cannot deny them the right to visit members of their people, religion and culture. A democratic country cannot prevent its citizens from maintaining their heritage or family ties.

But Israeli law does prevent this, and in a sweeping manner, when it comes to the Arab minority. And instead of letting Israeli Arabs act as a bridge to dialogue with the people in “enemy states,” Israel sometimes puts them on trial.

It’s good that the arrest was made public and that Kayyal was released, even if to house arrest. But this flawed arrest and the entire process must not be glossed over. Those responsible must be made accountable for their actions.