Two Israeli Arab Rappers Cleared of Incitement Charges

Jack Khoury
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Jowan Safadi in a Fish Samak video. He doesn't take any nonsense, except for his own humor. Credit: Courtesy
Jack Khoury

After two years of fighting charges of incitement to violence and support for a terror organization in songs they performed in 2010, two Arab rap singers from Haifa finally won their case.

The prosecution originally agreed to drop the charges for lack of evidence but the rappers, Wala Sabit and Jowan Safadi, who were charged over songs they performed at a coexistence festival in Haifa, fought until the court declared them not guilty.

In July 2010, the pair, accompanied by dj Bruno Sabag, performed a song in Arabic and English called “Search Me” and containing the lyrics “I’m a terrorist, but I have no explosive belt around by waist/I have no bomb under my arm, no machine gun on my shoulder/I’m a soldier in the army of conscience/I’ll shoot you with bullets of poetry/I’ll assassinate you with a monologue/I’ll commit suicide with the bomb of a dance troupe and I’ll torture you with the beat of drums/”

Reports on the songs appeared in the local media, claiming that the words were actually: “I’m a proud Arab/a suicide bomber/I will murder your mother and your sister too.” A few days later, then-National Union MK Aryeh Eldad asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to launch an investigation against the two singers on suspicion of incitement.

In January 2011, the prosecution replied that an investigation should not be launched, but a month later, following another request by Eldad, although it contained no new information, the prosecutor for special tasks, Dan Eldad, responded that although no law had been broken and it would be impossible to prove the words could lead to violence, deputy state prosecutor Shai Nitzan had ordered the police to investigate.

Sabit and Safadi were questioned by the police in May 2011 and were told charges would be filed. Safadi told Haaretz that police had tried to get him to admit to the offense. Their attorney discovered from the investigative material he received that the police had based their questions on local newspaper reports and hearsay, and the actual words of the song were never checked.

The coastal district police said Tuesday they “rejected any claims regarding the quality of the investigation. The police carried out the investigation in a professional and thorough manner and at the end the material was handed over to the prosecution for a decision.”

In June 2011, attorney Dan Yakir of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel demanded that the prosecution close the case with a not guilty verdict and that DNA samples and fingerprints taken from Sabit and Safadi be destroyed. In November 2011, police informed the pair that their case had been closed for lack of evidence.

However, in April 2012, Sabit and Safadi filed a demand that the case be closed with a clear not-guilty verdict. Cases closed for lack of evidence can still be passed on to entities with access to criminal records, while cases closed with not guilty verdicts are not accessible in this way.

The pair noted the prosecution had based its case on two sentences in the song that had been taken out of context and that the song was covered by freedom of expression, which would be compromised in general if the reason for the closing of the case was allowed to stand.

In July 2012, prosecutor Dan Eldad rejected Sabit and Safadi’s demand quoting two lines of the song – “Search me, I’m Arab/I’m a walking bomb straight from the kingdom of sanctification of the name of God” – which he said could be construed as praising suicide bombers. However, Eldad added that the case had been closed since it had not been possible to prove the real possibility that it could lead to acts of terror.

A month later, the pair refiled their demand to close the case with a not guilty verdict, and warned that if not, they would take it to the Supreme Court. It was not until earlier this month, the pair received a letter informing them that deputy State Attorney Yehuda Shefer had changed the reason for the closure to a not guilty and apologizing for the delay.

In response to the decision, Yakir said the prosecution had failed to deal properly with the case throughout and called the police probe negligent. Not even the slightest effort had been made to obtain the song’s lyrics, and the offer by one of the rappers to provide them to the police had gone unanswered, he said.

Yakir also said that the more than two-year delay in rendering the decision was unreasonable. “This is not a mega-case with thousands of pages of testimony and hundreds of hours of wiretaps,” he said.

Safadi said he was pleased with the outcome of their struggle, and that over the past two years he and Sabit had been the victims of incitement themselves, following reports that they had praised suicide bombings. “It was very important for us to achieve this result, because in the end we are artists and without freedom of expression we have nothing to do,” he said.

However, Safadi criticized the very fact that a case had been opened in which artists had to explain their work to the police.

The Justice Ministry responded: “All decisions of the prosecution in this case were made on the factual basis before the decision makers at that point in time.” The ministry added the case demonstrated the open-mindedness of the decision makers as the case developed and that the decision had taken so long because of the “sensitivity to freedom of expression on the one hand and the need to protect the public from incitement to violence and terror on the other.”

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