Israeli Arab Sentenced to 22 Months for Fighting With ISIS

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Fighters from the Islamic State marching in Raqqa, Syria, January 2014. Credit: AP

A Haifa court on Monday sentenced an Israeli Arab who took part in training with Islamic State fighters in Syria to 22 months in prison.

In September, Haifa Magistrate’s Court convicted Ahmed Shurbaji, 23, from Umm al-Fahm, of illegally entering Syria and training with Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL). The court accepted the state's claim that “going to an enemy country for military training, especially Syria and most especially for training with Islamic State, is an offense that poses a great threat to Israel’s security.”

Judge Orit Kantor rejected the defense's argument that Israel has no jurisdiction in the case as the military training took place in Syria. Shurbaji's attorney tried to make the case that the military training was meant to help rebels battling the regime of an enemy state.

The verdict stated that Arab citizens of Israel who return from fighting in Syria could endanger Israeli security in various ways. They could potentially use their acquired military expertise to act against Israel or to create ties between returning fighters and global Islamic Jihad fighters.

The court ruled that even a potential threat establishes jurisdiction, and that "a country that is defending itself must not wait for the threat to go from theory into practice."

The indictment, filed in May against Shurbaji, stated that he took part in several armed battles waged by Islamic State against President Bashar Assad's regime. He entered Syria via Turkey last January and returned to Ben-Gurion International Airport on April 20, where he was arrested.

According to the indictment, during Shurbaji's stay in Syria he attended a week-long military training session, took part in lessons on Sunni and Shia Islam, and practiced shooting rifles and using a variety of weapons.

So far, two Israeli Arabs have been reported killed fighting alongside ISIS: Hamed Mohammed Habashi, from the Galilee village of Iksal, who was probably killed near Ramadi in western Iraq, his family said. Othman Abdal-Kian, a doctor who worked as a resident at an Israeli hospitall, was also reported killed.

Israeli Arabs joining armed militias was a rare phenomenon until 2011, when the Syrian civil war started. Before then, there very few instances of Israeli Arabs youths showing support for Palestinian organizations, mainly during the second intifada.

The most prominent such case involved cousins Ibrahim and Yassin Bakri, residents of the Galilee village of Ba'aneh. They were convicted in 2004 of serving as accomplices in the murder of nine Egged bus passengers in a suicide bombing at the Meron Junction in August 2002. Following that case, Israeli Arabs leaders urged Palestinian factions not to involve their constituents in such actions.

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