Under Israel's Rules, All Palestinians Bear Burden of Proof on ‘Terrorist Activity'

The interviewer believed that one of the organizations I had worked with, among the six that would be placed on Defense Minister Gantz’s blacklist last month, is a terrorist organization. I didn’t get the job ■ Post #38

Umm Forat
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Activists hold a banner that reads 'human rights are not terror' at a protest in Tel Aviv, last month.
Activists hold a banner that reads 'human rights are not terror' at a protest in Tel Aviv, last month.Credit: Sebastian Scheiner,AP
Umm Forat

I’m an Israeli-American lawyer, Jewish, married to a Palestinian resident of Ramallah, and author of the Hebrew-language book “Maqluba – Upside-Down Love,” which describes how we met and fell in love. This blog is about raising our two children, 7-year-old Forat and 3-year-old Adam, in the West Bank and more recently in the United States, where we’re spending a sabbatical year.

We are trying to lead ordinary lives in an extraordinary and unforgiving reality, one that I will share with you. I have changed people’s names to protect their privacy. My real name is Sari Bashi, and I’ve been writing this blog since 2019 under the pen name Umm Forat, which means Mother of Forat in Arabic. I invite you to visit my website: www.ummforat.com.

Who is a terrorist? Depends who is asking

A few weeks after I gave birth to my son Adam in 2017, I landed a job interview, over video call, for a U.S.-based position in the field of human rights. I nursed Adam in the hope that he would nap through the call, and tried to clear the mental fog caused by overflowing hormones and sleep deprivation.

The five members of the selection committee set aside half an hour for the meeting. One of the interviewers dedicated 10 out of 30 minutes to questions meant to determine whether or not I am a terrorist. He read from a file in front of him, apparently sent by one of the right-wing NGOs that work closely with the Israeli government.

I’m the co-founder of Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization that advocates for Gaza residents’ right to freedom of movement. Gisha works in cooperation with Palestinian human rights groups, some of which are among the six organizations that Defense Minister Benny Gantz last month designated as terrorist organizations, following years of public maligning by Israeli officials.

The American interviewer believed that one of the organizations with which Gisha works, among the six that would be placed on Gantz’s blacklist, is a terrorist organization. According to his logic, Gisha, therefore, is also a terrorist organization. He wanted to understand the extent of my association with Gisha, in order to determine the nature and scope of my involvement in terrorist activity. In response to a question I posed, he said he was basing his information on statements by the Israeli government. None of the statements presented any evidence of terrorist activity.

Gantz at a Kahol Lavan party meeting, last month.Credit: Ohad Zweigenberg

I didn’t get the job.

Almost a year ago, my partner Osama and I temporarily left our apartment in the Ramallah area for a sabbatical in North Carolina. A few months later, our neighbors told us that Israeli soldiers had stormed our building in the middle of the night and arrested our upstairs neighbor – a round, 40-something man with glasses who works in one of the organizations that Gantz designated. I had a tense relationship with the man, ever since his wife parked their car in front of mine and left it all night, causing me to miss a meeting. He’s still in Israeli detention.

I met Osama because the the Shin Bet had accused him of terrorism. Sixteen years ago, Osama was accepted to a PhD program at Tel Aviv University, but the Israeli authorities refused to allow him to leave Ramallah and reach the campus for a variety of reasons, including the Shin Bet’s allegation that he was an activist in a terrorist organization. At the time, I was his lawyer and he was my client. I submitted a petition on his behalf to the Israeli High Court of Justice, and we won a partial victory. The state’s attorney agreed to let him leave Ramallah to travel to Europe, not to Israel, and enroll in a PhD program there.

I was a young lawyer, but I was already familiar with the ritual. I was asked to leave the courtroom. Shin Bet officials presented secret information behind closed doors, which apparently showed that Osama’s entry into Israel would endanger national security and public safety. I returned to the courtroom to hear the familiar decision: The justices accepted the Shin Bet’s claim. In the car, on my way back to the office, I updated Osama on the results of the hearing.

“I can’t do anything,” I told him then. “If the Shin Bet insists, no one will intervene.”

Years later, after I had stopped being Osama’s lawyer and became his life partner, the same claim of “danger” contributed to Osama’s delay in meeting our daughter, Forat. She was born prematurely and spent the first month of her life in a Tel Aviv hospital. Osama wasn’t allowed to enter Israel. We made do with Skype calls, in which I pressed the telephone against her incubator and inserted my hand into the frame, so that Osama could see how small she was.

Three and a half years later, the Shin Bet showed more flexibility by allowing Osama to enter Israel and accompany me for the birth of our son in Jerusalem. Osama cut the umbilical cord that bound me to Adam, a gift from the Shin Bet. But the organization’s generosity was limited. The secret information about Osama remained with the Shin Bet, and it’s non-rebuttable. Other requests – for Osama to join me and the children for a Rosh Hashanah dinner at my cousins’ home near Tel Aviv or a Passover seder at my aunt’s – were denied. The basis for the allegations against Osama, like those against the six Palestinian civil society groups, will remain secret and thus impossible to shake off.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog, a darling of the Zionist left, also participated in the official Israeli project to identify terrorist activity when he declared that a decision by Ben & Jerry’s to stop selling ice cream in Israeli settlements in the West Bank was “a new form of terrorism.”

There are terrorists in the world. Osama, our neighbor, and I are not among them. These six Palestinian organizations and Ben & Jerry’s are not terrorist organizations. I won’t be able to prove it. The question is who bears the burden of proof.

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