Turkish Woman in Israeli Custody for a Month Set to Face Terror Charges

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Ebru Ozkan, who was arrested in Israel in June 2018 on suspicion of links to Hamas.
Ebru Ozkan, who was arrested in Israel in June 2018 on suspicion of links to Hamas. Credit: Courtesy
Yotam Berger
Tamar Baraaz

A 27-year-old Turkish woman who was arrested in Israel about a month ago on suspicion of posing a threat to national security and having ties to terror groups is expected to face charges Sunday.

The lawyer of Ebru Ozkan told Haaretz that investigators suggested during his client’s interrogation that the Turkish research institute where Ozkan works also employs Hamas members, a claim the lawyer said was false.

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The lawyer, Omar Khamaysa, says the investigators also claimed that Ozkan was asked to bring money and a cellphone charger to Hamas members during her visits to Israel, and that Ozkan told them she did not know these people.

An official in the Shin Bet security service said Ozkan was “arrested on suspicion of posing a threat to national security and having ties to terror organizations, and was handed over to security forces.”

Ebru Ozkan with Dome of the Rock in the background, in Jerusalem.

Ozkan was arrested on June 11 at Ben-Gurion International Airport as she prepared to board a return flight to Turkey. A few reports appeared in Israeli media outlets, but in Turkey the story has received wide coverage. Members of Ozkan’s family gave interviews at a media briefing in Istanbul and protesters demonstrated at the city’s Taksim Square.

“She came for three days, on an organized tour of Jerusalem, for the holiday,” Ozkan’s sister Alif told Haaretz by phone. “She wasn’t involved in any political struggle of any kind. There is no evidence to support the suspicions against her,” Alif said, adding that the family had no history of political work or volunteer activity.

The day Ozkan was arrested, her friends and family realized that she had not returned from Israel. “She went through check-in and passport control and was about to board the plane,” said Eylul, a friend who asked that her last name not be published.

“Shortly before takeoff, the security forces stopped the boarding and said they were taking her for brief questioning. We assumed she would get on the next plane and we waited for her, but that didn’t happen. The brief questioning turned into hours of questioning, then an arrest, and it was extended a few times.”

Two weeks without a lawyer

Ozkan has not been permitted to speak with her family since her arrest. At the most recent hearing on her case, the court agreed to let her phone her family if the Israel Prison Service gave its approval. The prison service declined.

For two weeks, in accordance with the protocols for security suspects, Ozkan had no contact with the outside world. Khamaysa, her lawyer, tried a number of times to cancel the order prohibiting Ozkan from meeting with counsel, and it was only after two weeks of interrogation that Ozkan was allowed to meet with her lawyer and an official from the Turkish Embassy.

In accordance with protocol, the confidential information that is supposed to support the suspicions was not presented to the defense, and it is not known what it includes. Khamaysa can only go on the little that has been said in court, and on his conversations with Ozkan. He says she was frightened and did not understand the situation she was now in.

“The prosecution claimed that the Shin Bet has had intelligence on her for a year, and that it was a mistake she entered [Israel] – she wasn’t supposed to get a visa in the first place,” Khamaysa said.

“But it’s inconceivable that they let someone into the country and then remember upon her exit that they’re supposed to question and arrest them. Israel can’t carry out legally sanctioned abductions; you don’t give people a visa in order to arrest them later. Is she supposed to sit in custody because of the clerk’s mistake?”

In the meantime, Ozkan’s friends and family are trying to figure out why she was arrested. Around six months ago she began working as a secretary at a Turkish research institute that deals with Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the wider Middle East.

“The research institute came up during the interrogations, and the investigators claimed that Hamas activists work there,” Khamaysa said. “Ebru said that as far as she knows, her colleagues aren’t connected to Hamas. The research institute is legal, and it’s not on Israel’s list of terror organizations.”

‘What’s $500?’

Khamaysa said he went over the names the investigators mentioned, and he did not find anything to indicate that they were Hamas members.

“At some point, when she was asked about various people in her list of contacts, she noted that a good friend from Istanbul had asked her to wire $500 to a relative of his in the Palestinian Authority through Western Union, and [the friend] would pay her back. In another case, he asked her to bring a cellphone charger during her previous visit to Jerusalem,” Khamaysa said.

“But the man who was supposed to receive the charger didn’t appear, and she returned the charger to Istanbul. The investigators claimed that the man who received the money and the man who was supposed to receive the charger were Hamas activists. She says she had no idea they were Hamas activists. And really, how is she supposed to know whether or not they’re Hamas activists? If your good friend asked you to bring money to a relative, would you ask if the money was going to terror activists?” he added.

“And anyway, the way they’re dealing with her is abnormal – usually they prevent meetings with lawyers in the case of someone who’s a ticking bomb, not a tourist who wired $500. What’s $500? It’s a joke. And the charger? It passed all the checks entering and leaving Israel, so apparently it didn’t pose a security risk.”

Khamaysa says Ozkan’s interrogations were conducted in Arabic. “We asked for a Turkish interpreter, but they insisted on conducting the interrogations in Arabic, even though her Arabic isn’t particularly good and the transcript was typed up in Hebrew,” Khamaysa said.

“They told her to sign the transcript, she asked for the contents to be translated for her, and the investigator shouted at her that there wasn’t time and to sign it already. So she signed. Afterward, in court, the prosecution reads from the interrogation, and Ebru says that things came out distorted, and that wasn’t what she said at all.”

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