Israeli Lawyer Charged With Passing Notes From Hamas Leaders to Jailed Operatives

Shin Bet: Inmates have been involved in planning terror attacks meant to kidnap Israelis for use as bargaining chips.

The aftermath of the Sbarro restaurant suicide bombing in Jerusalem during the second intifada.
The aftermath of the Sbarro restaurant suicide bombing in Jerusalem during the second intifada, in August 2001. Eyal Warshavsky

A Galilee lawyer was indicted Monday on charges of passing messages between jailed Hamas operatives, including high-ranking figures such as the mastermind of the 2002 Passover bombing at Netanya’s Park Hotel, and Hamas leaders in the West Bank and Gaza.

The lawyer, Mohammed Abed, a 42-year-old man from the village of Baana, received an estimated 1.4 million shekels ($400,950) for helping jailed Hamas operatives communicate, according to the charge sheet.

Under the indictment handed down by Haifa District Court on Monday, Abed was charged with providing services to an illegal organization, maintaining contact with a foreign agent and handling the property of a terrorist group, as well as money laundering and tax evasion.

Shin Bet officials said the suspects admitted under questioning that their activity had been funded by high-ranking Hamas officials in Gaza, who gave them large sums of money. They said the communication facilitated by lawyers — especially those who, like Abed, worked with the Solidarity Foundation for Human Rights in Nablus — is helping Hamas run its activities in Israeli prisons, and even plan terror attacks.

“The cynical use by terrorist groups of the policy of respecting prisoners’ legal rights is particularly disturbing in light of the significant increase in the scope of terrorism in the West Bank, and particularly in the increase in plans to carry out kidnapping attacks for bargaining purposes to bring about the release of prisoners,” a Shin Bet official said. “The planning of these terror attacks has been done on occasion with the direct involvement of the inmates, who urge the groups to which they belong to work for their release.”

The official said this was not the first time security prisoners had used their Israeli lawyers to convey messages or coordinate activities.

During the hearing, Abed, who was arrested last month with two other lawyers and a journalist from Nablus, said he was only doing his job as a lawyer. Abed has worked with the lawyer who heads the Nablus-based Solidarity Foundation for Human Rights since 2004, mainly representing members of Hamas in Israeli courts. As part of his job, he has traveled among various jails in Israel, where he has met with many detainees and prisoners who are members of Hamas.

The prosecution has requested that Abed be detained until the end of proceedings and has requested approval to seize the money found in his home, as stipulated by the law against funding terrorism.

Abed is suspected of conveying messages asking high-ranking Hamas leaders in various prisons for advice and instructions about engaging in acts of protest, solidarity and strikes aimed at encouraging imprisoned Hamas leaders. The messages were “related to the organization, whose purpose was to coordinate acts of protest and solidarity, including hunger strikes and court boycotts, among the Hamas inmates,” the indictment states.

According to the indictment, the messages emphasized the need for “collective action by the inmates” and included direct requests to high-ranking members of Hamas’ leadership in the prisons for advice and instructions on various matters. The prisoners expressed their displeasure that Hamas operatives in Gaza had not been freed in the prisoner swap that resulted in the release of Gilad Shalit, and called for “serious action to end the torture of the prisoners in the occupation’s jails.”

One of the prisoners whom prosecutors say sent messages through Abed is considered the highest-ranking Hamas figure in prison: Abbas Sayed, who is serving 35 life terms for masterminding the Park Hotel bombing, which killed 29 people as they celebrated the Passover seder in Netanya in 2002. Another is Abdullah Barghouti, Hamas’ former chief bomb maker, who was sentenced to 67 life terms for his involvement in terror attacks including the 2001 Sbarro bombing in Jerusalem, which killed 16.

In one of the messages Abed is suspected of conveying, Barghouti wrote to Sayed, hoping to persuade the Hamas members held in Megiddo Prison to agree to set aside phone time to discuss Hamas’ goals. The plan was coordinated with Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas’s political wing, using code words.

Another message, prosecutors say, was sent to Meshal from the former head of the Hamas military wing in Jenin, Jamal Abu Hija, who is serving nine life sentences for his involvement in the Sbarro bombing and a 2002 bus bombing near Safed that killed nine. According to the indictment, Abu Hija praised Meshal for his work and called for the “expulsion of the occupiers.” The message also read: “The resistance factions ask for serious work to end the torture of the prisoners in the occupation’s jails.”

In other messages, the prisoners reported about their conditions so as to compare them and asked for prisoner transfers to increase the concentration of Hamas inmates in the prisons. One message emphasized the need to publicize the information so as to win “the support of the street.” Others concerned the coordination of fund transfers to the various prisons and the transfer of large quantities of cigarettes among the prisons, which is against Israel Prison Service regulations.

Two other attorneys — Fares Abu Hasan of Nablus, considered the leader of Solidarity Foundation for Human Rights in Nablus, and attorney Osama Makbul, who works for the group and was imprisoned in Israel in the past — were also arrested for involvement in Hamas activity.

The indictment states that in 2012, Abed began working with Abu Hasan and other Solidarity Foundation employees regarding visits to Hamas prisoners.

Security forces also arrested Ahmed Bitawi, a 32-year-old journalist from Nablus, who has previously been imprisoned in Israel over Hamas activity Today, he works at the Solidarity Foundation as the liaison with the Gaza Strip. In addition, Nermin Salem, a 40-year-old Nablus woman who works as a secretary at the Solidarity Foundation. A statement from the Shin Bet read that “her involvement and the extent of her knowledge of Hamas’s involvement have not yet been fully clarified.”

The Shin Bet said high-ranking Hamas leaders who were released after serving time in Israel and were sent abroad as part of the Shalit deal had ties to the Solidarity Foundation.