Two Israeli Arab Public Figures Held for Spying for Hezbollah

A court-imposed gag order was partially lifted yesterday over the arrest of two Israeli Arab political activists suspected of severe security offenses, including contacting a Hezbollah agent.

Omar Sayid, a Balad party activist, has been in custody for over two weeks. Ameer Makhoul, who heads an umbrella group for Arab nongovernmental organizations and is the brother of a former Knesset member, was arrested last Thursday.

The investigation, details of which were disclosed yesterday by order of the Petah Tikva Magistrate's Court, is being conducted jointly by the Shin Bet security service and the police Serious and International Crime Unit.

The case has stirred an uproar within Israel's Arab community. Makhoul, 52, is head of Ittijah, the Union of Arab Community Based Associations. He is also a prominent figure in the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee and the brother of former Hadash MK Issam Makhoul.

Members of Makhoul's family said that around 3 A.M. on Thursday, a large police contingent appeared at his Haifa home to take him into custody. Authorities searched the house and confiscated evidence, and relatives said he has been denied access to a lawyer.

"I know Ameer and his various activities," his wife Janan told Haaretz. "Everything he knows and believes can be found in the articles he writes, both in Israel and abroad, and that's why allegations of spying for a foreign agent are absurd. The only purpose of this arrest is to silence and persecute political activists from the Arab sector."

Details of the affair had emerged over the past two weeks on various Israeli and foreign websites, but until yesterday, it was under a full gag order. Both suspects are being represented by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which said it is considering petitioning the High Court over the use of gag orders.

Janan Makhoul said her family has been contacted by international human rights organizations that offered to help her husband obtain better treatment while in custody and gain permission to meet with an attorney.

Sayid, 50, met yesterday with his defense attorneys, who said that their client denies all the allegations against him. The attorneys, Orna Cohen, Hassan Jabareen and Hussein Abu Hussein, said Sayid told the police clearly that "he never worked for any foreign organization, and all of his activity is transparent and of a political nature."

Sayid, a resident of the Galilee village of Kafr Kana, is a practitioner of alternative medicine. Attorney Amar Taha, speaking on behalf of Sayid's family, said that since his arrest, the suspect's wife and children have received no information on his condition. "I felt as if he had been kidnapped," Taha said. "I had no idea what happened to him."

Abeer Baker, an Adalah lawyer involved in the case, termed the arrests "an effort to criminalize open political and social activity by political activists. If I have coffee with someone and he has certain political activities, it's as if I met him because I want to harm state security."