Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ameer's Day of Judgment

"Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning."
--Franz Kafka

So far I have missed two sessions of Ameer's court case. What no one among us, his friends, seems to realize or accept is that Ameer kasar muzrab el-ain -- has broken the outlet of the community spring -- as Fairuz would put it; he has drilled a hole in the bottom of the world, an unforgivable sin that no one can prove or disprove. Look what he has gone and done! Look at Tunisia and Egypt, and perhaps Yemen, and what remains of Palestine! Who knows where the fire he has started will burn next? Perhaps in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAR, or Morocco. Who knows if it may not reach Syria or Iran?

No! Not Libya and Israel; the lid of democracy is screwed on too tight there. The will of the people who count in both democratic systems is given full expression to the detriment and exclusion of those defined out of its frame. It is democracy for those who count in the way the system was designed: for eighty percent of the population in one case and for one person in the other.

Ameer, our man was indicted, by his own admission in a negotiated plea bargain, of committing the nebulous crime of coming in contact with an agent of an enemy state. This was a cut below the treasonous crime with which he was originally accused, that of aiding an enemy in time of war, an accusation that was sure to carry with it 25 years to life. And what are we talking about? Let us think about it: It boils down to having spoken to someone not fully sympathetic to Israel’s case during one of its wars with one of its neighbors. It is having spoken Arabic abroad during a time of war, for what else would a Palestinian use his mother’s tongue to communicate with another Arabic speaker, say a Lebanese you meet in Jordan in the Summer of 2006 or a Gazan you meet in Egypt in the Winter of 2008, if not to inquire about how Israel’s current aggression had affected them and their families and dear ones? But then the exact dictum you use may be interpreted ‘intelligently’ by ‘the enemy at war with Israel,’ i.e. Hezbollah or Hamas, to gain ‘sensitive information about Israel’s military installations and the locations and movements of its troops.’ Those enemy bastards can mine every word you say innocently (and you should try once as a Palestinian to prove your innocent intentions in an Israeli court of justice!) for its possible security content. Even your tone of voice and inflection could have been coded to transmit information to an enemy agent. We have evidence of you doing that, Ameer, but you don’t expect us to share such sensitive intelligence information with you and your lawyers. No, it is enough that we let the judge peek at our thick secret files about your secret exchanges of information, which constitute an existential threat to the state of Israel.

And we have photos showing you sharing the same physical space with agents of enemy states under the guise of attending international conferences. And, mind you, we have tracked your movements on your way to more than one such international spy ring meetings. We know that on your way to the airport you passed by more than one military installation to update your information on our military camps. Israel is one intensive grid of secondary and tertiary dirt roads but you always chose to travel from your home in Haifa on the freeway in order to monitor our military installation adjacent to it. Your brother Issam before you, using his parliamentary privileges, went ahead and openly betrayed the country that gave him those privileges and discussed Israel’s nuclear weapons openly in international forums. We will take all the necessary preventive steps to stop you from passing information to the enemy about our military installations even when they can obtain better-detailed information from Google Maps.

You should be thankful we don't use all the evidence we have at our disposal to put you away for good. Should we decide on it we can generate proof of payments made to you for services rendered to the enemy through secret and circuitous channels for money laundering disguised as funding agencies for civil society and human rights activities on both sides of the Green Line. We have proof that the NGO that you head receives funding from the same anti-Semitic agencies in Europe that fund troublemakers groups across the Middle East. Who knows better than us what behind the scenes arrangements and exchanges of monetory favors can be promulgated on your behalf. We even can bring forth proof of your organization's banking activities abroad and we will share the privileged information with the court. And we will tighten the screws on all of your organizations with specific laws to stop the whole lot of you from functioning. But we will hold back on all of that for later when we want to banish you out of the country as we did your friend Azmi Bishara before you.

As if to thank us for not using such lethal weapon, look what you and your international civil society and human rights rabblerousing friends have done to the stability of the Middle East and North Africa. We know for sure, based on our information resources, that Mohammad Bouazizi had heard the slogans all of you have been repeating. His mind had been poisoned by your misleading discourse. He was brainwashed by your empty talk about freedom, equality and the promise of peace and a better future for all. You and your friends in all those international gatherings you use to conduct your behind-the-scenes treasonous activities appropriate the moral high ground and presume to represent your people. You take advantage of the attention lapses of such responsible fellow Arabs and stalwarts of regional stability and progress as Ben-Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt to badmouth them when they had been elected by over 100% of their fellow countrymen. Perhaps the next thing you will be telling us is that Mahmoud Abbas doesn’t represent you when he and his cabinet negotiate away the right of return of Palestinian refugees or agree to accept you as his subject in one of his Bantustans.

Of course, I am only speculating. I am in New York and have not heard the news about the judgment scheduled to be issued today in Ameer’s case. I expect the worst. Still I hope the news about Tunisia and Egypt reaches Ameer's cell for it is sure to cheer him up regardless what those bigoted judges slap him with.


Below is what I had written about the last session I had attended before leaving to visit with my two children's families. I had held back from posting it for fear of possibly affecting the court's decision:

My African Mona Lisa
Oct. 28, 2010

I am contemplating submitting my candidacy for judgeship in Israel. I like the Haifa courtroom’s high-ceiling and air-conditioned interior with all the modern electronic equipment and secret passages from two opposite sides, one for the judges and the other for their trembling customers. Better yet, I like the attention a judge gets with everyone rising as he enters and as he leaves and all those scurrying around to cater to his wishes from the half dozen security guards who regularly shout at us, the audience, to squeeze tighter in our two rows of seats and to stop taking any photos though the room is half-full with journalist and their cameramen zooming on our faces. But best of all, there is the secretarial staff who always seem to distinguish themselves from the judges by donning the tightest of blue jeans and the wildest of T-shirts, including one with “Rabble Rouser” inscribed across her ample bosom. My aspiration to become a judge is buttressed in my own mind by my total ignorance of all matters judicial. The goddess of justice is always depicted blindfolded and in the two cases that I have been following recently, the case of Rachel Corrie and that of Ameer Makhoul, I am willing to bet my last penny on the outcomes without seeing or hearing the arguments of the lawyers or the statements of their witnesses. In both cases I can decree my judgment as well as the next guy with my eyes closed. Or look at the equally wasteful judicial system in Iraq: It took them all these years to condemn Tariq Aziz to hanging, the delay apparently just because he speaks English well. I would have hanged the whole lot of them from day one. Speedy justice is more my style.

It is not only expediency and economic considerations that encourage me to apply for judgeship in Israel. A precedence or two come to mind: For years in the 1970s, we in the Battouf region of Galilee had a social worker, a fulltime government employee, whose only qualification was that he was a licensed taxi driver who rented his vehicle and personal services to the right political party during elections. He was very sociable, which is the essence of social work, it was argued. I personally almost acted in this egalitarian fashion on one occasion as well. At the time I headed the regional office of the Ministry of Health. A man from my village with a well-earned reputation for non-convoluted thinking showed up at my home one night with a couple of watermelons, some freshly picked okra. a few squashes and a bagful of tomatoes from his fields. He was quick to reassure me that it was just a neighborly visit. After coffee he divulged his secret mission: His newlywed daughter had been barred from finishing her high school studies. She wasn’t the brightest of students to start with and now the law gave the principle an excuse to dismiss her altogether: The law at the time did not allow a married woman to study in a regular high school. The system had to guard against promiscuity, I guess. What the father came to enquire about was whether, given the circumstances, I wouldn’t be willing to appoint his failing daughter a nurse.

Last Tuesday there was an emergency meeting at Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights. Ameer’s defense lawyers, his family and the committee for his defense were all represented at the meeting. It is no secret that the secret police has trouble with the folks at Adalah. Once they raided Adalah’s offices and did their best to ruin it altogether. The incident had figured prominently in the local Arabic press at the time but has since faded into the cloudy background of anti-Arab routine incidents compacted and stored away on disc D in my brain. I no longer remember its details or exact nature. I vaguely recall an incendiary attempt by police agents aborted by the office cleaning woman. Be that as it may, Adalah, Arabic for ‘justice’ will meet its own just punishment when the time is right. I recall one case early on in Adalah’s career in which they took the Ministry of Health to task for not providing Bedouin villages in the Negev with Maternal and Child Health services and in which I served as an expert witness. The Supreme Court judge openly praised Adalah’s lawyers and I held my breath expecting the worse. Shortly I heard the news of the fire arson attempt and scored another ‘I told you so’ point against myself.

Now, the defense lawyers proceeded to explain to the rest of us the nature of the plea bargain they had been haggling over with the state prosecutors. [Two terms were made clear to me by my English-native-speaker wife in the process of writing this piece: “It is ‘plea’ and not ‘flea,’” she explained to me when she reviewed my writing for spelling and grammatical errors. All my life I had taken it to mean bargaining as one would in a flea market. For the non-Arabic speaker I should add that Arabic lacks the sound ‘p.’ “And it is the state ‘prosecutor’ not ‘persecutor,’” she added.] We, the laity, wanted to know why someone as innocent as we all knew Ameer was should accept a minimum jail term of seven years? And who started the defeatist negotiations in the first place? A lawyer with a penchant for similes and folksy sayings explained in a circumspect manner the trap in which he thought Ameer had fallen: “He who has swallowed turtles has a hard time sleeping; they keep rattling inside him,” he explained. “We are the ones running scared of a life sentence for our man, not the prosecutors. Why should we be so worried, you ask? In all criminal court cases, admission of the accused is the prime proof of guilt. Israeli statistics show that in 96% of criminal cases the accused is found guilty, another Israeli world record. To that should be added the weighty consideration that here we speak of a security violation and that the accused is a Palestinian. And he happens to be a Christian who signed an admission of cooperating with Hezbollah. Think of the special lesson the powers that be must think they have to teach all of us through this case. We should also consider the poisoned racist atmosphere currently dominating Israeli politics, and you reach near certainty that Ameer will bear the full brunt of Israel’s ire by way of its system of justice.”

The fact that Ameer was sleep-deprived to a point where he could no longer remember his own home phone number or recall the features of his two teenage daughters is immaterial in Israeli courts. Sixty two years of experimenting with physical, psychological and possibly pharmaceutical modalities in manipulating the Palestinian mind are not about to be thrown out the window in this or any ‘security case’. That the admission was extracted under duress is impossible to prove in Israeli courts. The review just published of 645 such cases of Palestinians interrogated at the same specialized facility in Petah Tikva (Window of Hope!!) shows the efficiency of the system: Admission of committing the crimes that each was accused of was achieved in 100% of cases. It is of little help that there was no factual evidence to corroborate the accusations against Ameer. The police investigator in the case admitted in court “with the bone of his tongue” that surveillance of some 30,000 of Ameer’s phone calls, years of his emails, ten computer hard discs, and masses of files from his office and home lead to zero evidence against him. Even the money safe at Ittijah was expectantly opened and yielded only 200 Euros and 5 Egyptian Ginehs And yet, the lawyers expected the court will find him guilty as charged.

At Adalah, as we sat in judgment of the Israeli system of justice, the logical conclusion was clear: We all should be on the run. The moment the Shin Bet targeted any of us he or she is as good as guilty by his or her own admission. Stay under their radar screen.

Amira Hass has just reported in Haaretz on a rare case of a Palestinian in the Occupied Territories, from the village of Na’alin to be exact, who was found innocent in a military court. “The translator in the courtroom was confused. He looked around him, wondering out loud how one translates ‘innocent’ into Arabic.” I find that the report of Amira, the Hebrew feminine namesake of our man, resonates with me for another reason: She mentions that 28 other fellow Palestinians were found guilty on basis of the testimony of the same mentally compromised man. They all were advised by their lawyers to accept a plea bargain and admitted to whatever the mentally compromised witness accused them of doing so as to submit to shorter terms of jail. But that all happened under military rule, and our lawyers now long for those good old days. Which brings back a well known case in Arrabeh during our two-decade-long experience with the military rule in Galilee Palestinian communities: In Arrabeh we had a mentally compromised young man as well and he was interrogated as the sole witness who admitted to seeing the two criminal neighbors who had taken down the Israeli flag from atop the school in the center of the village. And he identified the two by name. Except that in court the witness changed his story and testified under oath that the two friends whom he had seen taking the flag down actually were not his neighbors, Ali and Yusuf, but rather Ali’s rooster and Yusuf’s puppy dog. Still Ali and Yusuf served time based on their admissions.

Then the lawyer advising us on Ameer’s case added a well-known classic Arabic line: “It is compulsion not heroism that drives your man,” meaning himself. “When faced with the near certainty of 16 years to life, I hardly have a choice but to recommend the 7-10 years bargain to my client.” Another lawyer thought it was advisable at this stage to lie low and cease and desist from statements that might irritate the judges even when the statements were true in content and spirit. A third lawyer pointed out an article that Ameer had published in an Arabic weekly calling on Arab youth in Israel to stand up to racism using all ‘legal means.’ He thought that this should continue to be his proud stand in court when he is called on to recant and apologize: “The lower you stoop and beg for mercy the harder the system will come down on your head,” he opined. He then ventured the cruelest of jokes: “We should challenge the court to rise above the racism and fascist atmosphere of the Israeli street,” he suggested. He seemed to forget that ours is a true democracy in which leaders lead and ‘the street’ is only responding to the prompting and dictates of Netanyahu and Lieberman.
“Why should we blame the street when the Knesset is favorably considering a law proposal to withdraw citizenship from security violators like Ameer?” a fellow member of our Public Committee objected. “It comes right on the eve of this session of Ameer’s court case? Are we fools enough to believe this is a coincidence?”

On Wednesday I attended Amir’s court case. I arrived early in the morning to find that the case was delayed, obviously by the wasteful haggling of lawyers, till later in the morning. I went for coffee at Ittijah, the organization Ameer and I had shared in the conspiracy of founding. The two young women in the office were going crazy with answering phones, sending and receiving deliveries of posters, flyers and emails. It was the eve of the World Education Forum, an activity in the planning of which Ameer had played a key role. To start with, his plans were for Ittijah and other lead Palestinian NGOs, here, in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, and in Lebanon, to host the World Social Forum. But more cautious actors deemed it too much of a risk to hold such a function in the tall shadow of Israel’s occupation. They downgraded the Palestinian hosting role to the education segment of the original forum. Be that as it may, I arrived at Ittijah with Abu-Asa’ad, another Palestinian activist who shared Ameer’s prominence on TV screens across the world during the UN Anti-Racism Conference in Durbin and served time for his role, I am convinced. Our hostesses were so busy that we men had to make our own cup of coffee. Imagine! Abu Asa’ad and I considered how we all can turn the table on Ameer’s persecutors and prosecutors and the best way for Ittijah to continue on the path of international solidarity and networking that Ameer has launched it on.

Back in court, after Ameer had arrived, raised his cuffed hands in a sign of steadfastness, and beamed his big sunny smile at us all, I withdrew into my imaginary private cocoon and proceeded to doodle. I was once the top dog in a government office, many of whose workers had already burnt out, their motivation verging on the nonexistent to start with, witness their need to carry a handgun to protect themselves from the mothers and children they were serving. Over the many years of boring routine, I had perfected my doodling skills. I had become such an expert doodler that I could produce likenesses of people attending meetings in my office that were recognizable enough that the models would ask to keep their portraits in their scrap books as precious mementos. Especially when they needed such favors from me as an approval of a pay raise, such staff members would remind me of how fund they were of my drawings. Still, I never realized what an artistic flare I had developed over those long years. I was truly surprised and greatly elated when I discovered, just as the judges arrived in the courtroom, that I had created a veritable likeness of the Mona Lisa that sat directly in front of me. I had captured the Mona Lisa image with her beautiful hair allowed in a studied and meticulous casualness to stream around her beautiful face with her quizzical smile and that magic gaze of her sumptuous eyes that forever follow all of her viewers regardless of which side of the room they look at her portrait from, the hair then flaring out and down over the tips of her lovely shoulders, so sensuously inviting with the imagined suggestive exposure of their soft skin just beyond the generously wide semicircle of the collar of her dress. Alas, the only view that I had of the Mona Lisa was from the back and hence the exact likeness I drew may look to the casual viewer as a simple triangle of wavy lines spreading from a small rounded tip, indicating the top of her small head, down to a wide horizontal line suggesting the end of her waist-long hair. That is all that can be seen by the casual unimaginative viewer of my art.

The woman prosecutor with the long hair had the edge over our defense lawyers, for she had swallowed no turtles. I knew already what was going to happen and I didn’t quite like it. I was bored. And my mind was preoccupied with my own private affairs: I had asked a fellow farmer to bring me a load of the dark brown gold his goats produce for my garden. What if he were to arrive and find the gate locked and unload his cargo of goat manure on the street outside the gate? He might end up fouling up the air of the whole neighborhood if the residents had to drive over the smelly soft stuff. For the uninformed among you, let me elaborate: Goat manure comes in two distinct forms, the nice rounded small hard pellets and the softer clumpy teardrop-shaped tufts better known as ‘dingle berries.’ The latter are usually the result of a goat being afflicted by diarrhea, apparently a common occurrence considering the less-than-selective diet of the animal. [I recall once seeing goats eating plastic sheeting and considering approaching responsible world environmental agencies with a proposal on how to solve the problem of plastic waste.] As the soft fecal matter flows out and down over the hind quarters of a goat, it sticks to the goat’s leg hairs cumulatively forming those teardrop-shaped berries. If they are allowed to dry fully, they produce a characteristic soft rhythmic sound as the goat ambulates, a sound not unpleasant to peasant ears. And the smell is not entirely offensive to my nostrils either. But do I dare admit such damning confessions to my readers?

Those were the thoughts that weighed on my mind as I dosed off while waiting for the judges to dismiss us all. In my dream, I was still preoccupied with the goat manure problem. Still, my deeply felt pride in my artistic achievement broke through from my subconscious into the dream: I recall once seeing on the National Geographic channel some African tribal beauties using cow dung as a form of hairstyling. The beautiful Mona Lisa was now transformed into a tribal woman. Perfectly shaped dingle berries hung from the end of her long hair in a straight row across the width of her back. As she twirled her head in triumphant condemnation of Ameer and his supporters, her hair swished about releasing the pleasant smell and soft musical clinking of dingle berries.

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