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Shin Bet Arrests Spanish Humanitarian Aid Worker On Terror Charges – OpEd

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The Shin Bet continues its deliberate campaign to criminalize humanitarian aid work in Palestine by arresting yet another aid worker on trumped-up terror charges.  The new case involves a Spaniard, Juana Ruiz, working for the Spanish NGO, Health Work Committees, in the West Bank.  She was arrested in Bethlehem and has been held incommunicado for two weeks under relentless, abusive interrogation lasting six hours per day. She has neither been indicted nor charged with a crime.  But the Shin Bet has conveniently leaked to the media that she has engaged in aiding a terror organization through money laundering.  This is a charge used routinely in similar past cases in which the security apparatus seeks to sabotage the work of aid groups on behalf of Palestinians.

Ruiz’s lawyer has not been able to consult with her privately as called for under the Geneva Convention.  She also has a medical condition which her jailers have refused to treat.

The real reason for her arrest is that she is married to a Palestinian. They live in the village of Beit Sahour.  That’s the first strike against her.  The second is that the finance director of her NGO is purportedly a PFLP militant whom the Shin Bet suspects of involvement in the murder of an Israeli woman in 2019.  It claims he financed the attack himself.  And that he did so with funding from HWC.  NGO Monitor, the anti-Palestinian organization which acts as a mouthpiece of the security apparatus has presented the “charges” concisely on its website:

Health Work Committees (HWC)

  • Since 2014, the Basque Autonomous Community provided at least €6 million for projects partnering with HWC.
    • In 2019, the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa provided HWC and SODePAZ €40,000 for “Health Care for Sick People in Emergency Departments.”
    • In 2016-2018, AVCD provided HWC and SODePAZ €200,000 for “Healthcare for chronically ill people in Ramallah, Hebron and Nablus.”
  • HWC has been referred to as a “sister organization” of the PFLP “affiliate” UHWC.
  • On June 9, 2015, the Israel defense minister announced that the Jerusalem branch of the Health Work Committee is an unlawful association, designated as a terrorist organization by the Israel High Court of Justice (HCJ 3923/15; emphasis added).
  • Walid Hanatsheh (Abu Ras), HWC’s finance and administration manager, is on trial for allegedly being the leader of PFLP “military” operations and commanding the PFLP terror cell that carried out the August 2019 bombing attack (see UAWC above). According to the indictment against him, Hanatsheh bankrolled the bombing. Following his arrest, the PFLP labeled Hanatsheh a “leader in the Popular Front.”

Of course, Shin Bet has presented no evidence against him in this case either.  Or I should say, that if it did present evidence it did so in camera, and only to the judge, and not to the defense lawyers. Giving them no chance to either examine the evidence or refute it. But such is the shabby standard of justice in the Israeli system. But presumably arresting and abusing her till she flips on Hanatsheh is a convenient way of building a case against both of them.

In a similar case, Mohammad El Halabi worked as a staff member of the Australian affiliate of World Vision.  He too was accused of money laundering on behalf of Hamas.  Here is how I described in 2016 the wild conspiracy case cobbled together by the Israeli security services against him:

If you were to believe the Shabak, a senior manager of World Vision has been a Hamas operative for over a decade and underwent military training under the Islamist group’s auspices.  In 2005, Hamas planted him in the organization and directed him to loot its coffers of “tens of millions of dollars” and transfer the funds to Hamas.  This amounted, if one believes the security services, to 60% of the budget of the Gaza office.  The money was used by Hamas to fund its military wing, specifically to build tunnel infrastructure.

Among other charges against alHalabi is that he created programs to aid Gaza farmers near Israel’s border.  But that in reality he was using the project to establish surveillance outposts for Hamas along the border.  Here again, is another reason Shin Bet would want to frustrate such projects.  It would not wish to see thriving agricultural operations on the border.  It would rather see this area open and barren in order to improve Israeli reconnaissance and surveillance..

Unlike many Palestinian arrestees, El Halabi has refused to cop a plea.  In fact,  no less a right-wing Israeli media outlet than the Jerusalem Post has called him the “Palestinian Dreyfus.”  The Israeli authorities have left him to rot in prison for nearly five years.  No indictment or charges filed.  The victim has refused to play the game: by refusing to accept a plea.  This denies Israel the right to claim that he’s admitted to the charges against him in return for a reduced sentence.  Of course, they throw the threat of a 20-year sentence against him (as they did against another Palestinian arrestee, Dirar  Abusisi) and offer him 10 years if he pleads guilty.  If he refuses, then he stays where he is till he’s broken enough that he gives up and admits guilt.  It’s a cruel game played by the Shin Bet. But this is the corrupt, rotten form of “justice” offered by the Israeli justice system to its Palestinian victims.

A dark irony related to the Ruiz case is that a Palestinian journalist, Muath Hamed, who exposed a Mossad operation recruiting Palestinians in Turkey to spy for Israel, was interrogated by a Mossad agent while in the custody of Spanish police on Spanish soil. Such questioning violates every diplomatic norm.  But Spanish law enforcement seems to have quite a cozy relationship with the Mossad.

Though the Spanish foreign ministry has protested the treatment of Ruiz, it might want to remind their Israeli counterparts that if they expect Spain to permit such outrageous behavior on Spanish soil, that the least Israel could do is desist from imprisoning its citizens on such patently fabricated charges.

This article was published at Tikun Olam

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Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

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