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Israel’s Overreach Exposes Its Corrupt Security System

Modern democratic systems work very hard on separating the political echelons from those who carry out their policies. One area that is of extreme danger to democratic systems is when politicians use their own executive branch to engineer the political ideas that they have. Such action often brings short-term results but it erodes the very basic tenets of democratic rule and the separation of powers. The latest unproven Israeli decision to accuse six well-known Palestinian organizations of being terrorist organizations has been questioned not because of its merits but because of the recurring cases in which the terrorism scarecrow is similar to that of the security one, and the antisemitic one is used to camouflage a partisan political goal regardless of the actual facts.

A number of analysts and media outlets have revived the case of Mohammad El Halabi, who has been in jail for over five years on charges of diverting some $50 million in humanitarian aid to armed Palestinian organizations dubbed terrorist organizations by Israel. The Halabi story has become a showcase for the corruption in the Israeli security system, which has been hijacked by Israeli political groups to justify whatever policies are the flavor of the day.

At the time of his arrest in 2016, the Netanyahu government was trying to pressure Hamas into surrender and wanted to weaken international humanitarian support to Gazans so that they could revolt against Hamas. Halabi, a respected director of one of the largest world charitable organizations, was arbitrarily arrested after a visit to the World Vision offices in Jerusalem and was pressured, tortured and held incommunicado for over 50 days. He made no confession because he had done nothing wrong, a fact that leading investigators and auditors paid for by the Australian government and World Vision have proven without a shadow of a doubt.

While the absurdity of this case and the accusation stand to expose the Israeli system, a small side story has eluded scrutiny but is a perfect example of how the Israeli security system is being pressured to lie and cheat just to protect the politicians and to give the courts an image of independence.

According to lawyer Maher Hanna, after Halabi’s arrest, Israeli interrogators went through his phone contact list and discovered a person named Wahid Borsh, an employee of the UNDP, a UN agency helping Palestinians in Gaza. Court records show that, when asked, Halabi told a “source” that Borsh was not a Hamas person. But to please his Israeli masters (the court later charged that he often gave them wrong information), the source reversed the answer and told Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence service that Halabi confirmed that Borsh was a Hamas agent. Based on this false accusation, Israel arrested Borsh, brought him to be confronted by Halabi, and Halabi again repeated that Borsh was not a member of Hamas. But after continuous interrogation and the realization that he will be in prison for a long time, Borsh agreed to a much lower plea in which he would be released in return for admitting that his workers might have assisted Hamas. Borsh supervises the dumping of rubble from bombed buildings and the charge was that Hamas may have noticed the dump of stones and other materials and picked them up for whatever use they wanted!!

Of course, the interrogators badly wanted this to be the way to get Halabi to confess or to agree to a plea bargain, but the stubborn Mohammad El Halabi insisted that he is innocent and nothing in the world will make him admit to a single crime, no matter how mundane, that he didn’t commit.

The lesson from both the Halabi case and that of the UNDP’s Borsh is that the Israeli legal system has been so badly corrupted by the occupation and the lust of power by Israeli politicians that guilt and innocence are traded the way you trade baseball cards. Israel knows and so do most Palestinians that 97% of all cases involving the Israeli military arrests of Palestinians end in a plea bargain in order to save the courts from having to decide. But if you don’t agree to plea, as Mohammad El Halabi has done for over five years, you rot in jail.

Now we are going to see what happens to these six Palestinian human rights organizations. Will Israel start arresting their staff and do to them what they did to Mohammad El Halabi? Will Palestinian staff of these organizations hold out and refuse to admit to a crime they didn’t commit, or will they be forced into the trap that Israel has so well developed that even the innocent like Wahid Borsh has fallen in, or will they have the courage to stand up to the Israeli interrogators and the screwed up Israeli military legal system, the way Mohammad El Halabi has done at a very high price to himself and his family.

Daoud Kuttab, an award-winning Palestinian journalist, has been following the Halabi case for years.