Shin Bet Arrests Israeli Druze at Syrian Border, Slaps Gag on Media Reporting


The Syrian news service, SANA, reported on June 29 that Israel’s Shin Bet security service arrested Dr. Eyad Jamil al-Jawhari, a resident of the Golan village of Majdal Shams. Jawhari is completing medical studies inside Syria and was returning home via the Golan border crossing when he was arrested. His family, who had been awaiting his arrival, was told he had been arrested. He is currently being held in the Shabak section of Kishon prison, where numerous Palestinian security detainees are interrogated.

The Shin Bet has secured a gag order on reporting about the incident, so no Israeli media outlet has reported the story. When and if they do, they will not be able to use the detainee’s name because of the gag. This Syrian media report notes that Jawhari has already appeared in the Nazareth court and that his detention has been extended. That means it’s likely he was arrested at least a few days ago.

This is a critical period and explains the Israeli gag. Opacity allows Israel to proceed with a minimum of public scrutiny. It is the time when the suspect likely is refused access to counsel, and when he’s likely to be tortured, as happened in the cases of Dirar Abusisi and Ameer Makhoul. These were both Palestinians arrested by the Shin Bet under gag, which I succeeded in breaking with the help of Israeli sources. That is why I’m publishing this report as urgently as I can. It’s critical that the news be reported widely outside Israel, as this may exert some pressure on the authorities not to mistreat Jawhari under cover of silence and darkness.

There could be two plausible reasons for his detention: given the civil war raging inside Syria, Israeli security forces are eager to obtain any intelligence they can about the situation. Therefore, someone returning from Syria would be a perfect source and worthy of detention and debriefing. The Shin Bet would first approach and ask him to collaborate. But if he refused, it’s plausible that Shin Bet would arrest him.

But given what we know of the incident at this point, I’d say it’s more likely that the security police determined that Jawhari had “nationalist sympathies” (an Israeli catchword for Palestinians who are too outspoken in their political views) and possibly had contact with individuals inside Syria who are verboten as far as Israel is concerned. Perhaps he met someone connected with Hamas or Hezbollah. A charge of contact with an “enemy organization” can bring very long prison sentences. Makhoul accepted a 9-year prison sentence for allegedly meeting a Hamas operative in Jordan at an environmental conference. The actual individual, Hassan JaJa, is a landscape designer in Amman, and the Shin Bet never proved he had any Hezbollah affiliation.

But the truth is that it wouldn’t even take that much for the Shin Bet to persecute you. All you have to do is be a prominent activist supporting the movement for civil rights for Israel’s Palestinian, Druze, or Bedouin minorities.

Israel’s Druze community is generally considered quite loyal to the state and so rarely suspected of such sympathies. But some communities in the Golan retain strong ties to Druze living on the other side of the Syrian border, which would make the security services suspect them of dual loyalty, or not having any loyalty at all (to Israel).

I’ve put out word to Israeli prisoners’ rights activists to try to determine which prison holds Jawhari. From there, we will be able to notify the human rights community of what has happened, and they can try to help make his case more public and transparent.

On a different subject, I reported here recently on the 2010 execution of East Jerusalem Palestinian, Ziad Jilani, by Israeli border police. When the Israeli court and police refused to prosecute those who murdered Jilani, his widow, Moira, appealed to the attorney general. Two days ago, he released a voluminous document rejecting her appeal and refusing to open a criminal investigation. The legal memo, though it didn’t go so far as to say the murder was justified, denied a credible case could be made for murder or any criminal act. It whitewashed the incident and rewarded impunity a legal victory.

Author: Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog, which examines issues concerning Israeli national security, human rights, and threats to Israeli democracy.