I remember when I last traveled to Israel. It was on British Airways and as the plane approached Ben-Gurion Airport, the pilot announced that “Israel prohibits passengers from taking pictures from the airplane."
I thought that was very odd and wondered how the offender would be handled. Would nearby passengers turn in the criminal? And, what would happen to the offender?
Certainly, I can understand why Israel would not want anyone to take pictures, I guess. They are building a Berlin-like Wall that is grabbing Palestinian land in the West Bank that can be easily annexed into Israel.
The last thing Israel’s government wants are photographs of the ugly behemoth floating around that might be published without their mandatory two-shekels of PR spin explaining it all away as just another innocent looking little fence.
But I figured taking pictures at a tourist site might not be so much of a crime in Israel. Apparently, I’m wrong.
Several weeks ago, Ghazi Falah, a Palestinian with US residency who also is a citizen of both Canada and Israel, was in Israel visiting his sick mother, who is undergoing brain surgery. As a distraction, and being an “Arab Israeli citizen,” he went to Nahariya Beach, a popular Israeli tourist site near the Lebanese border.
Israeli police saw Falah “taking pictures” at the beach. They approached and then arrested him, putting him in jail in Haifa.
To his family and friends, Falah just disappeared off the face of the Earth. For weeks, there was no word on his status.
Falah’s abduction occurred on July 8, days before Hizbullah crossed the border July 12 and attacked an armed Israeli military convoy and took two Israeli soldiers prisoner.
But Falah’s stories only surfaced a few days later as the conflict between Israel and Lebanon exploded, thanks to the reporting of a local Ohio newspaper, the Beacon Journal.
What happened to Falah?
There is a big debate over whether or not the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hizbullah are “hostages” or “prisoners of war.” Technically, Israel and Lebanon have been at war for years, despite armistice agreements. Israel and Hizbullah are at war, too. In fact, Israel is pretty much at war with a lot of groups these days.
So Hizbullah refers to the soldiers as POWs. As POWs, they should be accorded the protections of the Geneva Conventions. But Israel doesn’t recognize the Geneva Conventions in the occupied Palestinian territories. Then again, neither did President Bush in detaining prisoners in the Iraq and Afghan wars, until the US Supreme Court ruled that his actions are in fact a violation of the Geneva Accords.
Israel considers the two soldiers to be hostages, of course. And since Israeli lobbyists and supporters have the American mainstream media in a headlock grip that only gets tighter when the issues become more controversial, few American media have referred to them as anything but hostages.
I wonder what the Israelis consider Falah, one of their citizens.
His family told me no one in Israel would tell them anything. And that has to be frightening. We now know he sits in an Israeli jail. An official of the Israeli embassy in Philadelphia, not too far from where Falah’s family lives, said the issue involves “national security."
In her reporting, Beacon Journal reporter Carol Biliczky may have offered some clues as to why Falah was abducted by Israeli security. “He reportedly was bitter toward the Israeli academic establishment for preventing him from getting an academic post equal in standing to his Jewish colleagues… ”
Welcome to the Gulag
Falah also wrote some academic papers criticizing Israeli policy, which is usually the real reason why Israel grabs people at airports, detains them and throws them in to what Palestinians refer to as the “Israeli Gulag."
Ah, that Gulag Word really upsets many Israelis. They don’t like it, insisting “every Palestinian prisoner,” nearly 10,000 of them, are all “terrorists, murderers and criminals.” Including many youngsters who are also detained.
Falah went before a magistrate in Haifa, but his lawyer was not only barred from entering the courtroom, he was also warned against saying anything about Falah’s condition to anyone. The gag order was only recently lifted when an Israeli newspaper complained that Falah’s story was being carried by newspapers in the United States and the gag order was unfair to them.
Falah’s still in jail, and his family members told me they still have not spoken to him and have no idea how he is being treated.
To me, it sounds like “hostage” is the right term.
Guilty of being Arab
Now, Israelis are going to dispute all of this, of course. They dispute everything, except when it is in their best interests.
The occupied territories are not occupied. They are now “disputed territories."
And Ghazi Falah is probably not a hostage or a detaining or a prisoner, since he technically isn’t being held with the same respect that Israeli police give to mobsters, drug dealers, and other criminals who happen not to be Arab.
In fact, so little is known about Ghazi Falah’s situation that we might actually refer to him as a “disputed person."
Palestinians complain of these kinds of Israeli security disappearing acts all the time, but not all of them are reported. It is just another example of Israel’s double standards.
They kidnap, take hostages, bomb, attack and even kill civilians when it is in their defense. But Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims have no right to do the same.
Even as an Israeli citizen, apparently, Falah doesn’t seem to have any rights in Israel, a country that asserts to be the region’s “only real Democracy.”
I think we all know what the real problem is.
Falah isn’t really a “national security threat” at all. He just happens to be a Palestinian who disagrees with Israeli policies and he used his right to free speech to express his beliefs. In Israel, apparently, that is all it takes to justify Falah’s detention in the Israeli Gulag.
What is Falah’s real crime? Apparently, it is “guilty of being Arab.”
Ray Hanania is a Palestinian-American columnist, author and standup comedian. He can be reached at www.hanania.com