Israel police target Palestinian Balad party in arrests

Mass arrest of party members over fraud allegations seek to ‘de-legitimise Arab political activism’.

Hanin Zoabi, a legislator from the Joint Arab List, participates in a pro-Palestinian demonstration in the northern Israeli town of Sakhnin
The Balad party's leaders rejected the allegations and called for the release of all its members and activists [Reuters]

In an unprecedented move, Israeli police have arrested dozens of political activists and members of the Palestinian Arab Balad political party in the Israeli parliament over allegations of money laundering.

Six party members and activists, including party chairman Awad Abdel Fattah, remain in police custody, while at least 29 others were released after varying periods of interrogation.

In a statement released on September 25, the Balad party described the arrests as “disproportionate” and said the group “vehemently rejects the charges against them,” calling for the release of all activists. The allegations include violating Israel’s Party Funding Law and illegal transfer of money from party officials to the organisation’s funds.

The Israeli police and the court have kept the allegations secret and are withholding them from both the public and those that have been arrested.

“There is no way for us to know what their intentions are. The material is kept secret from us. There are discussions between the police and the court, without our input,” Khaled Titi, a lawyer and spokesman for the party told Al Jazeera.

“They have not yet presented the charges to us.”

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Israel is gradually but systematically implementing a strategy intended to eliminate all political opposition that does not abide by the Zionist hegemonic consensus.

by Balad party statement

The National Democratic Alliance party or Balad party, which holds three seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, ran in 2015 as one of four Palestinian parties of the Joint List, a coalition of Arab Palestinian parties making up the third-largest faction in the Knesset. 

The overnight crackdown began on September 18, when Israeli police forces raided the homes of the party’s leadership, initially arresting 20 members and activists. In the days that followed, Israeli police continued to arrest more activists and called others in for interrogation.

The Israeli court has extended the remand for some of those arrested with several party members spending more than a week in jail now, while some others have been put under house arrest.

On Wednesday, there will be a court decision on whether to renew the detention for the remaining six members.

The party said investigations are being conducted with hundreds of people thought to be Balad-affiliated activists. “They are calling people for interrogation for no reason whatsoever,” said Titi.

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The move follows a recent ban on the Palestinian Arab Islamic Movement branch in Israel accused by the state of incitement and encouraging violence, a charge that has been rejected by the movement’s leaders. 

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It also follows the passing of the controversial Expulsion Law in July allowing the voting out of politicians from the Knesset if a three-quarters majority claim they do not stand with his or her views.

Palestinian politicians in Israel issued an open letter accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government of wanting “a Knesset without Arabs”. 

The recent developments, according to the party statement, show that the arrests and investigations are part of a wider move of “political persecution” meant to target Palestinian politicians and activists. “Such acts of intimidation seek to de-legitimise Arab political activism.”

The Israeli government’s parties law states that political parties will not be registered if they do not recognise “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state”. 

“Israel is gradually but systematically implementing a strategy intended to eliminate all political opposition that does not abide by the Zionist hegemonic consensus,” said the statement.

Source: Al Jazeera