The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) reported today that a PCHR-retained lawyer met Derar Abu Sisi, the kidnapped Gaza Power Plant’s Director of Operations, yesterday for the first time in an Israeli prison in Ashkelon.
The PCHR said that Abu Sisi was kidnapped by Israel’s national intelligence agency, Mossad, on 18 or 19 February, while he was in the Ukraine — where his Ukrainian wife was applying for citizenship on his behalf. He was then brought to Israel.
This kidnapping, or rendition, is especially strange because AbuSisi apparently intended to leave Gaza anyway.
Abu Sisi told the PCHR lawyer that three men (two in uniform) grabbed him on train in he was taking to Kiev in Ukraine. He was bundled into a car and driven, handcuffed and hooded, to Kiev, where he was taken to an apartment and questioned by six more men who introduced themselves as Mossad.
In short order, Abu Sisi told PCHR’s lawyer, he was “put on a flight” that he said lasted 4 to 5 hours, then transferred to another 1-hour flight — and when it landed, he was told he was in Israel.
The PCHR account of its conversation with Abu Sisi is published on its website, here.
According to PCHR, “Abu Sisi told the PCHR lawyer that he was denied contact with a lawyer for fourteen days. This denial was extended for another eleven days. He said that he was placed under intensive interrogations and that he was denied his legal rights. It should be noted that the Israeli security authorities imposed a media blackout regarding the kidnapping of Abu Sisi and prevented lawyers from visiting him to check on his health and provide legal assistance during the second period … PCHR has concerns over the deterioration of Abu Sisi’s health and notes that he has cholelithiasis and he takes blood thinning medicines. He is experiencing serious psychological problems after going into long and continued investigation session”.
Eyad (Iyad) Alami, Director of PCHR’s Legal Aid Unit, reached Monday evening in Gaza by phone, said that an Israeli lawyer had gone to Askelon Prison on PCHR’s behalf (he noted that Abu Sisi might have seen other lawyers previously). Alami said he could not add anything at this time beyond what was contained in the PCHR statement — other than to say that Abu Sisi had not yet been charged with anything, and could now either be charged or released. In any case, Alami said, PCHR will be following the case.
The Israeli media reported yesterday that a court order had partly removed a gag order banning publication of information on this case. The remainder of the gag order remains for another 30 days…
UPDATE: The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) was the Israeli human rights organization which went to court to get the gag order lifted. Ronit Sela, ACRI spokesperson, said that their petition was filed on 9 March, some 13 days before the Judge ordered the partial lifting of the gag order — but, she noted, the Judge’s order does not even mention Dirar Abu Sisi by name, but instead refers to him only as “the suspect”. Sela said that ACRI has not been in touch with Abu Sisi personally, and that the appeal to the court is a principled action ACRI takes whenever it learns of a gag order, to ensure that a person does not simply disappear. A former reporter herself, Sela says that journalists usually become aware of gag orders only by the absence of mention in the Israeli press about something or someone (this would necessarily also involve some kind of tip, or tip-off). “I’ve been at ACRI for three years, and in that time we’ve handled at least four cases”, Sela said…
The Jerusalem Post, for example, reported here that “The Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court, on Sunday, partially removed a publication ban and confirmed that Dirar Abu Sisi, a Palestinian engineer believed to have been abducted from the Ukraine by Mossad agents in late February, is currently in Israel. The ban was removed as a result a petition filed to the court by the Association of Civil Rights (ACRI). The affair, which received wide coverage in the foreign press, was placed under a publication ban in Israel. Much of the details, including reports of a train-mounted abduction and transfer to Israel as well as the details of the investigation against Abu Sisi, will remain under a cloak of secrecy, at least for the next 30 days … In its petition, argued before the court last Thursday, ACRI argued that the public had a right to know about the actions of the security forces and said that ‘it is inconceivable that the authorities in a democratic country be able to secretly arrest people and ‘vanish’ them from the public eye. The blanket secrecy in cases like this may negatively effect the rights and mental well being of the arrested person’, continued the petition. ‘Leaving the publication ban in place could raise concerns that the ban’s purpose is to prevent public debate on the accused’s arrest and enable the authorities to investigate him away from the critical eye of the media and the general public’ In her decision to partially remove the publication ban, Judge Lia Lev On wrote that, taking into account the needs and the progress of the investigation and the material she was shown, the ban could partially be lifted, with the arrest and investigation details remaining under ban for the next month. ACRI said that they would wait to see the state’s response to the petition before deciding on whether to appeal to have all the details made public”.
Haaretz’s Yossi Melman wrote here that “A gag order on the case was partially lifted on Thursday by Petah Tikva court judge Leah Lev-On and was only allowed to be published on Sunday. Abu Sisi was arrested as part of investigation and is currently being held by Israel, the lifting of the gag order revealed. Much of the rest of the details remain under gag order .. Abu Sisi’s wife Veronika hired lawyer Smadar Ben Natan to represent Dirar. Ben Natan told Haaretz that she met with his client in prison and reported that Ben Sisi is doing fine physically although he suffers from previous medical conditions … Ben Sisi was in the Ukraine applying for citizenship when he went missing. His wife, Veronika, is Ukrainian. Veronika alleged that Israel’s Mossad had abducted her husband in order to sabotage a key electric power plant in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip where he worked as a senior manager … Ukrainian Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov recently visited Israel, where he said about the rumor that Sisi was arrested on Ukrainian soil: ‘I don’t want to imagine that such things are carried out on the soil of a friendly state’.”
A later report in Haaretz, compiled by Melman with elements from an AP story, said that “Abu Sisi’s wife, Veronika hired attorney Smadar Ben-Natan to replace the public defender who had been assigned to represent her husband. Ben-Natan told Haaretz that she met with her client in prison and that while he is in satisfactory physical condition, he does have a history of medical problems. She was unable to discuss the arrest or the investigation due to the gag order. At the request of the Shin Bet security service and the State Prosecutor’s Office, a comprehensive gag order was issued at the time of Abu Sisi’s arrest, around a month ago. About 10 days ago the order was modified to permit the publication in Israel of details already reported in the foreign media”. This is published here.
Richard Silverstein, who broke this story on his blog, Tikun Olam, reported yesterday here that “A few days ago the Association for Civil Rights in Israel appealed the gag order on the Dirar Abu Sisi case and the Petah Tikvah judge ruled in their favor partially. But it’s a very small victory since the main part of the gag stays in place. Israeli media cannot report on those aspects of the case most critical to reporters, the Israel public and the victim. It says ‘the details of the investigation and the circumstances of the arrest’ may not be reported for another 30 days … Israel’s Channel 10 security correspondent Alon Ben David reports the totally unsubstantiated claim that Abusisi is a ‘senior Hamas operative’. But well-placed sources within Gaza report to me that this is false. This is what was reported to me: ‘Abusisi is not politically aligned or active and he’s not really well-known in Gaza. One person there believes that Israel wants information and when it gets it they will release him’. Another source told me that Abusisi has held his position since the days of PA rule of Gaza [i.e., since before mid-June 2007, when Hamas routed Fatah/PA Preventive Security forces]. So in other words, he is not a political appointee, but a technocrat … According to a source knowledgable about the issue of fuel oil for the plant, the success in Gaza has been to mix solar industrial gasoline from Israel, which costs about 6 shekels with non-industrial Egyptian solar which is smuggled in and which costs 1.7 shekels”.
This is an extremely curious and intriguing development. There has been a chronic shortfall of the industrial diesel fuel needed to run the Gaza Power Plant, first because of Israeli sanctions restricting quantities, then, in recent months, after the European Union stopped subsidizing payments for this fuel, because of a subsequent dispute with the PA in Ramallah about reimbursement for the price of this fuel…
In any case, Silverstein adds, “There are other sources within Israel I respect who, while they do not know precisely what happened to Abusisi, do not believe that his apprehension was connected to his professional work. So since the security services wish to maintain the shroud of secrecy over this case, the best we can do at present is present educated guesses”.
Earlier, Silverstein reported that “Radio Liberty has published a new story about the case that incorporates some interesting new information. It notes that Dalia Kerstein, the director of the Israeli NGO, HaMoked, who first informed me that Abu Seesi was in an Israeli prison, says Abu Seesi arrived in Israel within hours of when he was kidnapped in Ukraine”.
Even earlier, Silverstein wrote here that “B’Tselem and HaMoked have helped me track down Dirar Abu Seesi, after his kidnapping by the Mossad in Ukraine on February 18th. I reported earlier this month that he was in an Israeli prison. Now my NGO friends have tracked him down to Shikma Prison, near Ashkelon, where he is being held. Initially, he was held in the Shabak detention center Petah Tikvah, which would mean the Mossad handed him off to the Shabak once he landed on Israeli territory. Petah Tikvah is where they do the really bad stuff to you if you’re a Palestinian security detainee. Now that he’s in Shikma, he has a public defender as his attorney … Israel must be made to explain how a resident of Gaza can be kidnapped by the Mossad in a sovereign country and then smuggled back to Israel and imprisoned there. I can’t imagine how many violations of international law this entails, but it’s got to be a lot. What possible justification can Israel offer that would explain kidnapping him in a foreign country? After Israel kidnapped the Iranian Revolutionary Guard general Ali Asgari in Istanbul in 2006, violated the sovereignty of Dubai to assassinate Mahmud al-Mabouh last year, and murdered several Iranian nuclear engineers over the past few years, it again thumbs its nose at the notion of national sovereignty”.
The PCHR noted, in their statement, that “After knowing the details from Abu Sisi, PCHR has doubts about whether there was collusion from international parties in the kidnapping, especially as Abu Sisi was not legally arrested by Ukrainian authorities and he did not have any appearances in domestic courts … PCHR calls for the immediate release of Abu Sisi”.
UPDATE: The Hamas-run Ministry of Interior in Gaza has an active website in two languages (which is actually a lot more than the donor-funded PA in the West Bank) which reported here that [sic] “Eng. Abu Sissi has left the Gaza Strip on 18 January [i.e., a month before he was grabbed on the train] with his Ukrainian wife, and six her children to visit her family and asked to obtain Ukrainian citizenship. And lost on 19 February when he was going by train from the city, ‘Kharkov’ to ‘Kiev’. Notably, Abu Sissi received a doctorate [n.b. – it doesn’t say where, but possibly in the Ukraine?] in the networks of power plants, then returned to Gaza to work as a teacher in some universities, including Al Quds Open University, before being appointed in the electricity company”.