After considering both the Israeli State Prosecutor’s request and the response of American editor and journalist Jared Malsin, who has been detained at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport since last Tuesday afternoon (a full week ago), Tel Aviv Judge Kobi Vardi said that he saw a basis for an appeal, and said he would set a hearing.
It is not yet clear when the hearing, which could be public, will be held. It could be later today, or in the next two days. After that, it will be the weekend again in Israel, and the Jewish Sabbath, and no official activity would take place again until Sunday.
Jared works as the editor of the English-language pages of the website of Ma’an News Agency, a privately-owned and -operated Palestinian organization which was launched with funding by European donors and which has a reputation of being independent in relation to Palestinian political factions.
Ma’an (meaning “Together”) is based in Bethlehem, which is enclosed behind The Wall — which is an 8-meter high concrete structure with higher military watchtowers — reachable behind one of the more formidable Israeli checkpoints known as Checkpoint 300, or the Rachel’s Tomb Checkpoint. Cars must go through multiple inspection points, each equipped with metal spikes that can destroy a vehicle’s tires if activated. Pedestrians must line up in long narrow wire enclosures, and pass numerous machine and manual inspections — for men, this usually involves taking off their shoes and belts, if not more. Checkpoint 300 (manned by the Israeli Border Police, who have a particularly unpleasant reputation, under the ultimate control of the better-trained, more level-headed and rational Israeli military. At the final point where crossing is allowed, Checkpoint 300 also has an enormous sliding metal gate that can be shut, closing passage off completely.
It is not possible to pass through this, or any other, Israeli military checkpoint without “permission” and clearance. For Palestinians, this means having a special permit (some of the terms of some of the permits are almost laughable — for example, a three-hour permit to go for a hospital examination in Jerusalem) which can be rescinded at the whim of any authorized Israeli at the checkpoint. For internationals, this means having a passport with a valid Israeli visa.
It was to renew his Israeli tourist visa — the only kind he could get in the present circumstances — that Jared Malsin travelled to the Czech Republic, together with his long-time girlfriend Faith Rowold, who had been working as a volunteer for the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, and who had an Israeli-issued church volunteer visa for that purpose. Upon their return, they were surprised to find themselves under detention.
They were travelling on Israel’s El Al Airline, which is notorious for its security checks sparked by ethnic and other profiling. Jared and Faith were subjected to extra measures even before boarding the plane for the return flight. Upon their arrival at Ben Gurion, they were separated, and faced eight hours of interrogation — which apparently included an airport security internet search of articles that Jared had written, and of material that Ma’an published (Ma’an has websites in three languages: Arabic, English, and Hebrew — and it’s probable that airport security paid more attention to the Hebrew website, which has a different editor, and different content.)
It was a very unfortunate coincidence that Jared and Faith were returning from the Czech Republic just as Eva Novakova, a volunteer solidarity activist who had worked with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) that is particularly annoying to, and despised by, the Israeli Government, was returning after being deported herself from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport at 6 am the same morning. Eva, who had been living in an apartment near Manara Square in the very heart of downtown Ramallah, where there are always Palestinian security forces present, had been arrested in an Israeli military raid and turned over to Israeli immigration officials. Eva had been serving for the previous three weeks as the ISM media coordinator. The grounds for her expulsion from Israel (she had been living in Ramallah) was an expired visa.
It is more than possible that El Al security, and their colleagues in the Israeli Airport Security at Ben Gurion Airport, suspected that this was somehow all coordinated — even though there is no way that Jared and Faith could realistically have known that Eva was being deported that same morning.
Though the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, and its American Citizens Services as well as U.S. Consular officials were all involved in the cases, Faith was deported from Israel 48 hours later. Jared, for whom Ma’an had retained a lawyer, was detained pending a review by the Israeli judicial system.
The decision today by Tel Aviv Judge Kobi Vardi to call for a hearing is a positive development, Ma’an colleagues say. At least, he did not agree with the charges presented, and order Jared’s immediate expulsion. (However, neither did the judge reject the charges, and order Jared’s release from detention and entry into Israel.)
According to Ma’an colleagues, Judge Vardi expresed concern with the accusation by Israeli security, apparently accepted at face value by the Israeli Ministry of Interior, that Jared “refused to cooperate.”
Such an accusation covers, however, a wide latitude of possible circumstances.
It also makes it seem as though the accusations against Jared were taken more as a disciplinary measure — a “we’ll show him” step — rather than as a matter of law, or regulations, or because of any real security concern.
A hearing — which could be public — allows for full examination of the accusation and the defense. It is not known if the judge will agree to Jared’s presence in his own defense, or — if the hearing will not be immediate — if Jared could be released on some kind of bail.
Ma’an colleagues reported a few days ago that one of the arguments presented by the Israeli Attorney General’s office against holding a hearing of the case against Jared, was that it would change his status and make it more difficult to deport him.
In fact, in order to appear before the judge, Jared would, in effect, have to be given entry into Israel.