Too Tolerant

Your recent issue on Iran (MER 156), I am sorry to say, maintained the tolerant attitude toward Khomeini’s regime which you have demonstrated since 1979. One does not have to sympathize with Iraq or the Shah to see that your coverage did not nearly reflect the extreme suffering and destruction inflicted on Iran by the mullahs. Like you, I am delighted that Iran is no longer solidly in the US camp. And like you, I can see that the Islamic Republic has enjoyed more popular (though blind) support than its predecessor could ever claim. But as a long-time Iranian activist, I am under no illusion as to which superpower’s interests are best served by Khomeini’s executions of leftists by the thousands, his dependence on Western and Israeli armaments in the billions, his role in weakening OPEC and undermining Arab solidarity, and so on. You may credit Iran’s “revolutionary” regime with breaking up the parasitic old oligarchy. But let us not ignore the new ruling class that has enriched itself equally grossly from the war shortages and arms dealings. And how about the multiplication of the unemployed, the addicted and the homeless since 1979? I could go on, but I think you are aware of the facts and their severity. What I believe is missing in your Iran reportage is a perspective that can forcefully condemn abuses and feel the pain on all sides.

Shahnaz Hoviat
Reston, Virginia

Informative on Iran

Thank you for your articles on Iran in your January-February 1989 issue of Middle East Report. We particularly found Eric Hooglund’s interview with the Iranian political prisoner very informative and exposing. We believe such articles and interviews help break the silence and blackout on the current situation in Iran and the condition of political prisoners, and help educate progressive forces and organizations that generally turn a blind eye to the plight of Iranian progressives in the dungeons of the Islamic Republic. Once again, allow us to congratulate and thank you for the great work.

Bizhan Azadegan
Committee for Peace and Freedom in Iran
Richardson, TX

An Appeal

This letter is to appeal for help to finance the legal defense of five Arab citizens of Israel who in October 1985 were convicted of the murder of 15-year old Danny Katz from Haifa and sentenced to life imprisonment. Their appeal before the High Court of Israel is due to be heard early next year. For the last four and a half years or so they have been behind bars.

Three of the five, Samir Ghannam, Fathi Ghannam and Ali Muhammed Trad Ghanaim, are from the Galilee village of Sakhnin. The other two, Ahmad Kouzli and Atef Sbihi, are Bedouins dwelling in a wadi on Mt. Carmel near Haifa. At the time of their arrest their ages ranged from 19-25. [Katz’s naked body was found in a cave near the Arab village of Sakhnin, and a police pathologist said Katz had been sexually molested after his death. Police arrested Samir Ghannam of Sakhnin after finding a bank statement with his name on it in a pile of rubbish near the cave. Four of Ghannam’s co-workers in a supermarket were arrested on the strength of a supermarket delivery plan also found among the trash. All five protested their innocence, and Samir Ghannam explained that he had dumped the trash near the cave during a garbage collectors’ strike in his home village. Police verified that there had been a strike on the dates in question. The five were detained for some three weeks but no charges were made and they were released in January 1984. Three months later, having turned up no other suspects, and without any material evidence linking them to the murder, police rearrested the five. Under brutal interrogation, authorities extracted the fragmented and contradictory “confessions” which became the basis for the convictions in October.Eds.]

I am an Israeli citizen of Jewish denomination and of no particular political affiliation. Like everybody else, I was shocked and distressed by the brutal murder and sexual assault of Danny Katz. Furthermore, the thought that the murderer was still at large represented a horrifying threat. Consequently, I was relieved when the police finally apprehended five suspects, all of whom reportedly confessed to the crime. All five were Arabs.

As the trial began, in September 1984, all five defendants recanted, claiming that severe torture had been inflicted on them by police investigators in order to extract their confessions.

The atmosphere prevailing throughout the trial was one of extreme hostility towards the defendants in particular and towards Arabs in general. The defendants were represented by court-appointed counsel, who repeatedly asked to be relieved of their duties, since they could not cope with the pressure and the hostile atmosphere. MP Rabbi Meir Kahane and his followers attended the trial, shouting threats to “bury them like dogs.” Another right-wing MP, who also attended the trial, demanded a public hanging for the defendants and suggested that their eyes be gouged out. Groups of demonstrators, carrying placards demanding “Death to the Terrorists,” frequently protested outside the courtroom. All this accompanied the trial from its very beginning and was widely covered in the media.

I was born and raised in Israel, spent most of my life in the country, and I have never witnessed such an outburst of mass hysteria, anti-Arab sentiments and blatant racism. As I followed the daily reports of the trial, I felt a growing unease. It became increasingly apparent that the circumstances surrounding the case were hardly conducive to a fair trial.

In October 1985 all five defendants were found guilty. Even as they were led out of the courtroom to their prison cells, they kept protesting their innocence. As more than a year passed and there was no mention of an appeal, I decided to look into the matter. I was told by the Israeli Citizen’s Rights Association that they were understaffed and could not shoulder the responsibility for such a complex case. My endeavors finally led me to Avigdor Feldman, one of the most prominent human rights lawyers in the country. After much deliberation, he agreed to take on the case, and has already notified the High Court that he is representing all five defendants. I contacted the families of the defendants and subsequently joined them on several visits to the prisoners.

Three of the defendants — Fathi, Samir and Ali — are villagers. The families of Fathi and Samir are in such financial straits that they can hardly afford the bimonthly trip to the Beersheba prison. Ali’s family had to sell all of their land to meet the expenses incurred due to Ali’s arrest and trial. The other two defendants, Ahmad and Atef, are Bedouins, whose families are goat herders, living in tin shacks, in subhuman conditions. Evidently they cannot afford any legal fees. Realizing that the families could in no way be counted on for money, I approached the local council of Sakhnin for help. The council decided to undertake a door-to-door fund-raising campaign, but this had to be postponed till after the olive-picking season, on which the village depends for its livelihood. I expect they will eventually be able to cover part of the legal expenses. A sum of $50,000 will be necessary for the appeal.

In the minds of many [Israeli Jews], the name Danny Katz has become a symbol of Arab brutality towards Jews. If the five defendants are exonerated by the High Court, this will surely help decrease prejudice, and generate respect and understanding on both sides. Unfortunately, due to the current situation in the country, it is virtually impossible to raise funds for this cause locally. I therefore appeal to your good will and sense of justice, in the hope that you will help supply the means to let justice be done. Any sum that you decide to donate towards this cause, please forward to: The Legal Defense Committee, Account No. 93474, Bank Hapoalim, Branch No. 568, Tel-Aviv, Israel.

Ella Almagor
Tel Aviv

Turkish Atrocities

It has been reported in the Turkish weekly news magazine Towards 2000 that hundreds of murdered Kurds have been buried in a municipal refuse site along “Butcher’s River” outside the southeastern town of Siirt. The allegations were also covered by the Independent, the Guardian, the Times and the BBC World Service.

In his interview with the magazine, state-of-emergency governor Hayri Kozakcioglu admitted that three bodies had been buried in the dump by the Siirt municipality [of people] “who were killed in a clash on February 2 last year and who were not taken away by the relatives.” Local people whose relatives were detained and then disappeared allege that they were killed during interrogation by the officers of Sirnak regiment. The Turkish Government has made no official statement on the allegations.

This is yet another example of the atrocities committed by the Turkish government against Kurdish people living in Turkish Kurdistan. In the last ten years, Kurdish people have been subjected to brutal repression. Thousands of people were detained and tortured. Many prisoners died under torture or on hunger strikes. Whole villages and towns have been raided and kept under siege by security forces. Only a month ago, troops forced the people of Yesilyurt village to eat human excrement at gunpoint. Toward the end of the twentieth century it is a disgrace to see a government treating a large section of its population in this way. The Turkish government should stop these atrocities, respect basic human rights and democratic rights, including their unalienable right to self-determination.

We, the undersigned, who are outraged with these allegations of the most brutal and inhumane crimes which are also rampant breaches of the provisions of the UN Convention on the treatment of POWs and international agreements on torture, appeal to you to ask the Turkish government to investigate the matter, to publicize its findings and bring those responsible to court.

Mesut Akin, et al

How to cite this article:

"Letters (May/June 1989)," Middle East Report 158 (May/June 1989).

For 50 years, MERIP has published critical analysis of Middle Eastern politics, history, and social justice not available in other publications. Our articles have debunked pernicious myths, exposed the human costs of war and conflict, and highlighted the suppression of basic human rights. After many years behind a paywall, our content is now open-access and free to anyone, anywhere in the world. Your donation ensures that MERIP can continue to remain an invaluable resource for everyone.


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