Israeli-Arab on trial for joining Syrian rebels

Masarwa's lawyer argues Israeli Arabs shouldn't be prosecuted for joining factions fighting against Bashar Assad.

Purported members of Free Syria Army_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Purported members of Free Syria Army_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Israeli-Arab Hichmat Masarwa’s lawyer essentially asked at the hearing on Thursday on whether to detain him until the end of the proceedings: What crime could Masarwa have committed by briefly joining the Syrian rebels in their fight against President Bashar Assad?
The thrust of Masarwa’s argument at the Lod District Court, and possibly in the case against him, is that no Israeli Arab should be prosecuted for joining the rebels, considered allies of the US, in fighting against the Assad regime, Israel’s enemy, and who the US wants to remove from power.
Also, Masarwa admitted that he was solicited to carry out attacks against Israel, but added that he refused, only being interested in finding his brother. Masarwa’s honesty on this count showed his joining the rebels had no negative repercussions for his loyalty to Israel, his lawyer said.
Masarwa’s lawyer went further, saying that not only had he at most joined up with a group that the US was allied with, but that he had essentially gotten stuck with the rebels by accident in the amorphous process of looking for his brother.
He added that taking part in the military training with them for a short time was just part of his strategy to gain their trust to help him find his brother.
The Central District Attorney’s Office on April 10 filed an indictment against Taibe resident Masarwa, 29, charging him with contact with a foreign agent, illegal military training, and leaving the country illegally.
The prosecution, quoting a classified opinion of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), has said that Israeli Arabs who travel to Syria are exposed to radical ideology, and could be exploited for a terrorist attack in Israel due to their knowledge of targets in the country, adding that this represents a serious national security issue.
Unusually, the indictment explains in introductory paragraphs why Masarwa’s activities were problematic and dangerous – something usually assumed simply by alleging that a defendant committed a crime.
The indictment indicated that his contact with the Syrian rebels, which includes elements who view Israel as their enemy, could lead to increased connections between Israeli citizens and such dangerous elements.
The prosecution solidified this argument, noting that even though Masarwa was not tempted by the rebels to carry out attacks against Israel, the very fact that the rebels solicited him to carry out such attacks, and that they illegally gave him military training, made them dangerous foreign agents and meant that other Israeli Arabs might be convinced to carry out attacks if they were in the same situation.
The moment that the rebels solicited attacks against Israel, said the prosecution, was the moment they became dangerous enemies, even if they were also fighting Assad.
Masarwa’s lawyer replied that these suggestions by the rebels were not serious and were merely to learn about where Masarwa’s loyalties were and to make sure he was not a danger to the rebels.
Next, the prosecution argued that proving the main charge against Masarwa, contact with a foreign agent, only required the fact of contact with foreign agents who had the potential to pose a danger to Israel’s national security, which it said Masarwa had essentially admitted.
The fact that in this particular case it turned out that Masarwa had not posed a danger, the prosecution said, might have been a defense against charges of acting as a spy, but was no defense where the main charge was the lesser crime of contact with a foreign agent.
At the same time, while the offense in this case might be less serious, the purpose of the charge was to bring a rapid end to the phenomena of contact with foreign agents that could unpredictably erupt into a major national security vulnerability, the prosecution said.
The court is due to decide next Sunday whether Masarwa will remain detained until the end of the proceedings.
With so much of the case already argued, the decision may reflect the court’s leaning on the central questions pertaining to the verdict.