Jamal Akkal

Tortured Into Making  A Confession, Canadian Palestinian Sentenced To Four Years Imprisonment by Israeli Military Court

Yahya Abdul Rahman

Montreal - Nov 25, 2004 (MMN) - In October 2003, 23 year old Jamal Akkal, a Palestinian-Canadian attending the University of Windsor, traveled to the Gaza strip to meet with his fiancée in the community of Nusseriat, where he himself has been born. He moved to Canada in 1999 and since then obtained his Canadian citizenship

More than 12 months after his arrival in Gaza - despite the fact that Israel has no legal jurisdiction there - on November 23, 2004 Akkal was formally sentenced by an Israeli military court to four years imprisonment and issued a fine of $500 (CDN) for being a Hamas assassin and planning attacks on Jewish and Israel targets in North America.

Akkal had stayed for one month in Gaza before he began his long trip back to Canada. He arrived at Rafah on Nov 1, 2003 to go through the border to Egypt but was picked up by Israel's intelligence agency, Shin Bet. His Canadian passport was not helpful at all.

During his month long visit Akkal reportedly fired 8 rounds from a rifle into the air, which is a common practice in Palestinian society, especially during times of celebration. A Palestinian collaborator for Shin Bet, who is active in the Nusseirat refugee camp, witnessed the incident. Prominent Hamas activist Ahmed Wahabi was also reportedly present at the time Akkal fired the rifle. The collaborator relayed the incident to Shin Bet, who then arranged to have Akkal arrested as he attempted to leave Gaza.

Over the next month Israeli intelligence interrogated Akkal and subjected him to beatings, sleep deprivation and psychological torture and eventually was able to extract a range of 'confessions' on which they built their case against him. He was forced to sign a confession in Hebrew, a language that he does not understand. Although interrogation by torture is absolutely prohibited by Israeli and international law, despite this fact and according to reports from numerous Human Rights organizations, Israeli security forces breach this prohibition and torture Palestinians during interrogation on a routine basis. In its 2003 report, Amnesty International took a close look at Israel over the span of just one year and wrote:  “The IDF arrested thousands of Palestinians, including hundreds of minors, throughout the Occupied Territories. Most were released without charge and many without having been questioned. Ill-treatment was widespread during arrest and interrogation, and there were numerous reports of torture in detention, including beatings, being handcuffed and tied in uncomfortable positions for prolonged periods, threats to the detainee and their relatives, and sleep deprivation. At least one detainee died in custody after he was beaten.”

On December 14, 2004 the formal charge against Akkal was put forward by Lieutenant-Colonel David Benjamin, Israel's top military prosecutor in the Gaza Strip, who explained the alleged plot to reporters as follows as quoted in the Dec 16th edition of the Globe and Mail: "The plan was, as we understand from his statement, to find a person who looked Jewish by the skullcap or some other defining feature...in Canada,…And they said, 'You know, make sure it's a Jew, and then go and attach a bomb to the door of the house."

The confession which Akkal signed stated that Hamas had enlisted him to attack Jewish targets in North America. The Israeli military also charged him with having been approached by Wahabi to raise money in North American mosques. The fund was officially to be raised for families of Palestinian suicide bombers but would actually be used to fund his militant activities.  According to the indictment, Akkal was to buy an M-16 rifle in Detroit and bomb materials to carry out the attacks in cities where many Jews live. The charge seems strange as Hamas has never been active in launching any kind of attacks outside Palestine.  Under a plea bargain agreement a second charge that Akkal underwent military training was dropped.

Jameel Kahtib, Akkal's lawyer, described Akkal as sad and angry over the plea agreement.

"It's difficult to describe his emotions because he feels he is innocent," the lawyer said. "He believes he should be free, but we don't have another choice."

Since his full sentence on November 23,  Akkal has pleaded for Prime Minister Paul Martin to help him and has repeatedly maintained his innocence and hoped that Canadians would not forget him.

"Even though he is not allowed to speak, in the short walk between the holding cell and the courtroom he did proclaim his innocence," CTV's Janis Mackey Frayer told CTV News.

When she asked Akkal his message for Prime Minister Paul Martin, "Get me out of here," were his final words.

Marie-Christine Lilkoff of Canada's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa said Canadian officials had followed Akkal's case closely.

"Now that Mr. Akkal has been sentenced, the Canadian government will assist him to explore the options open to him and will continue to provide consular assistance. However, we cannot interfere in the judicial process of another country," she said.

This is a strange statement especially when it is contrasted with the case of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi who died in Iranian custody in July 2003 after being arrested for taking pictures outside a prison during a student protest in Tehran. An Iranian security agent was charged and acquitted of killing her. Canada certainly did  "interfere in the judicial process of another country" in this case. For example, on July 25, 2004 the Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew said he was dissatisfied with the trial and acquittal of Kazemi's accused killer. In addition, on July 23, 2003, and then again on July 18, 2004 Canada recalled its ambassador to Iran  - Philip MacKinnon  - over its objections of how the case was being handled by the Iranian judiciary. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham also said he planned to take the case to the UN's International Court of Justice. Also on July 21, 2003 Graham called for swifter action in the investigation into the death of Zahra Kazemi. He stated that Kazemi's treatment "was a flagrant violation of her rights under international human rights law and a breach of obligations that Iran owes to the international community."  On September 10, 2003 Graham also stated he wanted the UN Human Rights commission to help find out what really happened when Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi died in a jail in Iran. Only recently has Canada appointed a new ambassador to Iran.

For the most part Palestinians have been denied the right to express their opinions on Akkal's case via the media. The mainstream press has instead resorted to inviting Israeli spin doctors who passs themselves off as "Hamas experts" and proclaim Israeli courts to be the epitome of justice. Furthermore, little or no refernce has been made to the fact that Hamas denied it has trained Akkal, has never operated outside of Israel and the land it occupies, nor do they have any interest in changing that  policy.  In addition, no reference has been made that just a few days before Akkal's arrival into Gaza, the Israeli aramy launched an incursion into Rafah - described by Amnesty International as "a war crime" - destroying 170 houses that had sheltered a total of more than 2000 people, leaving 53 Palestinians wounded, and killing 8, including 3 children. Instead what we get is reference to one Palestinian shooting a rifle into the air which harmed no one.

Finally, Akkal himself is not allowed to address the public and defend himself and we may never hear him speak in his own words until his release 3-4 years from now.

The bottom line is that Jamal Akkal is yet another victim of the Sharon government's attempts to fabricate evidence of a Hamas conspiracy in North America, publically demonize the Muslim community and create the impression that Muslims are launching acts of terror on Canadian soil. This will in turn be used as a pre-text to further scrutinize Canadian Muslims and to restrict their civil liberties while all the while Israel continues on with its daily crimes against the Palestinian people.