Israeli Arab Charged for Joining Syria Rebels

Accused of Aiding Islamist Group

By Reuters

Published April 10, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Israel charged a member of its Arab minority on Wednesday with security offences for joining the Syrian insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad, saying he had associated with radical Islamist fighters.

An Israeli official said Hikmat Massarwa’s case was the first of its kind. Indicted for unlawful military training, travel to a hostile country and contacts with foreign agents, he could be jailed for up to 15 years if convicted.

Massarwa, 29, was arrested on March 19 upon returning from Syria, where he helped set up a rebel base and underwent weapons training, Israel’s Shin Bet domestic intelligence service said in a statement.

Describing Massarwa’s fellow rebels as members of the “Global Jihad” - an Israeli term for al Qaeda and allied groups - the Shin Bet said Massarwa had been questioned while in Syria about Israel’s military and its Dimona nuclear reactor.

Through his lawyer, Massarwa acknowledged going to Syria to join the rebels, but denied that they were jihadis or that his actions posed any danger to Israel.

“He spent all of one week in Syria, and that was in the company of mainstream Syrian rebels fighting Assad,” the lawyer, Helal Jaber, told Reuters. “The claim that he sought to harm (Israeli) national security is baseless.”

Jaber said his client had no links to militants or criminal groups in Israel or abroad, and that he worked as a baker in the Israeli coastal town of Herzliya.

The Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel knew of “a few other” of its citizens who had volunteered for the Syrian insurgency and were “still out there, in the field”.

Arabs, most of them Muslim, make up around 20 percent of Israel’s population. They seldom take up arms with its enemies.

Distinguishing between mainstream rebels who might help stabilise Damascus, should Assad fall, and foreign-born volunteers who see the insurgency as part of a wider jihad has bedevilled world powers as they try to craft Syria strategy.

Israel, which enjoyed a decades-long, stable stand-off with Syria under the largely secular rule of the Assad family, believes that around one in 10 of the rebels are Sunni Muslim radicals.

The insurgency has drawn close to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights - taken from Syria in a 1967 war - in recent months, stirring fears of spillover violence and retaliation by Israel.

The Shin Bet statement said another reason Massarwa went to Syria was to track a brother who had travelled there several months earlier to join the rebels. Jaber confirmed that Massarwa had a brother unaccounted for in Syria.

Massarwa entered and left Syria through Turkey and was arrested after landing at Tel Aviv airport, Jaber said, adding that what might have tipped off the Israelis was the defendant’s request that his family wire him $700 for the flight home.

The Shin Bet said Massarwa’s fellow rebels tried to talk him into carrying out a suicide attack against Assad forces, or a similar strike in Israel, but that he refused.

Jaber denied such requests were ever made of his client. He played down the significance of Massarwa’s discussions with the rebels about Israel’s military capabilities, saying anything he said would not have gone beyond information publicly available.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.