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Palestinian-Israeli activist accepts plea deal

Oct. 27, 2010 3:29 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 30, 2010 10:44 P.M.)
By Jared Malsin

GAZA (Ma'an) -- Ameer Makhoul, the Palestinian activist from Haifa, accepted a plea bargain on Wednesday, confessing to espionage charges leveled by the Israeli state.

Makhoul, an Israeli citizen, was detained by authorities during a nighttime raid on his home in May. He and his lawyers maintain that the charges against him are political, and that he was tortured while in prison. Makhoul was also banned from seeing a lawyer for the first 12 days of his detention.

The charges include conspiring to assist an enemy, contact with a foreign agent and spying for Hezbollah.

Orna Kohn, one of Makhoul's lawyers from the legal rights group Adalah, said Makhoul decided to accept the plea deal after consultation with his defense team.

Under the deal, she said, the content of the indictment was reduced. The state is asking for 10 years imprisonment, while the defense is asking for seven, Kohn added.

Kohn said the decision to accept the deal was made after taking into consideration "the political climate now and the legal situation under Israeli law with so-called security charges, and given the history of rulings in Israeli courts dealing with such charges."

Kohn said she met Makhoul earlier on Wednesday. Asked about his condition, she said, "He's well. He's hopeful the court will rule for the minimal number of years."

"He understands his chances of being acquitted are slim," she added. She said the charges against him "in any other country should not have been basis for indictment."

A hearing is set for 5 December, when the court will decide whether to accept the plea deal reached between the prosecution and the defense.

Makhoul is the director of Ittijah, the Union of Arab Community-Based Organizations, and also chaired the High Arab Monitoring Committee's panel on defending Arab citizens' freedoms. He was arrested in May along with Omar Saeed, an activist with the Balad party.

The plea bargain was agreed upon in the Haifa District Court after being submitted on Tuesday.

A representative for the prosecution told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: "The plea bargain was approved by the highest ranking levels of prosecution, including the state prosecutor. Most importantly Makhoul, who claimed he was being politically persecuted at the beginning of this, now stands in front of the court and admits to the charges attributed to him."

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