January 30, 2011 - 1:00am

An Israeli court sentenced an Israeli-Arab human rights activist to nine years in prison on Sunday after convicting him last year of spying for the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah.

Amir Makhoul had confessed to the spying charge as part of a plea bargain at Haifa District Court, which added a further year's suspended sentence to the nine years behind bars. The court dropped a separate charge carrying a much longer sentence.

In passing sentence, the court said: "(The accused), an Israeli citizen, chose willingly and with cognisance, apparently due to nationalistic motives, to aid Israel's most bitter enemies."

Makhoul was director of Ittijah, the Union of Arab Community Based Organisations, a network of Arab NGOs in Israel. He initially pleaded not guilty but agreed to enter a new plea in exchange for reduced charges, and to drop his previous complaints of maltreatment while under interrogation.

Israeli human rights groups accused Israel of denying Makhoul due process at the time of his arrest last April, saying he was refused access to a lawyer for 12 days and that a court gagging order barred publication of his arrest for days.

In October the three-judge panel at the Haifa court found Makhoul guilty of passing information to Hezbollah on the location of several secret installations in Israel and of passing information on various other matters to the group.

Israel and the Iranian-allied Lebanese group fought a 34-day war in 2006, in which 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 158 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017