Israeli Arab Lawmaker Indicted
Nov. 12, 2001
JERUSALEM (AP) _ An Israeli Arab lawmaker who praised Lebanese guerrillas for causing the Israeli army's withdrawal from south Lebanon was charged Monday with incitement to violence.
The legislator, Azmi Bishara, said he is innocent and will prove this in court.
The charges were submitted in a Jerusalem court. A second indictment, for allegedly organizing illegal trips to Syria for Arab Israelis, was filed against Bishara in his hometown of Nazareth.
Bishara has praised the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas for causing the withdrawal of the Israeli army from south Lebanon.
``Lebanon, the weakest of the Arab countries, has presented a tiny model from which ... we can draw the conclusions necessary for success and victory,'' Bishara said in a speech to Arab Israelis in May 2001. ``Hezbollah has won, and for the first time since (the Arab defeat by Israel in) 1967 we have known the taste of victory.''
In June, at a conference of Arab leaders in Syria, Bishara again expressed admiration for Hezbollah and praised Syria for supporting the Lebanese group during its war against the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon. Hezbollah's arms were supplied by Iran but they were delivered through Syria, the main power in Lebanon.
The indictments follow the removal of Bishara's parliamentary immunity last week. It was the first time an Israeli legislator was stripped of his immunity for stating his opinions.
Bishara said his statements in Syria were pacifist and that he has never advocated violence. The charges against him are an Israeli government attempt to intimidate the Arab population and limit their participation in Israeli politics, he told a news conference in the Palestinian city of Ramallah on Monday. ``They are trying to terrify Israeli Arabs by attacking one of their leaders,'' he said.
The charge of incitement carries a maximum penalty of three years in jail. The maximum jail term for organizing the visits to an enemy country is one year.
Bishara did not appear in court Monday. The prosecution merely filed the indictments at the Jerusalem and Nazareth courts. Bishara will submit his plea on each charge at a later date.