Arab-American Blames Israel For Mistreatment, U.S. Embassy For Apathy
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Samih Jaber left Chicago last week with plans to visit family in his native Jerusalem. Instead, he spent four days in jail, where he says he was interrogated with his head in a suffocating hood and hands tied behind his back.
Israel suspected Jaber and his cousin, Mohammed Barakat _ like him, a longtime Chicago resident and naturalized U.S. citizen _ of carrying cash for the militant Islamic Jihad group. The two were arrested as they arrived in the country Feb. 9, carrying a total of $153,475.
Islamic Jihad, opposed to peace talks and dedicated to Israel’s destruction, has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing that killed 20 soldiers and a civilian in central Israel on Jan. 22. Some recent news reports have pinpointed the Chicago area as a major source of funding for radical Palestinian groups.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Jaber, who was released Sunday without charges being filed, said the money he was carrying was for a new addition to his mother’s house in Jerusalem.
After being detained at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport for seven hours, the two men were handcuffed and taken to a prison in the southern coastal town of Ashkelon. Jaber was freed after four days, Barakat after seven. The money was returned.
Jaber complained U.S. consular officials did not try to help win their release, and said they did not even contact him or his cousin.
``I put the blame on the American Embassy most of all for not protecting Arab-Americans when they travel abroad,″ he said.
Liz Perez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, said the consulate was aware of Jaber’s case but would not comment on his allegations.
Jaber said a hood was placed over his head, and his hands were handcuffed behind his back to the small, hard chair on which he sat. Loud music wailed in the cell.
``The hood stunk. It stayed on my head all the time so that I could hardly breathe...I had to call them many times just to let some air into it because I have asthma,″ he said.
Jaber said he had lost faith in Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement.
``I am going back to the States as soon as I can. I don’t want to stay here,″ he said.
A resident of Chicago for 26 years, Jaber owns a supermarket and is chairman of the American-Arab Chamber of Commerce there. His wife, children and two grandchildren also live in the city.
In Chicago Thursday, Israeli Consul General Arthur Avnon said Israel had expressed ``sincere regret″ for the detention of the two cousins.
Avnon was meeting with a group of Palestinian-Americans seeking information about a third member of their community, Sheik Sulieman Odeh, who was also arrested Friday when he arrived in Israel en route to visit his family.