The Israel Police and Shin Bet security service arrested a Palestinian journalist and political activist Majd Kayyal on Saturday, on his way back to Israel from a three-week visit to Beirut, Haaretz reported Thursday.
Kayyal, a resident of Haifa, was stopped at the Jordan River crossing. He was arrested on suspicion of visiting a hostile country and contacting foreign agents. His detention was extended to Tuesday and he was prohibited from meeting with a lawyer.His arrest was kept under wraps by a gag order that was lifted on Thursday afternoon. Meanwhile, the news had made the rounds on social media and certain Arab news sites. Some sites set up petitions calling for his release on the grounds of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.Kayyal, 23, flew to Amman and then to Beirut on March 22 to attend a special conference by A-Sapir marking its 40th anniversary, his mother Suhir told Haaretz. The paper invited journalists and writers from around the world to its bash, she said – including Kayyal, for whom the paper issued a special permit to attend.The visit was a dream come true for him, Kayyal wrote on his Facebook page – an opportunity to come to Lebanon and meet with reporters from the whole Arab world.Members of Kayyal's family reject the grounds on which he was arrested, arguing that his role had been purely journalistic, and he was participating in a conference in a country that, unlike Israel, the Arab and Palestinian communities do not view as hostile. "We support Majd, as do many others, and call for his immediate release," the family stated.Kayyal has become well-known among Israeli Arab society in recent years, chiefly among the young, for his political activity with the Balad party. He also gained renown for drumming up opposition to the "Prawer plan," which sought to relocate the Bedouin in the Negev.In recent years he wrote for the weekend edition of A-Safir, a Lebanese newspaper with a markedly nationalistic bent. Kayyal published articles and features about Palestinian issues, including with the Green Line.In parallel, he edited the website of Adalah – Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.In November 2011, Kayyal joined one of the two ships sailing from Istanbul to Gaza. He was arrested by Israeli forces that took control of the boats, but was released after some hours.Kayyal acted openly, says lawyerAdalah Attorney Aram Mahameed, who met with Kayyal on Wednesday night, said Kayyal admits visiting Beirut and being at the conference. It was a journalistic conference attended by hundreds of people, of whom dozens were reporters, and everything that happened there was above-board, Mahameed said.Kayyal rejects allegations that he met with "suspicious persons" outside the conference. Nor was his participation in it a secret, he says – he posted about it on Facebook and published an article on it in A-Safir, Mahameed says.The facts that the prohibition on Kayyal meeting with his lawyer was lifted on Wednesday, and that the gag order was lifted on Thursday, attest that the investigation is over, Mahameed said. The main offense of which Kayyal is suspected – contact with an enemy agent – is unsubstantiated: Kayyal should have been released at the end of his first detention term, Mahameed said.A protest vigil calling for Kayyal's release is scheduled to take place Thursday night at the German Colony neighborhood in Haifa.Meanwhile, the Palestinian Journalists Union has condemned Kayyal's arrest and called for his release. In its statement, the PJU accuses Israel of silencing Palestinian journalists and preventing their freedom of occupation, no matter where they work. "Israel is continuing its policy of discrimination – granting freedom of occupation to Israeli journalists everywhere in the world, while preventing Palestinian journalists from covering [events] and doing their work faithfully," the PJU said in a statement.The police have raided Kayyal's home in Haifa twice, once during his first term of arrest and the second time, on Wednesday night. They seized computers found in the house.