Eight months have passed since on April 13, about twenty Israeli soldiers broke into the home of humanitarian worker Juana Ruiz Sánchez in the West Bank town of Beit Sahour at night and took her away.
Juana Ruiz and Israel’s perverse punishment for cooperation with Palestine
The Spanish woman remained in preventive detention for almost a month, until the military prosecution finally filed charges against her. Among others, that of money laundering and financing of an organization considered “terrorist” by Israel, the United States and the European Union, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
Juana Ruiz has been in solitary confinement since her arrest and has been subjected to harsh interrogation by the Shabak (internal security service). The Consulate General of Spain in Jerusalem took weeks to be able to send him clothes, personal belongings and the necessary medicines for the treatment of a chronic disease that he suffers.
After a long and exhausting sequence of court hearings – some in person at the Ofer military penitentiary (near Ramallah) and other telematics from the prison – on November 17, the Prosecutor’s Office and the Defense reached a conciliation agreement for the that the defendant accepted a sentence of 13 months in prison in exchange for admitting partial guilt in relation to the crimes with which she was charged. From there, once sentenced, the question remained as to whether conditional release would be granted to two-thirds of the completion of the sentence, as is often the case in the Israeli civil penal system, although rarely in the military.
At the moment it does not seem that it will be like that. In the last hearing on Tuesday, a judicial and penitentiary commission in Haifa, in northern Israel, again denied the aid worker’s freedom by two votes in favor and one against. The judges decided to summon the parties to a new hearing, for now without a date, to reconsider the court’s decision.
“Of course it is a somewhat incomprehensible system, in which the procedural acts are constantly cast in place,” Begoña Lalana, a lawyer and spokesperson for Juana Ruiz’s family, told elDiario.es. “This forms, once again, part of the Israeli strategy against the Palestinian population of lengthening the terms, the processes and the arrests. Next week there will be a decision. Meanwhile, Ruiz is serving 255 days in jail on Christmas Eve”, writes the platform “Libertad Juani” created on social networks in support of humanitarian workers.
Spanish foreign action
“In my opinion, the Spanish authorities have done what they could to help Juani obtain conditional release,” defense attorney Avigdor Feldman told elDiario.es hours before the last hearing. According to this Israeli jurist specialized in human rights, the Spanish ambassador to Israel, Ana Salomón, held a meeting with him last week and has taken an interest in the case, attending the final hearing in person. “I don’t know what happened to the previous Foreign Minister (Arancha González Laya) but I know that the current one (José Manuel Albares) has been in contact with ours, Yair Lapid, to follow up on the case,” adds Feldman, who took up the defense witness from the hands of the Israeli-Mexican jurist Gabi Lasky, once this happened to occupy a seat in the Israeli Parliament after the last legislative elections.
In the first appearance of the Foreign Minister in the Cooperation Commission of Congress this week, Albares has assured that the Executive “is very aware” of the case of Juana Ruiz and that they try to speak with a single voice in this matter: that of the European Union and the head of its diplomacy, Josep Borrell. In addition, the diplomat assured that neither his ministry nor the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation (AECID) have received a single proof that the organization in which the aid worker works “contributes to terrorism,” as they claim in Israel.
Likewise, the Diplomatic Information Office (OID) assures elDiario.es that it has done everything possible to help Ruiz. “They have repeatedly made representations to the Israeli authorities to ensure that his rights are respected and he is treated appropriately,” said a spokesman. “As a result of these actions, it has been possible to organize up to seven consular visits and the access of lawyers to the prison, which the Israeli authorities were making difficult, has been facilitated,” adds the Deputy Deputy Director General of the OID, Beatriz Muñoz González.
The Spanish NGOs acknowledge the support received by Ruiz from the Government, but the logic of action by the Israeli authorities is questioned. “It is an injustice, a shame, the way in which the Government of Israel has proceeded to demonstrate something that is impossible, that international NGOs are financing terrorism,” says Julio Rodríguez, federal president of Paz Now.
“The Popular Front is a legal party with parliamentary accreditation that attends elections and can be voted on, so the accusations against the Health Work Committees and against other NGOs linked to the Front are a real nonsense and constitute a new round as a nut of Israeli policy against Palestinian civil society, “claims Rodríguez, also a member of the United Left and Workers’ Commissions.
So much so that when last October the head of Defense, Benny Gantz, outlawed the sectoral organizations Al Haq (human rights), Addameer (support for prisoners), Bisan Research and Advocacy Center (social research), Defense of Children International (support for children), Union of Agricultural Work Committees (agriculture) and Union of Palestinian Women Committees (support for women) a dozen Democratic deputies of the United States Congress formally asked President Joe Biden to intervene to stop this an initiative that they described as “repressive and undemocratic”.
For Rodríguez, this accusation of support for terrorism and embezzlement of international cooperation funds has the ultimate objective of intimidating governments and international organizations so that they stop financing development projects and humanitarian aid in Palestine. “This is becoming the law of the jungle, with which they try to scare entities such as municipalities and Spanish provincial councils that support these local NGOs with the aim of dissuading AECID and other government cooperation agencies from canceling their aid” , complaint.
According to him, Ruiz would have become the ideal scapegoat – given his status as a foreign aid worker – in this harassment and demolition operation against the PFLP and its satellite organizations. A vendetta political and legal action against a member party of the Palestine Liberation Organization that in the second Intifada assassinated the then Israeli Minister of Tourism, Rehavam Zeevi, as revenge for the death of the PFLP Secretary General, Abu Ali Mustafa, reached about days before by the impact of two missiles in his office in Ramallah.
Financial and accounting lack of control
According to Shabak investigations, PFLP activists have been responsible for several shootings carried out in recent years against Israeli settlers in the West Bank, although without regretting victims. On the other hand, there was a fatality, a 17-year-old girl, and two seriously injured, her father and brother, in August 2019 due to the detonation of an explosive device when the three approached a natural pool in the vicinity of the Dolev settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The former accountant for the Health Work Committees (HWC), for which Ruiz worked, and two other members of the finance department of the associated Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), were convicted of this attack.
According to the founder of Monitor – an Israeli organization that is dedicated to investigating the activities of Palestinian NGOs and the international agencies that support them, in addition to auditing their accounts – Gerald Steinberg, the arrest, judicial process and conviction against the Spanish aid worker did not they have been accidental or arbitrary. Well, although it recognizes that the Spanish aid worker has not committed crimes of blood or is related to any attack, it assures that it is part of an illegal financing network of the PFLP, “which according to the calculations of the Israeli Government could reach 50 million euros.”
This amount seems artificially inflated given the volume of projects carried out by the seven NGOs in question, according to sources from the Spanish Cooperation in Jerusalem, who insist that the last euro is audited and that Spanish NGOs oblige their counterparts locals in Palestine to present invoices for each and every item spent to avoid any diversion of funds. Spanish aid workers need to work in an environment of legal security, so that they do not feel that they may be victims of arbitrary arrests and judicial prosecutions and based on political circumstances, the same sources comment.
However, “the world of NGOs is a large industry, which moves a lot of money from various Western governments and the European Union, but none presents detailed financial reports, but the donation of funds is almost automatic, reproducing itself year after year. “, denounces Steinberg, who was previously a tenured professor at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) at the University of Bar Ilán.
“In 2017, we were in the Congress of Deputies presenting this information and representatives of the Government of Spain contested them, but then they did not provide us with the accounting information that we demanded,” he emphasizes. Institutional visit which, by the way, was attended by the then former Minister of Finance and leader of the liberal Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid, who has held the Foreign Affairs portfolio since last June and who, by virtue of the coalition agreement with the far-right Naftali Bennet, the current head of government, will become prime minister in June 2023.
As for Ruiz, Steinberg insists that she has not been randomly convicted. “We know that Shabak’s work has been thorough and detailed, and that they do not arrest anyone for free,” he says. “When reading the indictment I detected a pattern of conduct, which leads me to think that as the person responsible for raising Spanish and European funds, she could not have worked there and not been part of this plot,” concludes the founder of Monitor .
From the platform created in Spain to request her release, supported by some 2,000 people and some 150 organizations, they defend the innocence of the aid worker and deny that she was able to divert funds since, they say, she is not even responsible for the administration, but for coordinating health care programs. “Those of us who know her know that Juani is incapable of committing a crime voluntarily. If something has always concerned her is helping others and helping to improve the lives of the most vulnerable Palestinians, without access to the aid that corresponds to them for the occupation gear designed by Israel, “says Julio Rodríguez, of Paz Now.