The arrest of an Israeli Arab journalist for traveling to Lebanon prompts the Hebrew press on Friday to evaluate the boundaries of its profession, while the sudden death of a notorious mob boss in his Netanya home leaves the papers wondering — murder or suicide?
Haaretz leads with the release of Majd Kayyal, a well-known writer and political activist, to house arrest. Kayyal is suspected of meeting with foreign agents while on a three-week trip to Beirut, and violating the law under which citizens cannot visit “enemy countries” as declared by the State of Israel, of which Lebanon is one.
The paper decries the shroud of secrecy in the form of a gag order over the affair, and the conditions Kayyal was subjected to, which included being denied an attorney until five days after his arrest, the search of his Haifa home twice and the confiscation of his computers. After the interrogation, the paper writes, the Shin Bet has discovered that the allegations of collaborating with agents — which Kayyal has denied — hold no water. Should the journalist be prosecuted, it would be exclusively for his visit to an enemy state.
“From my perspective, the connection between Haifa and Beirut is a natural and required one,” Kayyal told the paper. “I don’t view Lebanon as an enemy state. I went there as a journalist, as part of the system in which I work and write, and the entire visit focused on professional issues and subjects related to journalistic work, and what was happening in the region in terms of political and social developments.”
Kayyal said he assumed he would be interrogated upon his return, but did not anticipate charges of such gravity. Despite the legal infraction, Kayyal called the trip “a dream come true.”
According to the Shin Bet, Kayyal received the documentation that would allow him to cross the border from Palestinian officials in Ramallah.
In an op-ed for the paper, Zvi Barel declares that when it comes to visiting enemy countries, “Jewish Israeli journalists are not arrested, only Arab Israelis.”
Barel continues: “In my years working, I’ve visited more than a few enemy countries, and every time I was offended anew. Not only was I not arrested, no one was interested in what I saw and heard…. Israeli Arabs are suspected from the start that visits to an enemy state have one goal: spying, passing on information, or ‘contact with a foreign agent.’ An Israeli Arab journalist is, first and foremost, an Israeli Arab. His Israeliness will be scrutinized carefully in the Shin Bet interrogation rooms, in prison, and later in court.”
Israel Hayom provides more information about the conditions of Kayyal’s release, which include 20 days without the Internet and a ban on leaving the country for a month. Kayyal’s attorney said his client was held in solitary confinement, in a cell that had no window or bed, and that was lit 24 hours a day. His lawyer claimed that the limitations on travel imposed by Israeli law undermine the deep social and cultural bonds between the Israeli Arabs and the broader Arab world.
According to Yedioth Ahronoth, Kayyal’s parents are confident the charges will turn out to be false.
“They’re slandering my son for meeting with a foreign agent in Lebanon,” his father said. “But the purpose of the trip was professional. Proof: He posted on Facebook that he was going.”
The Hebrew papers also highlight the death of Charlie Abutbul on Thursday. Police have said the crime boss likely committed suicide, but have not ruled out the option of foul play.
Israel Hayom reports Abutbul was slated to return to prison to serve out a 20-month sentence in three months’ time. However, his attorney Moshe Sherman said that the imminent incarceration could not have been the primary motive, as “he wasn’t afraid or depressed about it.”
Sources close to the family said suicide was out of character, but that Abutbul had been upset since his son was slapped with a life sentence.
“He was a man of honor. It is unlike him to commit suicide. And yet, the writing was on the wall after his son received a life sentence. Still, we didn’t expect this,” the source said.
The paper also features an infographic of the Abutbul family tree and its criminal activity. Abutbul’s brother, son, and son-in-law were murdered; three sons are in prison; and another son and nephew were recently released.
“The end of a criminal dynasty,” Yedioth Ahronoth triumphantly declares in its headline.
Friends stood outside the Abutbul home last night for hours, stunned and incredulous, the paper writes, “trying to understand if it was really possible that the strong, tough man, who headed a crime organization, survived assassination attempts, and in the past overcame a serious injury, decided to end his life in his home with a bullet.”
The paper also describes the Abutbul crime ring as “one of the strongest and most terrifying” in Israel, up until the past few years.
An emotional roller coaster
Yedioth leads its coverage with the technical malfunction of a Tel Aviv amusement park carousel on Thursday that left 22 children lightly injured.
Those observing the ride rushed immediately to help the children, it reports.
“I entered the carousel area and I stopped as many chairs as I could,” said Ariel, 16. “One kid had split his head open, others cried, and everyone was hysterical.”
“We heard this boom, and we were very frightened,” described 12-year-old Simona Friedman, who was on the ride. “Every chair crashed into the chair in front of it, like a chain reaction.”
Friedman added that it was “a trauma for life.”