After Herzog plea, UAE frees Israeli woman serving life sentence for drug smuggling

Fidaa Kiwan, originally sentenced to death after being caught with cocaine, has said she was set up; Emirati ruler grants pardon as gesture to Israeli president; she returns home

Fidaa Kiwan. (Courtesy)
Fidaa Kiwan. (Courtesy)

An Israeli woman was released from prison in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday night and was flown back to Israel early Sunday, after UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan granted her amnesty as a personal gesture to President Isaac Herzog.

Fidaa Kiwan was serving life in prison for drug smuggling. She was originally sentenced to death in April 2022, but the Abu Dhabi Federal Appeal Court canceled the punishment and sentenced her to life behind bars in July.

Kiwan, a 44-year-old Haifa resident who owns a photography studio, reportedly came to Dubai for work at the invitation of a Palestinian acquaintance. She was arrested a short while later, on March 17, 2021, after a search of her apartment turned up the drugs. She claimed that the cocaine was not hers.

For the past year, Kiwan’s relatives were in contact with Herzog’s office, saying she had been set up. Several weeks ago, Herzog made a personal humanitarian plea to Mohamed bin Zayed which has now been heeded, Hebrew media reported.

The President’s Residence said that it and embassy staff in Abu Dhabi had in recent days arranged the logistics of Kiwan’s return to Israel, saying that Herzog was “expressing his gratitude to the UAE president and wishing him, his nation and all our neighbors a month of kindness and peace” for Ramadan.

Kiwan’s lawyer Tami Ullman was quoted by the Walla news site as welcoming the release, saying: “It is so exciting to hear that we succeeded in our mission to bring Fidaa home to Israel.” She thanked Herzog, Mohamed bin Zayed and her colleagues at her law firm, which handled the case.

According to Kiwan’s sentence, the Haifa resident met up with a man named Yassin Ibrahim Nagiar before traveling to the UAE, who offered her a monthly payment of NIS 47,000 ($13,700) to sell drugs.

Illustrative of cocaine (photo credit: CC BY-SA Valerie Everett, Flickr)
File: Illustrative photo of cocaine. (CC BY-SA Valerie Everett, Flickr)

Upon arrival in the country, an undercover police officer arranged to meet with her in a vehicle, where the agent exchanged a payment for an illegal substance, the court document said.

However, Kiwan’s family accused authorities in the UAE of beating the woman to coerce a confession. They have said she launched a hunger strike while in prison.

The UAE is known for its strict anti-drug laws, with those convicted of drug trafficking facing a possible death sentence. However, the death sentences are not rigorously enforced in many cases and tend to be converted into heavy prison sentences.

This was not the first time that the UAE has made a notable drug bust of an Israeli. In October 2021, it was reported that an Israeli man — Halil Dasuki, 31, from Lod — was arrested in Dubai on suspicion of involvement in a scheme to smuggle half a ton of cocaine into the UAE and from there to Israel.

Israel and the United Arab Emirates normalized ties in 2020 when they signed the US-brokered Abraham Accords, along with Bahrain. The UAE has since become a popular tourist and business destination for Israelis and tens of thousands have visited the Emirates.

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