Israel to free Spanish aid worker jailed for funding Palestinian terror group

Parole board gives early release to Juana Rishmawi, who was sentenced to 13 months in November for activities with organization accused of funneling money to PFLP

Spanish aid worker Juana Rishmawi at Ofer prison in the West Bank, on November 17, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Spanish aid worker Juana Rishmawi at Ofer prison in the West Bank, on November 17, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An Israeli parole board judge agreed Tuesday to the early release of Spanish aid worker Juana Rishmawi, who was jailed in November for illegally funding a Palestinian terror group, her lawyer said.

Attorney Avigdor Feldman said he expected Rishmawi to be freed within a week, provided the state does not appeal the parole board decision to release her early from her 13-month sentence.

“This was the right decision. It was supposed to be made a month ago and the prosecution or the state has no grounds to appeal this decision,” Feldman told AFP.

“I hope she will be released [within the] next seven days.”

Rishmawi was sentenced in November after a military court convicted her of working with an organization that it said was funding the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a leftist group blamed for previous attacks on Israelis.

She had already spent some months in custody awaiting trial which were counted towards her sentence, her lawyer said.

Rishmawi had been working for a Palestinian group, the Union of Health Work Committees, which Israel said funneled European donations to the PFLP.

Palestinian PFLP supporters seen during a rally marking the 52st anniversary of its founding, in the West Bank city of Nablus, on December 14, 2019. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

In 2020, Israel banned the aid group from working in the West Bank.

In her November plea deal, Rishmawi claimed she did not know the health organization had been funding the PFLP.

The deal required her to pay a fine of NIS 50,000 (nearly $16,000). She was arrested in April last year, and Feldman said she signed the deal to avoid a lengthy trial.

“In the indictment against her, it says very clearly that she was not aware that the money was transferred from the organization to the PFLP, if it was transferred,” Feldman said. “It was not proven even that the money was transferred.”

Rishmawi holds Spanish citizenship and the Spanish ambassador to Israel attended the parole board hearing in Nazareth on Tuesday at which the decision was handed down.

Judge Chanan Efrati wrote that he approved Rishmawi’s early release in part because “the prisoner is an older woman and this is her first incarceration… It’s reasonable to assume that after her release she will leave Israel for Spain, where her family lives.”

The military court sentenced Rishmawi just weeks after Israel outlawed six prominent Palestinian civil society groups, charging that they too were fronts for the PFLP — an allegation the groups denied.

The United Nations and European governments that have donated funds to the banned groups have asked to see concrete evidence from Israel of the allegations against them.

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