Supreme Court upholds Syria trip conviction for Druze ex-MK (The Times of Israel)

The Supreme Court on Monday upheld the conviction of a former Knesset member who was sentenced to a year in prison for traveling to Syria and meeting with the head of a terror organization.

A three-judge panel unanimously rejected Said Nafa’s appeal, in which he claimed that other delegations from the Druze community also went to Syria without his assistance, indicating he did not play a significant role in organizing the trips.

However, the court noted that according to testimony given in the Nazereth District Court, Nafa had taken a central and dominant part in arranging delegations to visit Syria, a country considered an enemy state.

Nafa was convicted in April 2014 of meeting with a foreign agent and traveling to an enemy country over trips he made to Syria and Lebanon when he was still a member of the Israeli parliament.

Adalah, the legal center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which filed the appeal against the conviction on behalf of Nafa, denounced the ruling as political.

In 2007, while a serving Knesset member for the Balad party, Nafa traveled to Syria where he met with Talal Naji, the deputy director of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The PFLP is designated a terrorist organization by the EU, US, Israel and Canada.

“The court decision is a most notable example of how politics overcomes justice and the rule of law,” Adalah said in a statement. “Even though the court recognized that there was no security-related aspect to the meeting that Nafa had with Naji, and the conversation was about the internal Palestinian disagreement between Hamas and Fatah, it convicted MK Nafa for meeting a foreign agent, while disregarding his immunity and previous court rulings. Therefore, it is a political decision.”

Adalah called for an end to the ban on Israeli travel to certain Arab countries such as Syria and Lebanon, which, it claimed, is “tantamount to discrimination and oppression” against Israel’s Arab citizens and “prevents a national minority from coming into social, political, and cultural contact with its own people.”

“It is a sweeping and draconian order that is directed against the Arab minority, and gives no weight to its legitimate interests as part of the Arab nation,” Adalah said.

The court upheld the opinion that there were aggravating circumstances in Nafa’s case he had met with the head of a terror organization in a pre-planned encounter held in an enemy state to which he had traveled illegally.

Nafa also organized a trip of 282 Druze religious figures to Syria in September of that year. He was told by the Interior Ministry at the time that he would not be given permission for the trip but proceeded with his travel arrangements anyway, with the help of then-MK Azmi Bishara, now a fugitive from the Israeli law accused of passing sensitive information to Syria. Nafa and his entourage reached Syria after coordinating with the Syrian embassy in Jordan, and he later met with Naji.

The court rejected Nafa’s claim that he was being singled out and discriminated against compared to others who were guilty of similar actions.

In 2014 charges were dropped against more than a dozen Druze sheikhs who had traveled with Nafa to Syria and visited the same destinations. The court noted that the actions take by the other Druze travelers to Syria were less serious or were carried out before authorities decided to more strictly enforce law against such trips.

Druze communities are scattered over the Israeli Golan Heights, Lebanon, and Syria. Israeli Druze are occasionally able to travel to the neighboring countries to visit family and other communities who are separated by international boundaries.

Nafa, a Beit Jann resident who served in the Knesset from 2007 to 2013, has advocated that Israel’s Druze population abandon its traditional loyalty to Israel, adopt a Palestinian and pan-Arab identity, and stop performing mandatory IDF service alongside Israeli Jews. He was stripped of his parliamentary immunity in 2010 by a Knesset committee.