Aside from performing military service in the occupied territories, most Israelis rarely make contact with Palestinians. Tali Fahima, an Israeli woman, did something even more unusual: She phoned up and met Zakaria Zubeidi, a Palestinian militant high on Israel's most wanted list.
Concerns about Ms. Fahima's association with Mr. Zubeidi, leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Jenin, landed her in prison. She is the first Jewish woman ever to be placed in Israeli "administrative detention," a legal limbo normally reserved for Palestinians and right-wing extremists.
The "Fahima Affair" as it has become known, has raised passions not only because of vocal opposition to using the step against Israelis, but because it involves a rare case of an Israeli woman crossing a cultural canyon to find sympathy for a Palestinian fighter.
Yesterday, at a hearing in Tel Aviv district court for review of the detention, Fahima's lawyer, Smadar Ben-Natan said that she could not adequately defend her client because she was not allowed to see the classified Shin Bet information presented to judge Uri Goren that forms the basis for the detention. Judge Goren is to rule today on the detention order's legality.
The Israeli state sees Zubeidi as an arch-terrorist, blaming him for a suicide bombing as well as shooting attacks that took the lives of ten people. To Fahima, who met with him after being impressed by an interview he gave, Zubeidi is a "freedom fighter."
"It is impossible not to admire a person of my age who does so much for his nation, who gave up everything, who cannot even remain in the same place for a half an hour," she told the Israeli newspaper Ha'ir in March after visiting with Zubeidi in Jenin.
Fahima, a former legal secretary who voted for Ariel Sharon in the last election, also declared that she would serve as a "human shield" to prevent the Army from assassinating Zubeidi, as it has tried to do three times. And, after organizing a fund-raiser in Tel Aviv, she returned to Jenin in a bid to launch projects for children of the refugee camp. On her way to the camp in August, she was arrested. She was also held and then put under house arrest in May after visiting the camp.
Administrative detention allows the defense minister to put behind bars individuals deemed to be a security threat for up to six months without furnishing proof that they have broken the law. After four weeks of Shin Bet interrogations of Fahima, Israel decided that it could not make public in a trial enough evidence to indict her for involvement in terrorism by the Al Aqsa Brigades. Instead, she was given a four month administrative detention.
"The classified material points to a grave danger from Fahima," state attorney Aner Helman said at the first hearing to review the order. A Justice Ministry statement added that intelligence information and the Shin Bet's assessment showed that Fahima "had the intention of carrying out, together with terrorist operatives from Jenin, an attack against Israeli targets."
Fahima's lawyer denies this, saying her client is not dangerous and accuses the Shin Bet of opting for administrative detention because it has no case. (Because of her detention, reporters no longer have access to Fahima.)
"The idea is to frighten, to deter, and to silence not only Tali but also others," says Ms. Ben-Natan. "They do not want people to make connections with Palestinians or to witness the occupation first hand. They want to maintain the separation that exists between Palestinians and Israelis."
Lin Dovrat, a friend of Fahima's says the journey that brought her to Jenin began with bus bombings in Tel Aviv. "She told me that the fact that she lived in Tel Aviv, where there were terrorist attacks, brought her to try to understand why these people were doing this."
In July 2003, Fahima read an interview with Zubeidi by the Israeli news service Y-net in which he said he would not respect the cease-fire then called by Palestinian leaders but that he was ready for a "genuine peace." Fahima told the newspaper Ha'ir she gleaned from the interview that Zubeidi was "not beastly or monstrous." She asked Y-Net's reporter for his phone number and began speaking to him over the phone. Eventually she took the initiative to meet with him in Jenin, despite an Army ban against the entry of Israelis there. Zubeidi showed her around the camp and introduced her to people.
Fahima told Ha'ir the encounters were "emotional, not romantic." She said they differed over suicide bombings, with Zubeidi saying they were the Palestinians' ammunition in the absence of tanks and planes. Fahima says she told him suicide bombings are cruel to the victims and to the bomber. "But the truth is that if the situation was reversed and I was forced to live in their conditions, I would be the first one to fight," she told Ha'ir.
In the view of state attorney Helman, Fahima "planned very extreme things. In the investigation there was not sufficient evidence that could be revealed publicly, but credible proof was gathered that shows her dangerousness in the future."
Fahima's detention has prompted criticism that it will pave the way for further detentions. "Administrative detention does not accord with human rights in a democracy," says Knesset member Zehava Galon of the left-wing Yahad party. "If the Shin Bet has proof against Fahima she must be brought to trial."
The hawkish group "Professors for Diplomatic and Economic Strength" said in a statement that it opposes "the undemocratic use of administrative detention as a replacement for trials whether it is in the case of a right-wing extremist man or a left-wing extremist woman."
Defending the detention, Avraham Fechter, a former military judge, says: "Almost all the democracies have reached the conclusion that there is a need for exceptional tools in exceptional cases. At times, the state has material that cannot be brought to court because exposing it to the accused and his lawyer could burn intelligence sources."