Israel condemns Spanish woman for helping banned group


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JERUSALEM (AP) – An Israeli military court on Wednesday handed down a sentence reduction against a Spanish woman who admitted in a plea bargain to raising funds for a West Bank charity that were diverted to a banned militant group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Juana Ruiz Sánchez was sentenced to 13 months in prison and fined 50,000 shekels, or approximately $ 16,000. With a credit for time already served, she could be released in the coming weeks.

Israel tried to use this conviction as evidence that it was justified to label six Palestinian civil society organizations as terrorist groups last month, all because of alleged links to the PFLP.

But Ruiz’s employer, the Health Working Committees, was not one of those six groups. And in the plea bargain, she said she was unaware of the alleged fundraising program and was not involved in any PFLP activist activity.

His lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, said the plea agreement “made it very clear” that Ruiz was not involved in the money transfer to the PFLP and had no idea the alleged transfers had taken place. He also accused Israeli officials of slandering his client and said he would demand that they withdraw statements implying that she was an agent of the PFLP.

“The whole affair is a political affair. They tried to use it to justify banning human rights organizations, ”he told The Associated Press after the hearing at the Ofer military court in the occupied West Bank.

The PFLP is a secular leftist political movement with an armed wing that has carried out deadly attacks against Israelis. Israel, the United States and the European Union consider it a terrorist group.

Ruiz was a longtime worker for Health Work Committees, a Palestinian nonprofit group that provides medical services in the occupied West Bank.

Prosecutors say she raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the group from foreign donors, an unspecified amount of which was later diverted to the PFLP. One charge was that she had collected $ 4,000 for what she believed to be medical equipment which was then directed to the PFLP. Few details of other alleged embezzlement were available.

Ruiz was quoted in the documents as saying that she was not aware of any wrongdoing and that she “just got it wrong”.

But prosecutors noted that she continued her work for the health work committees even after learning that a colleague helped finance an attack and after Israel declared the organization illegal in early 2020. And illegal money transfers to the West Bank.

Feldman said his client, who is in her 60s and jailed since her arrest in April, accepted watered down charges to help close the case and get out of jail. He said he plans to appear before a parole board to seek a reduced sentence that could get her out in about two weeks.

Her daughter, Maria Rishmawi, said the family were eager to put the episode behind them. “We can’t wait to have him at home,” she said.

Israeli officials, referring to Ruiz by her married name of Juana Rishmawi, trumpeted the condemnation as a victory in their war against the PFLP. Israel says the group is raising funds from unwitting Western donors under the guise of humanitarian work.

Last month, Israel designated six Palestinian civil society organizations as terrorist groups, claiming they were linked to the PFLP. So far, he has yet to take further action against the groups. But Wednesday’s plea bargain could serve as a model for future moves.

All six groups, some of which have close ties to rights groups in Israel and abroad, deny the claims. They say the terrorist designation is intended to muzzle criticism of Israel’s half-century military occupation of the territories the Palestinians want for their future state.

A confidential Israeli dossier detailing alleged links between the groups and the PFLP contains little concrete evidence and relies almost entirely on the interrogations of two former workers on the company health committees.

Feldman, Ruiz’s lawyer, said Israel appears to be targeting groups that seek to bring war crimes charges against Israel through the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The ICC has launched a preliminary investigation into Israeli practices in both the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

“This is part of a global effort to ban any organization in the West Bank that genuinely cooperates with international law in The Hague,” he said.

The Spanish government, which provided consular assistance to Ruiz during the trial, said it had controls to prevent aid money from reaching militant groups. He gave no immediate reaction to Wednesday’s conviction.

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AP video journalist Ami Bentov contributed reporting.

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