Israel Releases Detained Akron Scholar

Geographer held in alleged spying for Hezbollah is set free with no charges filed.
July 31, 2006

A University of Akron geographer who had been informally accused of spying for Hezbollah in Israel was released Sunday without any charges being filed.

Ghazi Falah, an associate professor in the department of geography and planning at Akron, holds joint Israeli and Canadian citizenship but works in the United States on a permanent visa. He had been visiting his ailing mother in Israel, and on July 8, he was taking photographs at a resort near the Lebanese border when Israeli authorities detained him. He was held for more than two weeks before Israeli officials gave any indication of why he had been held.

Last week, they told his lawyers that they believed he had been taking pictures of Israeli installations along the border for intelligence purposes, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Consulate General in Philadelphia told the Associated Press. No formal charges were ever filed, and he was never brought before a judge. His lawyers insisted that he had been taking the photographs for academic purposes, an argument also made by a group of scholars who have campaigned and petitioned for his release.

News reports in Israel quoted a spokesman for the Israeli Justice Ministry as saying: “Professor Falah was interrogated for alleged involvement in espionage activities, and after the conclusion of the investigation no sufficient evidence was found to prosecute him.”

A lawyer for Falah, Husein Abu-Husein, told Israel's YNet news: “Prof. Falah is a geography professor who was filming areas that are significant for his academic and scientific research. If every person with a digital camera would be arrested, we will soon find out that almost all Israelis are spies.”

Colin Flint, a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign geographer who has collaborated on scholarly work with Falah, spearheaded an international campaign for his release. Flint said that he and other colleagues and supporters of Falah were relieved by his release and the apparent clearing of his name.

But Flint said that as e-mails flew over the weekend among those involved in the campaign, discussion was quickly turning to ensuring that the scholar's detention did not have any lingering effect on his professional life. "We have to make sure there is no taint upon Ghazi's character and his career," Flint said. "We need to make sure there's no detention or arrest when he gets back to the United States, and no question about him still being a legitimate permanet resident, and that his work is still respected."

Falah has been a frequent critic of Israeli policy, particularly toward the Palestinian people, Flint said, and it was "troubling to a lot of us that someone could be detained in dubious circumstances and in a manner where we could not tell what the charges were."

"This hit close to home," he said. "In a lot of discussions at conferences in recent years, we have all wrestled with the notion of self-censorship, about what we decide to do and say in class and in our research. Something like this turns that up a few degrees. But we must maintain the notion that in a free society, critical voices should be allowed to speak."


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