Israelis are no angels but the extent of their mischief on the world scene is pretty small beer; in contrast, Arabs are at the heart of the public debate around the globe. One consequence is that Israelis who break the law get much more attention than their Arab counterparts.
As proof, consider two recent and parallel developments in New Zealand. In July 2004, the authorities there apprehended two Israelis, Uriel Zoshe Kelman and Eli Cara, and accused them of manufacturing a single false New Zealand passport. The brouhaha that followed included harsh statements by the prime minister, Helen Clark, and the recall of the Kiwi ambassador to Israel. The two served two months in jail of a six-month sentence, paid a fine, and were unceremoniously deported on Sept. 28. The two Israelis are accused of being connected to their government, though there is no proof of this; but if they were, it implies that they were engaged in some kind of counterterrorism activities – not exactly something most of us worry about that much. In any case, for the first time in memory, this tension led to antisemitic acts in New Zealand, specifically two instances of the desecration of multiple Jewish graves in Wellington cemeteries.
Coincidentally, Sept. 28 was the very day the trial opened in Auckland of Fahad Jaber Ajeil and Riyad Hamied Sultan, a Kuwaiti and an Iraqi accused, in the words of the crown prosecutor, of forging passports and other travel documents on "a scale never before seen in this country." Police found a passport-manufacturing process with false documents from seventeen countries and twelve fake passports in various states of readiness. Yet, this incident – which could well be connected to Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups – has aroused precious little ire from the Clark government, much less from the prime minister herself, who seems to find this business as usual. (September 29, 2004)
Oct. 9, 2004 update: The news from New Zealand's Customs Services in its annual report suggests that the authorities there might worry a bit more about the Ajeil-Sultan caper. It reports a 54 per cent increase in trans-national crime in 2003-04; for example, cocaine seizures jumped from 217 grams in 2002-03 to 22 kilograms. The Customs Services also noted a "steady stream" of false travel documentation. "Document fraud is a facilitator of many crimes, including people smuggling, drug trafficking and terrorism. New Zealand is dealing with more fraudulent and counterfeit documents than ever before."
Oct. 15, 2004 update: The plot thickens, as the New Zealand detective on the Ajeil-Sultan case, Simon Williamson, testified in court yesterday that he was blocked by his superiors from going to Kuwait to look into the alleged mastermind of the forgery plot, Salam Abu-Shaaban. To be precise, people "much higher up" than he did not want him "stuffing up" inquiries in Kuwait. Also of note was Ajeil's lawyer, Anthony Rogers, commenting on the contrast with the Israeli case. Here is how the New Zealand Herald reported his critique in court:
He said that the PM's silence in this case was deafening by contrast with the Israeli matter. Mr Rogers said it was because New Zealand had little trade with Israel, while there was a substantial sheep trade with Kuwait. He said that the Government could have put pressure on the Kuwaitis to have Dr Abu-Shaaban's offices searched. Mr Williamson could have led them right to his door. No doubt, he said, there would have been a huge amount of information there as to the guilt or innocence of the two accused. Mr Rogers said that Ajeil was the unwitting victim of a clan member who cynically used him and set him up.
Oct. 22, 2004 update: The verdicts are in: Ajeil was found guilty on 14 counts including possession of items capable of forging documents and conspiracy to commit forgery (and cleared on five charges); Sultan found guilty of conspiring to commit forgery (and cleared of sixteen charges). Both criminals are remanded in custody.
Dec. 21, 2004 update: And now the sentences are in: five years for Ajeil, and two years for Sultan. However, Crown prosecutor Mina Wharepouri (as paraphrased by the New Zealand Herald) "said the reason for the documents had never been established and there was no evidence that they were prepared for terrorism, people-smuggling or any offending in New Zealand or any other country." Hmm, I wonder what the "more than 200 Photoshop documents relating to passports, travel documents and other documents relating to 17 countries" were all about, then.
Dec. 11, 2007 update: "Passport forger wins right to stay" reads the headline in the Dominion Post. After Ajeil's release from prison in May 2005, the immigration minister signed the order for his deportation to Iraq in September 2005. But then, Ajeil appealed his decision to the Deportation Review Tribunal, which overturned it last week. Details:
The tribunal was read a psychiatric report which said Ajeil suffered from "depression with a high level of anxiety" and "longstanding personality vulnerabilities" caused by childhood trauma. He has claimed his mother threw him down a well. The psychiatrist believed deportation to Iraq could "push him over the edge" and assessed his risk of reoffending as low. His wife, Ghuzlan Sultan, 23, told the tribunal that her world came crashing down when her husband and brother, Sultan, were arrested. She suffered from depression, brought about by the thought of losing her husband, and had attempted suicide at least twice since the deportation order was issued.
The tribunal found Ajeil was at low risk of reoffending and took into account the effect deportation would have on his wife, in particular, and their 16-month-old son. "His wife is deeply attached to him and has psychiatric issues, largely connected with her anxiety at losing her husband. The appellant has a young son ... [and] there can be no doubt that his best interests lie in remaining with both his parents." It agreed with Ajeil, as did the Immigration Service, that he was essentially "stateless", having been forced to leave the country of his birth, Kuwait, in 1992. "As to Iraq, while the appellant previously lived there legally, there is no evidence that he acquired Iraqi nationality or the right to a passport."
Comment: (1) Rarely does one see so stark a contrast between hard-edged Middle East criminality and the soft Western psychiatric mentality. (2) I'm eager to follow Ajeil's future career in New Zealand. Something tells me, we will hear more of him.
Dec. 21, 2010 update: The reason for the discrepancy in New Zealand government treatment of Israelis and Arabs has been public for years, as noted in the Oct. 15, 2004 update above. Still, it's nice to have confirmation, as WikiLeaks now offers ub a confidential cable dated July 16, 2004 from the U.S. embassy in Wellington, titled "New Zealand Imposes 'Strict Constraints' on Diplomatic Relationship with Israel in Wake of Spy Scandal." . Here's the "comment" section that follows a recounting of facts:
The GoNZ's public reaction is its strongest diplomatic retaliation in 20 years – since French spies bombed the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbor in 1985. Clark's limitations on diplomatic contact go further than the GoNZ reaction in 1985, however, and it was reported that she toughened the language of her response from that put forward by MFAT. The GoNZ has little to lose by such stringent action, with limited contact and trade with Israel, and possibly something to gain in the Arab world, as the GoNZ is establishing an Embassy in Egypt and actively pursuing trade with Arab states. With Israeli Government officials eager to repair the relationship, and no time limit on the GoNZ's restrictions, it is possible the issue may be resolved in six months, when Cara and Kelman have served their time, and leave the country.