Security at Ben Gurion Airport
Security at Ben Gurion Airport Israel news photo: Yoni Kempinski

The family of an Australian triple national arrested in March at Ben Gurion International Airport claims he is not a Hamas spy, as charged, but rather a sacrificial lamb on the altar of diplomatic payback.

Iyad Rashid Abu Arja was indicted in the Petach Tikva District Court in April. An IT expert by profession, Abu Arja holds Jordanian and Saudi Arabian passports as well as Australian citizenship. According to the court papers, he was trained in Syria and asked by Hamas to acquire various types of telecommunications technology in Israel. 

On March 24, he and his wife Isma landed at the airport, ostensibly for a visit to Jerusalem. 

The Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) has countered that Abu Arja was testing his ability to enter and leave the country.

Abu Arja's wife appears to know nothing of the connection: “Being a Muslim, and from Palestinian descent, I had always dreamed of visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and praying there,” she explained in an exclusive interview published in The Sun-Herald.

Acknowledging that Israel's security agents were courteous during the questioning process, she noted, “At first I didn't think it was anything out of the ordinary. We asked them, 'Is there anything wrong?' And they say, 'No, nothing wrong, it is just a procedure.'”

Both were physically searched, as were their belongings. Mobile phones and laptops were confiscated. There was no mention of Hamas. Eventually, Isma Abu-Arja was released and allowed to go to the hotel. However, when her husband did not follow, and the Australian Embassy later informed her that he was being held by Israeli intelligence, she panicked. Within two days she returned to Australia, and to her five children, ages 3 to 23.

“The allegations against him that he was spying for Hamas are preposterous,” she told the newspaper. Claims that Abu Arja was trained in Syria, she said, could not possibly be true: the entire family had gone on the 2008 trip to visit relatives. 

Abu Arja's son Osama, age 23, told the newspaper his father didn't even have a camera in his mobile phone because his “dad wasn't really into politics; more into IT, really.”

Instead, Isma Abu Arja contends, her husband's arrest is simple revenge. She claims Israel is engaging in "diplomatic payback" for Canberra's expulsion of an Israeli diplomat in response to the use of faked Australian passports in the assassination of a top Hamas weapons buyer at a Dubai hotel in January 2010.

She has called on the Australian government to “return my husband back to his family and homeland, Australia.”

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