Quakers Giving Legal Aid to West Bank, Gaza Strip Arabs

The State Department has declined to intervene in the Israeli government’s request to the American Friends Service Committee to end its legal services to Arabs on the West Bank and Gaza Strip accused of security offenses. Department spokesman Tom Reston, asked to define the U.S. position, said “it is really a matter between” the Committee and the Israeli government.

Reston said that “we understand” the Committee’s legal aid center in Israel “has been told by the Israeli government it can handle cases already in hand but not to undertake new cases because the Israeli government believes the Quakers’ legal services duplicate services already provided by the Israeli government.”

“For our part,” Reston said, speaking of the Israeli government’s position, “we certainly hope it can be resolved to the satisfaction of both sides.”

Without being prompted by questions, he added that “overall, I want to say that it is our belief that various non-government organizations U.S. voluntary organizations operating on the West Bank and Gaza Strip have dance a fine job and have made many useful contributions.” Whether the Logan Act, which forbids Americans from engaging in activities inimical to U.S. foreign policy, is involved in this case was not cleared up in Reston’s remarks.

ISRAEL ASKED COMMITTEE TO STOP

According to information received here, the Committee was “requested” by Israel’s Social Welfare Deputy Director General Mordechai Avistour on June 4 to stop providing lawyers for Arabs arrested on security charges because the assistance gets beyond “humanitarian” functions. The Committee has been conducting the legal aid program for five years.

The Committee was reported as saying it has been providing legal aid in about 20 new cases for West Bank Arabs who could not afford lawyers. Gail Pressberg, director of the Committee’s Mideast programs, was reported as saying the legal aid office was accused of engaging in political activities “inappropriate” to the humanitarian cause.

The Committee’s program helped West Bank Arab landowners bring civil suits against the Israeli government in issues involving Jewish civilian settlements. In the U.S., the Committee has been supportive of Arab perceptions in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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