JERUSALEM (May. 10)
David Ovitz, whose release from an Egyptian jail last Wednesday was a widely celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut event, accused the Israeli government of abandoning him during his three months’ incarceration.
The bitter charge was contained in a letter the 33-year-old Givatayim furniture dealer wrote to his wife, Yael, from jail shortly before his release.
“I have been criminally neglected,” Ovitz wrote. “No one gives a damn for my suffering. My only ‘crime’ is that I am an Israeli citizen. I have decided that I want no more assistance from the State of Israel. I forgo that humiliation.”
The letter was published Sunday in Yediot Achronot, Israel’s largest newspaper, to which Ovitz sold his story.
Ovitz was one of four Israelis — the three others were Arabs — arrested in Cairo in early February and jailed on suspicion of espionage.
Their release was finally secured only after the United States stepped in, according to Noach Dear, a city councilman from New York who spoke here at a news conference.
Dear, a Democrat and an Orthodox Jew, said he got involved a month ago at the request of Ovitz’s relatives who live in his Brooklyn district.
Dear said he submitted a letter on behalf of Ovitz to the Egyptian ambassadors in Washington and Tel Aviv, signed by 50 members of the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and New York City Council.
According to Dear, Secretary of State James Baker became personally involved in the affair and a key Baker aide, the State Department’s head of planning, Dennis Ross, was active in discreet diplomatic efforts that eventually led to the release of the prisoners.
He said the State Department preferred to play down its role, despite obvious political benefits for the Bush administration, out of consideration of diplomatic sensitivity.
“But I believe that if we criticize the administration on aspects of its policy toward Israel, we should praise it publicly when it is deserving of praise,” the council member said.
Ovitz and his wife phoned Dear in New York hours after the businessman’s release to thank him, and through him, Baker and his aides.
The incident severely strained Israeli-Egyptian relations. As part of Israel’s efforts to free its citizens, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir placed a rare personal telephone call to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
According to Yediot, it was initiated in response to “hints from the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv that a direct appeal from the prime minister would move the affair towards resolution.”
But Egyptian officials are now angry that news of the phone call was “leaked” by the Israelis, the newspaper reported.
Shamir went out of his way over the weekend to praise the work of Foreign Minister David Levy in resolving the affair.
Ovitz, since his release, has spoken angrily against his Arab fellow-prisoners, Fares Mussarti, 41, of Ramla, his son Majid, 21, and his daughter, Faya, 17.
The Mussartis, who confessed to travelling in Egypt with false documents, implicated Ovitz.
Ovitz said the family framed him because the Egyptian authorities promised they would be allowed to settle in Egypt. His only connection with the Mussartis was his occasional employment of Fares as interpreter on furniture-buying trips to Egypt, Ovitz said.
But the Egyptians wanted to incriminate an Israeli Jew to make their case against the Israeli Arab suspects more credible, Ovitz said.
He disparaged Faya Mussarti’s claim that she was tortured with electric shocks and starved to force her to accuse him.