An Israeli military court on Wednesday handed down a reduced sentence to a Spanish woman who admitted in a plea deal to having raised funds for a West Bank charity that were diverted to a terrorist group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Juana Ruiz Sánchez was sentenced to 13 months in prison and ordered to pay a fine of 50,000 shekels, or approximately $ 16,000. With credit for the time already served, she could be released in the next few weeks.
Israel has tried to seize the conviction as proof that it was justified to label six Palestinian civil society organizations as terrorist groups last month, all because of alleged connections to the PFLP.
But Ruiz’s employer, the Health Work Committees, was not among those six groups. And in the plea deal, she said she was unaware of the alleged fundraising scheme and was not involved in any militant activity by the PFLP.
His attorney, Avigdor Feldman, said the settlement with the prosecution “made it very clear” that Ruiz was not involved in passing money to the PFLP and had no idea that the alleged transfers had taken place. He also accused Israeli officials of defaming his client and said he would demand that they withdraw statements that implied that she was a PFLP agent.
“The whole case is a political case. They tried to use it to justify the outlawing of human rights organizations, ”he told The Associated Press after the hearing in Ofer’s West Bank military court.
The PFLP is a secular leftist political movement with an armed wing that has carried out deadly attacks against Israelis. Israel, the United States and the European Union consider it a terrorist group.
Ruiz worked for a long time for the Health Work Committees, a Palestinian nonprofit group that provides medical services in the West Bank.
Prosecutors say she raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the group of foreign donors, an unspecified amount of which was later diverted to the PFLP. One of the allegations was that he raised $ 4,000 for what he thought was medical equipment that was later sent to the PFLP. Few details were available on any other alleged misuse of funds.
Ruiz was quoted in the documents as saying that she was not aware of any crime and that “she was simply wrong.”
But prosecutors noted that she continued her work for the Health Work Committees even after learning that a coworker had helped finance an attack and after Israel outlawed the organization in early 2020. In the end, it was outlawed. guilty of “performing a service for an outlaw organization” and illegal money transfers to the West Bank.
Feldman said his client, who is 60 years old and has been incarcerated since her arrest in April, accepted the diluted charges to help close the case and get out of jail. She said she plans to appear before a parole board to seek a sentence reduction that could free her in about two weeks.
Their daughter, Maria Rishmawi, said the family was eager to put the episode behind them. “We can’t wait to have her home,” he said.
Israeli officials, referring to Ruiz by her married name Juana Rishmawi, have proclaimed the conviction as a victory in their war against the PFLP. Israel says the group raises funds from unwitting Western donors under the guise of humanitarian work.
Last month, Israel designated six Palestinian civil society organizations as terrorist groups, saying they were linked to the PFLP. So far, it has yet to take further action against the groups. But the agreement with the prosecution on Wednesday could serve as a model for future moves.
All six groups, some of which have close ties to human rights groups in Israel and abroad, deny the allegations. They say the terror designation aims to muzzle critics of Israel’s half-century military occupation of the territories the Palestinians want for their future state.
A confidential Israeli file detailing the alleged links between the groups and the PFLP contains little concrete evidence and is based almost entirely on the interrogations of two former workers of the Sanitary Works Committees.
Feldman, Ruiz’s lawyer, said Israel appears to be going after groups that have been working to bring war crimes charges against Israel through the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The ICC has launched a preliminary investigation into Israeli practices in both the West Bank and Gaza.
“This is part of a general effort to ban any organization in the West Bank that is actually cooperating with international law in The Hague,” he said.
The Spanish government, which provided Ruiz with consular assistance during the trial, has said it has controls in place to prevent aid money from reaching militant groups. He did not give an immediate reaction to Wednesday’s sentencing.