Azzam Azzam (Arabic: عزام عزام, Levantine Arabic: [ʕazˈzaːm ʕazˈzaːm], Hebrew: עזאם עזאם; born 1962) is an Israeli Druze who was convicted in Egypt of spying for Israel, and jailed for eight years. He maintained his innocence throughout the ordeal, and since, no credible evidence was presented at his trial, and no additional evidence was ever released.
Arrest and trial
Azzam is a textile worker from the town of Maghar in Israel. He had been sent to Egypt as an employee of an Israeli textile company, to work at a textile plant which was a joint business venture of Israeli management and Egyptian labor, when he was arrested in Cairo in November 1996.
The trial opened on April 24, 1997, but was postponed until May 18, when it was discovered that the lawyer for his Egyptian co-defendant, Emad Abdel-Hamid Ismail, was not present. In the interim, the Egyptian Lawyers' Syndicate received a memo signed by twelve attorneys, stating that by defending Azzam, his lawyer, Farid Deeb, "polluted the distinguished history of the Lawyers' Syndicate". The letter demanded that disciplinary action be carried out against Deeb for "undertaking the defense of the Israeli spy"; in response the Syndicate decided to bring Deeb before its disciplinary committee on June 11. (Al-Wafd, May 14).
At the May 18 trial, a representative of the Lawyers' Syndicate requested that the court disqualify Deeb from defending Azzam, claiming that Azzam had acted against the Egyptian national interests. The court summarily denied the request, insisting that every individual had a right to legal representation. As well, the prosecution added the indictment that Azzam was a Mossad agent intending to harm the interests of Egypt, which allowed the prosecution to request the death penalty.
In August 1997 Azzam was convicted of helping to send news about Egyptian industrial cities to Mossad, and sentenced to fifteen years jail at hard labor; his co-defendant Ismail was sentenced to twenty-five years. Both Azzam and the Israeli government denied the charges.
Freed by Egypt
After Shabak (Israel's internal security agency) head Avi Dichter had negotiated with his Egyptian counterparts, Azzam was released on December 5, 2004. In return, Israel freed six jailed Egyptian students who were accused of planning terrorist attacks.
Azzam expressed gratitude to the government of Israel, and to Ariel Sharon in particular, telling him "I love you very much," Azzam said. "I told my brothers that if I don't get out when Ariel Sharon is prime minister, I never will. I am lucky to have been born in Israel and I'm proud of it."
An official Israeli government press release stated,
- Prime Minister Sharon reiterated his deep gratitude to Egyptian President Mubarak and to Gen. Soliman and emphasized that this humanitarian gesture would make an additional contribution towards the deepening of bilateral relations.
- The Arrest and Trial of Azzam Azzam Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 22 May 1997, accessed 7 April 2007
- Egyptians Release Israeli 'Spy' BBC News, 5 December 2004, accessed 7 April 2004
- Aluf Benn and Gideon Alon Egypt frees Azzam Azzam after 8 years Haaretz, 6 December 2005, accessed 7 April 2007
- Release of Azzam Azzam, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 5 December 2004