Honenu – Redeeming Prisoners Daily
By Roberta Feinstein Bienenfeld
There’s a knock on the door.
It is the police. You know you are innocent.
So where do you turn?
If you are lucky enough to be living in Israel, Honenu, is the best address. And it has been the address for over 15,000 people over the past ten years. That is more than 1,000 people a year who have been helped by Honenu!
Honenu, the civil rights organization that provides legal aid to soldiers and civilians in distress, was officially founded as a non-profit organization in 2002 by Shmuel Meidad (Zangi). Zangi, who is also Honenu’s director, is busy twenty-four hours a day trying to help Jews. Since the age of 17, Zangi, has been a Jewish activist.
In 1984, a year after he was married, a number of his close friends were arrested as part of the so-called “Jewish Underground.” Together with others, he worked to ensure that they were treated properly. Eventually they were released. Since then, working to free political prisoners has continued to be Zangi’s life work until today.
How did Honenu come about? “I felt that there was great persecution of Jews,” says Zangi, “and this came from the establishment as a result of the lobbying activities of well-funded anti-Semitic organizations from abroad, mainly Europe. These organizations hurt the State of Israel by working to lower soldier morale. Soldiers are faced with a choice of either shooting at potential terrorists and going to prison, or being killed. In order to fight this propaganda war and support our soldiers, Honenu was founded.
“Soldiers sent to defend the State are arrested and imprisoned for defending themselves. This is both unfair and immoral,” Zangi continues. “This is happening every day.”
During the struggle for Gush Katif, activists were given Honenu’s number and were told to call if they were arrested. Approximately 6,000 cases were processed by Honenu during that period.
Nowadays, the organization has a 24-hour-a-day hotline. A lawyer is immediately sent to the prisoner, and speaks with him either in person (if possible) or by phone. The lawyer’s initial job is to instruct the prisoner of his rights.
Honenu has one lawyer on staff, one on retainer, and dozens of top lawyers who work with the organization for a very significant reduction from their normal fee. Says Zangi, “We do not ask for pro bono, because it doesn’t work well in criminal cases.”
Honenu’s funds come mainly from the “little people,” mostly from those who have been arrested and their families and friends. “We have very few large donors,” Zangi points out. “And we need approximately $33,000 a month.”
After ten years of constant work, says Zangi, “I am very happy to be helping so many Jews. I get emotionally involved in every case. I am satisfied with our organizational structure, but I wish that we could financially reach the strength of the other organizations which work against us and which are attacking the Jewish nation. But I am thankful that G-d has helped me to help so many Jews. Thousands of people have been saved from hundreds of years of jail time due to the advice they received about their rights from Honenu.”
Regarding the future, Zangi says, “I would like to see a future where there is no need for an organization like Honenu to exist at all.”