WADSWORTH - A University of Akron professor jailed for more than three weeks in Israel said he was wrongfully accused of spying.
"They never mentioned spying for who or of what," Ghazi Falah said. "It's one thing if they held me for a few hours or even a few days, but not this long."
During his imprisonment, Falah said, he was routinely interrogated for hours while blindfolded and handcuffed.
"I want a public apology from the state of Israel," Falah said. "My academic freedom was violated by this arrest."
Falah, 53, is a tenured professor at the University of Akron and an expert on the border dispute between Israel and its neighbors. He was arrested on July 8 after taking photographs of a cave near the Israel-Lebanon border.
He was released July 30 and spent a few more days in Israel and Toronto before returning to Wadsworth on Friday night.
Falah, who holds dual Canadian and Israeli citizenship, went to Israel because his mother, who lives in Haifa, was diagnosed with a benign tumor.
"She was hospitalized before the surgery for 13 days," he said. "I had to be the one to explain to her because they thought she trusted me."
Falah was arrested July 8, the day before his mother's surgery.
At the time of Falah's release, an Israeli police spokesman declined to comment on the conditions of Falah's detention, saying only that "based on the investigation and the evidence we had, he was released," according to the Associated Press.
Falah described his prison cell as "tiny" with concrete-gray, windowless walls. The only furnishings were a toilet and a bed with a 2-inch-high mattress.
"When you're in that cell, you don't know if it is day or night," he said.
Falah was imprisoned several days before the fighting broke out between Israeli and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon. He said he didn't know about the conflict until seven days into his arrest.
During his imprisonment, Falah said, he was routinely blindfolded and handcuffed while interrogated by Israeli officers. The sessions usually began at 8 p.m. and finished about 6 the next morning, he said.
The longest interrogation session lasted 60 hours, he said.
"They kept asking me the same questions over and over again," Falah said. "I was just allowed to get up if I wanted to go to the restroom or five to 10 minutes to eat."
Falah said he was also the victim of sexual and racial harassment, but declined to be specific.
Israeli authorities denied Falah access to an attorney for 18 days after his arrest, Falah said. He said the only evidence offered in court to support the spying charge were two trips he had taken to Beirut, Lebanon, and Tehran, Iran.
Falah said he traveled to both of those cities for academic purposes.
Falah dismissed Israeli claims of "secret evidence."
"If it was real secret evidence, I'd still be in Israel right now," he said.
Falah's wife, Jamila, who didn't accompany her husband to Israel, said she wasn't worried until she stopped getting phone calls from him.
"We never thought this was going to happen," she said. "So many people respect him for his work."
Word about Falah's case spread across the globe in countries such as the United States, Israel, Canada, England and even Ireland.
"At one point, we were doing 40 to 50 interviews a day," said Naail, Falah's son.
A petition drive demanding Falah's release was organized by Colin Flint, a geography professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Falah said he was investigating what legal action -- if any -- he could take against the Israeli government.
Aman Ali can be reached at 330-996-3495 or firstname.lastname@example.org