PA court acquits al-Araj’s comrades: “A correct decision at an incorrect time”

The Palestinian Authority’s Ramallah Magistrate’s Court dismissed charges against five Palestinian young men, comrades of Basil al-Araj, the assassinated Palestinian youth leader, in a hearing on Thursday, 19 October.

The six, al-Araj, Haitham Siyaj, Mohammed Salameen, Seif al-Idrissi, Mohammed Harb and Ali Dar al-Sheikh, were seized by PA security forces in April 2016; PA president Mahmoud Abbas touted their arrest as an example of the value of PA security coordination provides to the Israeli occupation. They were released after an open hunger strike and growing Palestinian popular demands for their freedom; the PA prosecution accused them of possession of unlicensed weapons.

Following their release, four of the six – Siyaj, Harb, Salameen and al-Idrissi – were seized by Israeli occupation forces; all four are currently held without charge or trial under Israeli administrative detention. They failed to arrest al-Araj; instead, on 6 March 2017, Israeli occupation forces stormed the Ramallah home where he was staying, shooting him down as he resisted.

Only one week after his assassination, al-Araj and his comrades’ case was scheduled for a hearing in the PA court, prompting mass anger and clashes outside the court when PA security forces attacked peaceful demonstrators demanding an end to the case. Charges against al-Araj were dropped due to his death; they were delayed several times against the others due to their ongoing imprisonment by the Israeli occupation without charge or trial.

A Palestinian commission set up to investigate the events outside the court when PA security forces attacked, beat and injured demonstrators urged that the charges be dropped against all six and the case closed.

Palestinian lawyer Muhannad Karajah, who represents the youth, said in Quds News that “the charges were dropped because they did not commit any crime…the case has ended with a clear ruling confirming the acquittal of the five young people from any charges brought by the prosecution.”

Al-Araj’s mother spoke with Wattan TV after the verdict, saying “If they are acquitted now or not, what is the benefit of that now? After Basil died, what is left?” Speaking to her son, she said, “Are you now innocent, so you can go and come out of the grave and get them out of the prisons of the occupation?”

Al-Araj’s father said that “This is a correct decision at an incorrect time, as it has come after a lengthy procrastination. This decision was made after these youth have paid a very high price on their lives and their freedom.”