One year of arbitrary detention for French-Palestinian lawyer Salah Hamouri

French-Palestinian lawyer and human rights defender Salah Hamouri has been imprisoned by Israel without charge or trial for over a year. On 23 August 2017, Hamouri’s home in Kufr Aqab, Jerusalem was attacked and invaded by Israeli occupation forces – only three days after he had taken and passed the Palestinian bar examination to become a lawyer. He was ordered to administrative detention – imprisonment without charge and without trial – that has since been renewed.

Hamouri, a former Palestinian political prisoner and a staff researcher at Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, has seen his words echo around the world when speaking about Palestinian prisoners everywhere from a university tour in Belgium for Israeli Apartheid Week to the World Social Forum in Brazil. His administrative detention was renewed once more – the third consecutive order – on 27 July 2018 at the order of far-right, racist Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Dozens of French cities and towns and over 1,700 elected officials have joined the call for the release of Hamouri, who is a French citizen as well as a Palestinian Jerusalemite. However, despite weak requests for Hamouri’s release, the French government inaugurated the “France-Israel season” with a showy joint celebration featuring President Emmanuel Macron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hamouri’s support campaign issued a press release on the anniversary of his imprisonment (translated below from the original French):

A very sad and violent anniversary…

One year ago, on 23 August 2017, our compatriot Salah Hamouri was arrested in the middle of the night, at his home in Jerusalem, by the Israei army. Three days before, he was sworn in before the Ramallah Bar; he became a lawyer and could finally put his energy into defending the human rights of his fellow Palestinians in a professional and formal manner.

At first, a court decideed to release him under conditions. This decision was rescinded on the order of the Israeli Defense Minister, ultra-extremist Avigdor Lieberman, who personally signed an order for the administrative detention of Salah Hamouri for 6 months, renewable. This order was issued without charge, without any evidence of guilt, without any right to defense, without a trial. Nothing of the sort. Only an arbitrary political decision.

After 6 months of arbitrary detention, another order was given: 4 more months of administrative detention. Then after these 4 months: it will be 3 more months. Thus, for a year, our compatriot is in prison for nothing – at least nothing recognized by justicce and human rights.

The purpose of this incredible and appalling decision is perfectly clear. After his pregnant wife was expelled from Israel in January 2016 without justification, and while his child was born away from him, the Israeli occupation aimed to make life totally impossible for this couple and this family so that it cracks and Salah Hamouri decides to leave his land and hometown, Jerusalem.

Naturally, a huge support committee has been formed, bringing together thousands and thousands of people from all horizons, united in the same interests of justice. We salute them and thank them once more on this sad and violent day for Salah and his family, his wife and young child.

This mobilization was not in vain as the President of the Republic, on three occasions, asked Benjamin Netanyahu for the release of Salah Hamouri, due to the abusive and arbitrary nature of this detention. We welcome this action. It remains the case that Salah is still in prison and the release date at the end of September can be illusory and followed by a new period of administrative detention.

We continue our efforts of organizing and demanding. A first question arises: how is it possible that the request of the French President did not have the slightest result? Beyond Salah Hamouri, it is France that the State of Israel humiliates and shames.

For other French people incarcerated or held hostage abroad, things went very differently: requests from France were heard and respected. The evidence is therefore necessary to pursue the reasons for this. In this case, the request of France has not been accompanied by the means to ensure its success. Therefore, what we are demanding strongly today is for meaningful, powerful political pressure to be exercised on the Israeli state.

Mr. President, not only must our country be respected, but it must demand the liberation of our compatriot. It must also use the means that will be respected rather than unjustifiably refused, as is the case today.

The release of Salah Hamouri is not a favor granted by Israel to France but the application of a fundamental right of Salah Hamouri, recognized by the United Nations itself. Mr. President, if France does not have enough international influence to release a victim of arbitrary detention in Israel while incarcerated, it is your duty to do everything possible – absolutely everything – so that Salah Hamouri will finally leave prison at the end of September 2018, after the end of his third successive period of administrative detention. He must also be allowed visits with his family in France without delay, that is to say, without the additional pitfalls that the Israeli authorities are capable of creating to prevent the visit of his wife and child, who will have not seen him for 16 months by the end of September.

We call on the Support Committee, with all of its members and supporters, to support these demands with tenfold strength and bring them to the attention of those responsible in the media. They have the duty to accurately and honestly inform our compatriots instead of silencing the arbitrary detention of Salah Hamouri, as they have been for a year. This creates a second prison for Salah, made of a wall of silence. It is a question of ethics and responsibility. We call on all elected officials who have already mobilized to continue their interventions with the government.

This anniversary is a special day, marking a year of violence against French citizens – Salah Hamouri and his family – by a foreign power, Israel. It is a sad day for France. A striking day which reveals the scorn held by another country still considered a friend, the State of Israel. It is a day of healthy anger for all women and men committed to law and justice. It must not be a sad day only: this day must also mark the strengthened will of all, starting with you, Mr. President of the Republic, the highest authority of the State, to win this fair fight.

The Support Committee
Paris, 23 August 2018

Hamouri’s wife and the chair of the Support Committee, Elsa Lefort, spoke with Middle East Eye for an extended interview on the anniversary. Her interview follows, translated from the original French:

Middle East Eye: First of all, how are you and your child? And how is your husband, Salah Hamouri? Have you been able to visit him? What are his conditions of detention?

Elsa Lefort: We are all well and stay strong, even if the days are long and we hope to be reunited as soon as possible.

I have never been able to visit my husband since the beginning of his detention. As I have been barred from entry into Israeli territory, my husband’s basic right to be visited by his wife and son has been denied. We have not seen each other since his last stay in France in June 2017. He was supposed to come see us on 31 August but was arrested a few days before.

He is incarcerated in the [Ketziot] prison in the Negev desert only with other Palestinian political prisoners. Conditions of detention are difficult, some cells are simple tents, others are prefabricated and some are buildings. The summer was particularly hot and difficult.

Salah is entitled to a 45-minute family visit once a month that takes place behind a window through a handset. The Consul General of France in Tel Aviv also visits him once a month.

MEE: Salah Hamouri was detained for seven years (2005-2011) and then arrested again in August 2017, three days after passing the bar exam. The Israeli authorities justify the new detention, accusing him of “returning to work in the terrorist organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)”. What do you think of this justification?

EL: These accusations are unfounded and ridiculous. If the Israeli authorities really had something to accuse my husband of, he would not be in administrative detention, they would have issued a charge against him.

His administrative detention (without charge or trial) is only part of the Israeli relentlessness towards my husband for several years. After stealing seven years of his life through three detentions, they blocked his right to study, go to the West Bank and start a family.

My expulsion from Israel, the impossibility of giving birth to our son in Jerusalem and this detention are the pieces of the same puzzle: everything is done to compel my husband to leave his native Palestine.

MEE: What steps have you taken with the French authorities, and to what result?

EL: As soon as my husband was arrested, we first alerted consular services in Jerusalem to ensure his physical integrity. Then we contacted the Élysée. It took almost two months for us to get an answer from them.

After many messages and with the active support of many citizens, elected representatives, unions and political parties, the Elysée finally answered us and we were able to meet the diplomatic officials several times.

I have no doubt that the requests have been made, but it is clear that one year after his arrest, my husband is still locked up, despite the requests of the President of the French Republic. I sincerely doubt that sufficient means have been put on the table to obtain his release.

From the first exchanges, the arbitrary aspect of his detention was established and the need for action by France to release our compatriot was recognized. This has obviously been done several times at the Israeli embassy in France and finally, on December 10, 2017, Emmanuel Macron himself asked Benyamin Netanyahu to release Salah. He renewed this request during their last meeting in Paris on June 5th.

If today is a sad anniversary for Salah, his relatives and supporters, it is also a sad anniversary for French diplomacy that is humiliated and shamed by Israel.

MEE: Can we say that France’s reaction to your husband is symptomatic of its position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more broadly?

EL: Yes, this perfectly illustrates the position of France for several decades. Israel is killing, colonizing, annexing, imprisoning, expelling, legalizing apartheid, destroying by systematically violating all the international conventions and treaties of which it is a signatory, and the international community remains silent.

What reaction to assassinations, bombings in Gaza, arrests of children, women and men? A deafening silence…

As long as this state enjoys such impunity, there is no reason for it to change its policy and its behavior, hence the importance of strong diplomacy in forcing Israel to respect the rights of Palestinians.

MEE: What about your own ban on traveling to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories? Many Palestinian couples are facing the same problem, is this a deliberate policy? If so, for what purpose?

EL: I was banned from entering Israeli territory on January 5, 2016, while my visa was valid until October 12, 2016. The reason given was the “security of the State of Israel”. Security in the name of which, while I was six months pregnant, I was placed three days in detention then expelled to France while my husband, my job and my life were in Jerusalem.

Many couples called “mixed” live through this kind of tearing apart. Visa applications from foreign spouses are particularly difficult to obtain and very expensive, which often forces families to choose between forced separation, exile or illegality.

Israel clearly uses foreign spouses of Palestinians to force them into exile. There is such a proportion of mixed couples who find it difficult to reside in or even simply visit Palestine that one can not think it is a coincidence.

It is indeed a deliberate policy aimed at emptying Palestine of its inhabitants.

MEE: What do you think of the media treatment of this case in France?

EL: As often when it comes to Israel, mainstream media are shy or even totally silent. It is sad, we all have in mind the media campaigns for other French prisoners abroad, the latest being the one for [the French journalist detained in Turkey] Loup Bureau, in 2017.

Why does Salah not benefit from such a spotlight? Is he not French enough or is he incarcerated in the wrong country? I think it’s a bit of both, the media are often afraid to address the injustices committed by Israel due to the many pressures. They prefer self-censorship.

The media have the duty to inform our compatriots fairly and honestly instead of silencing the arbitrary detention of Salah Hamouri, as has been the case for a year, thus creating a second prison for Salah, made of a wall of silence.

It’s a question of ethics and responsibility. Fortunately, since the beginning of Salah’s detention, we have been able to count on media outlets that are not afraid to face these pressure groups and who work to support freedom of expression.

MEE: How is his support committee working and mobilizing for his release? Is it as strong as during her previous arrest? Has he received the support of public figures, like the actor François Cluzet last time?

EL: The support committee brings together women and men from different backgrounds, citizens, elected representatives, activists, political activists, lawyers, journalists, researchers, intellectuals, artists …

It was faster to set up than during the first incarceration and it brings together people of all political stripes (except extreme right), enough to prove that the question of the detention of a compatriot arbitrarily incarcerated is not a small problem or a minor cause reserved for a small circle, but that every person attached to justice can and must support his rights.

The committee helped to impel the action of French diplomacy and it was not an easy task. Without the mobilization of all, the fate of Salah would be totally unknown. Even the working group of the UN Human Rights Council has released a report about Salah, stating that he should be released immediately.

During the previous incarceration, there were not as many people, organizations, associations and even less the President of the Republic who had demanded the release of Salah. It is a huge step that we have taken, even if we all regret that to date, France’s demands are not more pressing.

MEE: Salah Hamouri is a human rights activist who defends in particular the cause of Palestinian prisoners. How is this struggle important?

EL: The fate of the Palestinian political prisoners, even if it begins to be mentioned internationally, especially with cases of emblematic prisoners, as, recently, the very young Ahed Tamimi, still remains rather unknown. There are currently 5,820 children, women and men in Israeli jails, of whom 446 are in administrative detention like Salah, jailed without charge or trial.

Since 1967, there are an estimated 800,000 Palestinians who have been held inside the jails of the occupier. The entire Palestinian society is affected, each family has the pain of having one or more incarcerated members.

The conditions of detention are very difficult, the methods of interrogation are inhuman . Incarceration of a family member is not only a form of suffering and collective punishment, but it is also used to pressure families. For example, to obtain access to visits, some families are forced to give their land to the occupier …

Detention is a major issue in Palestinian society, especially that of minors, who are traumatized for years to come.

After seven years in detention, Salah wanted to become a lawyer and specialize in international law to tirelessly advocate for the cause of all those who know the coldness of the occupier’s prisons. No matter the pressures, this fight will always inspire him.

MEE: Do you hope for his upcoming release?

EL: We always stay hopeful. Salah’s current sentence runs until September 30th. We hope that it will not be renewed once again. The punishment of administrative detainees is a real psychological torture for themselves and their loved ones. There is no guarantee that he will be released.

I remain convinced that only a strong diplomatic action by France will be able to put an end to this injustice as soon as possible. On July 27, 2018, Israel released a political prisoner of Turkish nationality, at the request of Donald Trump. This is the proof that all these political detentions can have a political outcome, the only thing is to apply the necessary presusure and means.