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No books, news, justice: Freed French-Palestinian lawyer blasts 'arbitrary' Israeli detention

Ahmad Gharabli, AFP | Salah Hamuri embraces his mother, Denise, in their home in the village of Dahyat al-Barid near Jerusalem in the West Bank on September 30, 2018.

A day after his release from Israeli detention without charges, French-Palestinian lawyer Salah Hamouri recounted the abuses suffered by Palestinians under Israeli administrative detention in an interview with FRANCE 24 Monday.

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“It’s a collective isolation of Palestinian political prisoners, it’s a slow brainwashing by the Israelis…by denying them [the prisoners] access to books, to the TV, to the news, and with no chance to continue their education. It’s really a system, a programme to undermine, to break the morale of the political prisoners,” explained Hamouri in an interview [in French] from Jerusalem.

The 33-year-old French-Palestinian lawyer was released Sunday after being held for 13 months without charges or a trial under what Israel calls “administrative detention”. Human rights groups have criticised the practice, which enables detainees to be held without informing their lawyers or families about the reasons for their incarceration.

“To date, I don’t know why I was in detention for 13 months. It was a file that neither I, nor my lawyer, had access to. It was a file made by Israeli intelligence that said that I was a danger to Israel. But there were no charges… it was totally arbitrary,” said Hamouri.

Born in East Jerusalem to a French mother and Palestinian father, Hamouri was unable to contact his wife or son during his detention. His wife, who lives in France, was denied an Israeli visa request.

On Sunday, Hamouri was transported from his prison cell in Israel’s southern Negev desert to the police headquarters in Jerusalem from where he was released.

“The conditions in jail are very difficult,” said Hamouri, describing the plight of thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. “Of course there are female prisoners, children and the elderly in prison, some who have been in jail for nearly 35 years. They are ill, there is medical negligence as well.”

Two justice systems, zero hopes for peace

Under Israeli administrative detention, prisoners can be held without trial for renewable six-month periods.

Israel says administrative detention is intended to allow authorities to hold suspects while continuing to gather evidence, with the aim of preventing attacks during the detention period.

But rights groups accuse Israel of abusing the measure, which they say,violates the Geneva Conventions that prohibit an occupying power from detaining members of the occupied population outside the occupied territory.

“This law exists since the British mandate [period] in 1945. It’s absolutely unacceptable in the 21st century, in a democratic country,” explained Ofer Bronchtein, head of the International Centre for Peace in the Middle East. “I can understand the law if an emergency situation exists, but not for 75 years.”

Salah Hamouri released from Israeli jail

Israel’s administrative detention, Bronchtein noted, is also discriminatory, which in turn is not conducive for efforts to jumpstart the stalled Middle East peace process. “There are two justice systems in Israel,” he explained. “The Jewish extremists are being judged by a normal court in Israel, while Palestinian militants are being judged by a military court in Israel, which allows them to put the people in jail for many years, sometimes for administrative reasons, which does not happen in the cases of Jewish terrorists or Jewish extremists. This situation creates more humiliation, more hatred, more motives for revenge. It doesn’t help, in any way, Israeli democracy, nor the Israeli judicial system, nor hopes for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

In and out of Israeli jails

Israeli authorities have in the past accused Hamouri of belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which Israel, the US and the EU list as a terror group.

Hamouri however denies the allegation.

According to the Palestinian prisoner support NGO, Addameer – which employed him as a field researcher – Hamouri was first arrested and placed under administrative detention in 2001, aged 16.

He was interned without trial for another five-month period in 2004, according to Addameer, then arrested again a year later.

Following the 2005 arrest, Hamouri was tried and convicted by an Israeli court on charges of plotting to assassinate Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas political party.

Hamouri was released in December 2011 as part of a swap of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for Gilad Shalit, a soldier held captive in Gaza for more than five years.

He has always maintained his innocence.

Pressure on me to quit Palestine’

Hamouri’s release followed several discussions between French President Emmanuel Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to the French foreign ministry.

Under the terms of his release, Hamouri said he is forbidden to participate in demonstrations, protests or celebrations or raise the Palestinian flag for a 30-day period. He was also required to post a bond of 3,000 shekels (€710).

When asked about his plans following his release, Hamouri said he planned to “continue my struggle to rejoin my family, my son and my wife, to bring her to Jerusalem because there’s also pressure on me to quit Palestine. I want to continue my studies, to finish my Masters in human rights and continue my work as a lawyer.”

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