Palestinian circus performer jailed ‘for no reason’

Petition calling for the release of Mohammed Faisal Abu Sakha has garnered thousands of signatures.

Mohammed Faisal Abu Sakha
Circus performers and students said they were 'outraged and sad' about Abu Sakha's ongoing detention [Photo courtesy Palestinian Circus School]

Late last year, Mohammed Faisal Abu Sakha was stopped by Israeli security forces and arrested while on his way to work. For reasons that have not been made public, the 23-year-old Palestinian Circus School trainer and performer was swiftly sentenced to administrative detention – a controversial practice that allows Israel to hold Palestinian prisoners without charge or trial for renewable six-month periods.

Abu Sakha’s administrative detention officially begins on Tuesday. In the meantime, his friends and colleagues have been working behind the scenes to help secure his release, with an online petition garnering thousands of signatures. Asked why Abu Sakha was being held, a spokesperson for the Israeli army told Al Jazeera that he was arrested “due to the danger he posed to the security of the region”, noting the case was based on “confidential information”.

A manager of the circus school, who agreed to an interview on condition of anonymity for fear of possible repercussions, spoke with Al Jazeera about Abu Sakha’s case.

INTERACTIVE: Freedom denied

Al Jazeera: What were the circumstances of Mohammed Faisal Abu Sakha’s detention, and on what grounds is he being held?

Palestinian Circus School: Mohammed was detained on December 14 at Zaatara checkpoint, close to Nablus. It was in the afternoon, while he was on his way from his parents’ home in Jenin to Birzeit, where he works.

The local public transportation van in which he was travelling was stopped by Israeli soldiers. He was asked to present his ID to the soldiers, and was then asked to step out of the van. We were informed of his detention by the driver of the van immediately after his arrest. 

One of his students, who suffers from cerebral palsy and is taught privately by Mohammed, is devastated, and now risks losing out on his circus classes.


Through a lawyer with the Palestinian prisoners’ affairs ministry, we learned that he was taken to a military detention centre and then transferred to another one.

He is being held for no reason. At the end of December, we found out that he was being held under administrative detention based on a “secret file”.

Al Jazeera: Have you been able to communicate with him from jail, and has he said anything about the conditions he’s facing?

PCS: No, nobody has been able to have direct contact with him – not even his parents.

Administrative detainees are in many cases deprived of their rights to communicate with anybody and to receive family visits.

Al Jazeera: Considering that hundreds of Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention, are you optimistic that Israel will be responsive to your pleas in this case?

PCS: Many Palestinians are detained arbitrarily in administrative detention and many international institutions have demanded the release of all administrative detainees, but little to no response has been given to this.

We do believe it is important to keep the pressure on Israel to publicly raise awareness about the illegal use of administrative detention, and we are convinced that we are 100 percent right in Mohammed’s case.

We want the Israelis to know that we won’t let this happen with our consent. We do believe pressure is our ultimate tool to change the current state of affairs.

We also show our deep solidarity with Mohammed this way, and show that people around the world care about him and about all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Al Jazeera: What kind of response have you been getting to your petition?

PCS: So far, more than 8,000 people have signed the petition on Avaaz.

Abu Sakha teaches an average of 150 circus students a week [Photo courtesy Palestinian Circus School]
Abu Sakha teaches an average of 150 circus students a week [Photo courtesy Palestinian Circus School]

Many people are sending direct letters to the spokesperson for the Israeli occupation forces. People all around the world are appalled by the detention of Mohammed. 

Many people support us and have started campaigns in their own cities and countries.

Al Jazeera: How has the circus been coping in Mohammed’s absence, and how have members responded to his detention?

PCS: The entire team and many students of the circus school are outraged and sad at the arbitrary detention of Mohammed. He was supposed to deliver an intensive circus workshop at the end of December. One of his students, who suffers from cerebral palsy and is taught privately by Mohammed, is devastated, and now risks losing out on his circus classes, which are a very important factor in his mental and physical improvement.

The entire team is doing what is in its reach to free Mohammed. The circus has a show in which he is a main performer; we have performed it already 40 times for around 15,000 children, and we plan to perform it again. But the show is now under a lot of pressure.

Mohammed teaches an average of 150 students on a weekly basis, but these classes will now have to start without their trainer.

Source: Al Jazeera