Ramallah, Occupied West Bank – Jerusalem-born-and-bred Palestinian lawyer and human rights advocate Salah Hammouri is fighting imminent deportation from his homeland.
The move to expel Hammouri comes after Israeli authorities accused him of a “breach of allegiance to the State of Israel” and described him as a “security threat”.
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“I’m living in limbo because I can’t plan the next 24-hours of my life. I’m unable to leave Ramallah because I’m scared of being arrested if I cross the checkpoints into Israel,” said Hammouri, who is also a French citizen.
“I can’t visit my home and family in Jerusalem, and I can’t leave the country to travel to France to see my wife and children because I will not be allowed to return,” he told Al Jazeera.
Hammouri’s pregnant French wife Elsa was refused entry to Israel in 2016 despite having a work visa.
“She was held at Ben Gurion Airport for several days and then deported to France,” said Hammouri. “I used to leave the country every three months to go and see my wife and two children, but now that is impossible.”
‘Out of the question’
On October 18, Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked officially notified the 36-year-old Palestinian-French human rights defender of the revocation of his permanent residency status in Jerusalem for a “breach of allegiance to the State of Israel”.
The decision had already been approved by Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and Minister of Justice Gideon Saar.
Last year, Hammouri was officially notified of the interior ministry’s intention to revoke his Jerusalem residency. He was told he could challenge the move in a written submission within 30 days.
“Deportation and leaving my home country are out of the question. Israel has no right to deport Palestinians from their homeland nor to deny us the right to live in our own cities,” Hammouri said.
Thousands of Palestinians have been living “illegally” in Jerusalem and in Israel because Israeli authorities refuse to grant residency rights to West Bank Palestinians or foreigners married to Jerusalemites, unlike Israeli Jews whose spouses are automatically granted residency as well as citizenship.
Israel’s denial of residency rights to Palestinian spouses is based on its Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, allegedly on security grounds, but critics argue it is part of a policy to alter occupied East Jerusalem’s demographics in favour of a Jewish majority.
“Consequently, to this day, thousands of Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens or residents must live in their home for years on end with nothing but military stay permits and no social security rights,” Israeli rights group Hamoked has noted.
“In a minority of the cases, those who applied for family unification and received initial approval before the enactment of the law receive temporary status in Israel, which affords them social security rights but gives them no sense of stability in their own homes.”
‘Breach of allegiance’
International humanitarian law explicitly forbids an occupying power from demanding allegiance from the occupied population, as stated in Article 45 Hague Regulations and Article 68(3) of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Israel’s policy of revoking Palestinian residency rights in occupied East Jerusalem further violates Article 43 of the Hague Regulations and Article 64 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which stipulates that the occupying power may not act as a sovereign legislator or extend its own legislation over the occupied territory.
According to a 2018 report from Human Rights Watch, at least 14,595 Palestinians from Jerusalem have had their residency revoked by Israel since 1967, the majority on the basis of having a “centre of life” outside of Jerusalem.
The revocation of Hammouri’s residency, however, is the first based on a “breach of allegiance to Israel”.
He said the steps being taken against him appear to be politically motivated because of his human rights work and “loud opposition” to the Israeli occupation. He was first arrested as a teenager for painting political graffiti on a wall.
Hammouri was later sentenced to 10 years in jail for allegedly being involved, together with another Palestinian, in the beginnings of a conspiracy to attack a rabbi from the Israeli Shas political party – a charge his lawyer said was unfair because he actually stopped the plan from going forward.
He was given the option of being deported to France, where his mother and wife are from, or serving jail time; he refused to be deported from his homeland.
“I served seven years of that sentence before being released in a prisoner exchange deal in 2011 between Israel and the Palestinians,” said Hammouri.
“Thereafter, I was arrested a number of times and placed in administrative detention for a combined period of about two years with no charges brought against me,” he added, referring to Israel’s policy of detaining Palestinians without trial or charge for indefinite periods.
His Israeli lawyer, Lea Tsemel, said the appeal against the deportation could take months and that any court decision would be influenced by the political situation on the ground.
She also acknowledged there was a chance they would not win the appeal but that would not deter them from continuing to fight for justice however long it took.
“We have various arguments we intend to use in regard to Hammouri’s actions and his non-actions,” Tsemel told Al Jazeera.
Israel annexed occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 – a move that is not recognised internationally and stands in contravention of international law.
“Palestinians had no choice in the annexation,” said Tsemel. “Only later did the Israeli court amend legislation to enable the interior ministry to deny Palestinians residency on the basis of not swearing loyalty to the state or for committing an offence.
“We are arguing that East Jerusalem residents are not obliged to have allegiance to a state they are not citizens of and that the occupation was imposed on them. Furthermore, under international law people under occupation are not obliged to be loyal to the occupying power and also have the right to fight the occupation.”
Jerusalem family reunification
The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law is renewed every six months but, on July 6, it expired after the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, voted down the bill to extend it.
“Within weeks it became clear that the minister of interior had instructed ministry clerks not to process requests for citizenship or permanent status filed by those to whom the law had until recently applied – a population of more than 13,000 people despite human rights organisations’ repeated communications to the ministry,” Hamoked reported.
Hamoked, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), and Physicians for Human Rights petitioned the high court to compel the interior ministry to process reunification requests.
“There have been no hearings so far – we have asked for the case to be heard in the high court rather than the district court, and are waiting for a decision on this request,” Hamoked Executive Director Jessica Montell told Al Jazeera.
“The state has to submit its response to the petition but requested an extension.”
Hammouri was one of six Palestinian rights activists whose phones were infected with Pegasus spyware marketed by the Israeli tech company NSO, according to an extensive investigation carried out by Frontline Defenders, in a joint technical report together with Amnesty International and the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which independently confirmed the results.
Milena Ansari from the Addameer Palestinian rights group told Al Jazeera that Israel had been trying to deport Hammouri for years.
“There is no evidence against him regarding his recent detentions and the Israelis have ignored the human rights work he has been involved in for years as a qualified lawyer,” Ansari said.
Hammouri acknowledged his life would be easier if he left Palestine to live in France with his family, but he said that is not an option.
“For me it’s not a question of leaving. I will exhaust every avenue to continue living in Jerusalem, which is my right,” he said.
“I was born in Jerusalem, I grew up in Jerusalem, my memories are there, my life is there. It’s my right to live in Jerusalem and I will continue to fight for this right although I know the road ahead is long and hard.”