Palestinian American released from Israeli detention

Hala Kasim Salameh’s family said she had a permit to enter Jerusalem but was arrested by Israeli authorities.

A view of the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock
Hala Kasim Salameh's family say she was trying to enter Jerusalem from the occupied West Bank when she was arrested by Israeli forces on Friday [File: Oded Balilty/AP Photo]

A 22-year-old Palestinian American woman has been released after having been detained by Israeli authorities since Friday for attempting to enter Jerusalem from Ramallah, her family said.

Prior to her release, Hala Kasim Salameh’s family said they had very little information about her condition and that she had only been able to make one phone call to her family since she was arrested.

“She told us, ‘Hey, I’m being detained. I’m with [Israeli army] soldiers right now as we speak,'” her sister, Ahlam Salameh, told Al Jazeera from St Louis, Missouri, where Salameh lives in the United States.

Ahlam was told that Salameh was being held in Neve Tirtza prison in Ramla, and had been denied any further communication with them.

However, after a hearing held on Monday, Salameh was released.

Along with other members of her family travelling with her, Salameh had been granted a permit to enter Jerusalem a few days prior to her trip.

The travelling party was planning to return home to St Louis on Wednesday.

Although Salameh is an American citizen, she was born in the occupied West Bank, meaning that she had to apply for a special travel permit to enter Jerusalem, unlike other Americans.

The family says their daughter had attempted to enter Jerusalem through a checkpoint with family members, including her mother, but was denied entry without being given an explanation. She later attempted to enter Jerusalem without her family. That is when, according to Salameh’s sister Ahlam, her family was unable to reach her.

“My sister’s dream was to enter Jerusalem. She believed it was her right as a Palestinian,” Ahlam told Al Jazeera. “They had no reason to reject her entry. She had the proper identification and documents, and we are being kept completely in the dark about what will happen to her.”

Israeli authorities did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

Speaking prior to the news of Ahlam’s planned release, Neveen Ayesh, a representative of American Muslims for Palestine – Missouri, said that Salameh had been in a vulnerable situation.

“It concerns me that they are able to hold her without charges and that her American status is disqualified to Israeli authorities,” Ayesh said.

In response, a spokesperson for the US state department said that they were aware of reports of Salameh’s detention.

“The US Department of State and our embassies and consulates abroad have no greater priority than the safety and security of US citizens overseas,” the spokesperson said. “When a US citizen is detained overseas, the department works to provide all appropriate assistance. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment.”

Salameh had faced a possible military trial if she had been charged.

Under a dual legal system that operates in the occupied West Bank, Palestinians facing Israel’s military courts – run by Israeli soldiers and officers – receive far harsher sentences than a Jewish settler who commits the same crime and is tried in a civil court. Rights groups estimate that Palestinians face a more than 99 percent conviction rate.

“We’re so far away and we keep hearing conflicting things about what will happen to her,” Ahlam said while waiting for Salameh’s release.

“Although I am fearful for my sister’s safety, I am even more so angry. Israel detained my sister to make an example of us Palestinians. All I want to do right now is to speak with her and make sure she’s OK.”

Source: Al Jazeera