Israel extends detention of Palestinian French rights lawyer

Salah Hammouri, 37, has been held by Israel without trial or charge since March based on ‘secret evidence’, and has had his family deported.

Salah Hamouri shows his French passport.
Salah Hammouri is the son of a Palestinian father and French mother, and who holds both French citizenship and Jerusalem residency status [File: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters]

Occupied East Jerusalem – Israel has renewed the detention of Palestinian-French human rights lawyer Salah Hammouri, who has been held without trial since March and has not been charged.

Authorities announced the renewal of Hammouri’s administrative detention for another three months on Sunday, one day before his expected release. His current detention order will now expire on December 4.

In a press statement, the #JusticeforSalah campaign called for Hammouri’s release and condemned the decision. “Only hours from his expected release from Hadarim prison – the Israeli occupation renewed the administrative detention of Salah”.

“Neither Salah nor his legal representation were informed about the renewal decision leaving Salah, his family and loved ones in a state of continuous anxiety and psychological distress,” the statement added.

Hammouri is a 37-year-old father of two, a Palestinian rights defender and lawyer from Jerusalem, who has been held in Israeli administrative detention since March 7. His detention order was renewed in June for three months, making Sunday the second renewal.

Administrative detention is an Israeli policy that allows the imprisonment of Palestinians without trial or charge based on “secret evidence”, which neither the detainee nor his lawyer can view, for an indefinite period of time. At least 730 Palestinians are currently held under such orders.

Israel says the policy is necessary for security reasons and so that intelligence is not divulged.

A field researcher with the Ramallah-based Addameer prisoners’ rights group, Hammouri’s case has made global headlines with international and local rights groups calling for his release.

Addameer, which has continued to operate despite Israeli authorities ordering it to shut down, along with six other Palestinian civil society groups in August, said the renewal of Hammouri’s detention was “part of the Israeli occupation’s systematic & ongoing harassment campaign to suppress Palestinian HRDs [human rights defenders] and civil society”.

Hammouri’s case received further attention when it was revealed in November 2021 that his phone was hacked by the Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group, which he sued in April.

Residency revoked and family deported

Hammouri has been imprisoned several times previously by Israel, including a seven-year sentence between 2005 and 2011, and 13 months in administrative detention in 2017.

In 2016, he was forcibly separated from his French wife, Elsa Lefort.

Lefort was detained for three days while she was six months pregnant after arriving at Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv to visit her husband.

She was deported back to France and received a 10-year ban despite having a valid year-long multiple-entry work visa.

Lefort was told by authorities at the airport that she constituted “a threat to the security of the state of Israel”, she told Al Jazeera.

The couple now has a six-year-old son and a 16-month-old daughter, who live in France.

“It has been really hard for our family. Since I was deported from Palestine, we have only seen each other two to three weeks each year. The kids are growing up without their father,” Lefort told Al Jazeera.

“It’s hard for us as adults, but we know and understand the political context, but for the kids – even if we try to explain it to them, they cannot comprehend life under occupation, they are just kids – they just want to live with their father and their mother,” she added.

“The last time Salah came to France it was for the birth of our daughter. She was 11 days when he saw her, and now she is 16 months – she never saw her father again.”

While he was originally being held at Israel’s Ofer prison near Ramallah, Hammouri was transferred in July to Hadarim maximum-security prison after he directed an open letter to French president Emmanuel Macron.

Milena Ansari, international advocacy officer at Addameer, told Al Jazeera that Israel treats Hammouri as a “high-security threat”.

“He is now considered a ‘high-security’ prisoner. His arms and legs are always shackled whenever he leaves his room, and the detainees in that prison receive only about one to two hours outside in the yard,” said Ansari.

“There is no charge against Salah and yet they are treating him as a maximum-security threat,” she added.

In October 2021, the Israeli ministry of interior revoked Hammouri’s Jerusalem residency permit, despite him being born in the city and living there his entire life, citing a “breach of allegiance” to the Israeli state.

The decision to revoke his residency is based on “vague and broad allegations of “terroristic activities”, based on alleged “secret information” that is withheld by the state, according to Addameer.

The revocation of Hammouri’s Jerusalem residency status means that he is at risk of forcible deportation at any time, that he cannot legally be present in his city of birth and that his national insurance, including health insurance, has been cut off.

A final hearing for his residency case is set to be held in February 2023 at the Israeli Supreme Court.

Ansari said Addameer is hoping it will be able to reinstate Hammouri’s residency as it would set a very wide, vague and dangerous precedent for Israel’s revocation of Palestinian Jerusalem residency IDs going forward.

Even if he is released from prison, says Lefort, their family struggle will continue.

“We will have to fight to enable him to stay in Palestine. This is the next step,” said Lefort.

In 2005, Hammouri was arrested and offered a deal to serve prison time or be deported to France for 10 years. He chose to remain and serve seven years in prison.

“They want to push him to leave,” his wife said.

“When your country is under occupation and you are struggling for the liberation of your land, you cannot leave this land. You do not want to be far from your family either, but this is not a choice someone should have to make.”

Source: Al Jazeera