Fears for Khaled al-Qaisi’s wellbeing after his release in Israel

Lidia Ginestra Giuffrida

Al-Jazeera  /  October 4, 2023

The Palestinian Italian researcher has been released from Israeli custody but still isn’t allowed to return to his wife and child in Italy.

Khaled al-Qaisi, 28, has not been heard from since he was released by Israeli authorities on October 1 and told to speak to nobody until October 8.

The Palestinian Italian researcher with the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network had spent a month in arbitrary Israeli detention after being arrested as he was crossing from Palestine into Jordan at the Allenby Bridge.

He endured five hearings without knowing what the charges against him were. Four of the hearings had ended with him remanded into custody.

At the fifth hearing, he was released under strict conditions.

All his family knows about him now is that he was released in Ramallah, was picked up by an uncle and taken to Bethlehem, and is not allowed to speak to anyone for a week, at the end of which he may finally learn his fate.

Al-Qaisi’s parents have not seen him since his release, according to a relative of his who spoke to Al-Jazeera on condition of anonymity.

“Even his mother. He’s not allowed to speak to his mother!” his relative said.

A brutal end to an idyllic time

Al-Qaisi had been visiting Bethlehem – where he was raised by his Italian mother and Palestinian father – with his wife Francesca Antinucci and their four-year-old son. They spent a month there, their first visit as a family, getting to know Al-Qaisi’s family and friends.

Antinucci said she and Al-Qaisi had been dreaming of the trip for years. They wanted to register their marriage there, and the birth of their son, but the COVID pandemic and other things had set the trip back.

“Our return from the idyll in Palestine came to such an abrupt halt at the border with Jordan,” she said.

“We had been through the Palestinian authorities’ rigorous checks, but then suddenly we found ourselves detained by Israeli authorities. They looked through our luggage several times, then ordered Khaled to stand up. Then they handcuffed him and took him away.”

Her son, Antinucci said, is still traumatized by what he saw. “He couldn’t comprehend what was happening to his father. He was petrified, standing there watching his father being handcuffed and then vanishing,” she said.

Israeli authorities then confiscated everything that Antinucci had with her, and she was left with no phone and no money.

A small camera that her son had been taking photos with throughout the holiday was also confiscated. It had been a gift from Al-Qaisi’s family.

After she was interrogated about her husband’s private matters and political orientation, Antinucci and her son were taken across the border into Jordan, where they were left with no belongings and no way to get anywhere.

“Eventually, some Palestinian women helped us, they gave us the money to take a taxi to Amman.”

In Amman, Anitinucci went to the Italian embassy, starting a mission that she has maintained since then, reaching out to Italian and other authorities to intervene in Al-Qaisi’s case and get him back home.

Free Khaled

Antinucci said she has not heard from Al-Qaisi since his arrest and he has not had access to a lawyer.

“While we’re relieved that he’s been released and is now outside those prisons, we’re still not at ease,” she said.

Amnesty International Italy said Al-Qaisi had been held in a number of Israeli detention facilities, including Ashkelon prison, where he was “held in solitary confinement for 14 days … and prevented from having regular contact with his family and his lawyers”.

Al-Jazeera reached out to the Israeli police who directed inquiries to the Shin Bet internal security services, which in turn did not provide comment regarding Al-Qaisi’s detention and charges against him before publication.

The Israeli army responded that it “has no comment on this matter”.

The conditions under which Al-Qaisi was held could “potentially be considered a crime under international law” according to Amnesty International Italy. Violations against him included “sleep deprivation, threats, verbal abuse and prolonged imposition of stress positions”, the human rights organization said.

Antinucci and the Al-Qaisi family’s lawyer, Flavio Rossi Albertini, founded the Free Khaled Committee, holding public protests that have brought thousands to the streets, calling upon the Italian government to bring Al-Qaisi home.

An online petition demanding his release has gathered some 30,000 signatures but the Italian government has seemingly been reluctant to take a strong stance, for which it has been widely criticized.

“The most effective course of action would undoubtedly be a prompt stance from the Italian government, but regrettably, it appears reluctant to take action,” Albertini told Al-Jazeera.

Antinucci is also disappointed, scared and frustrated that her husband is alone throughout this ordeal. She also, like the rest of the family, fears that charges against Al-Qaisi will be announced on October 8, and that they will be based on information that was extracted from him during a time when he was sorely mistreated and deprived of legal advice.

But she is determined to carry on until he is safe, and to “embody the resilience that Khaled would want me to display”.

Lidia Ginestra Giuffrida is a freelance journalist, reporter and fotoreporter