Israel: Fears grow for Italian-Palestinian man detained without explanation

Elisa Brunelli

Middle East Eye  /  September 20, 2023

Khaled al-Qaisi was detained at the Allenby bridge crossing from Jordan on 31 August in front of his wife and child, who still have no idea why.

Nobody knows what charges the Israeli authorities have levelled against Khaled al-Qaisi, an Italian-Palestinian student who was arrested on 31 August at the Allenby crossing between Jordan and the West Bank, following a short holiday in Palestine with his family.

Born to an Italian mother and a Palestinian father, Qaisi holds dual citizenship. After being raised in Bethlehem, he began his academic studies at Sapienza University in Rome, where he was known as a translator and one of the founders of the Palestinian Documentation Centre, an organization dedicated to promoting Palestinian history and culture in order to defend and preserve Palestine’s historical memory.

Qaisi had spent a long time planning his holiday. He intended to go to the Palestinian civil registry to record his marriage with an Italian woman and the birth of their son, accompany the family on a short vacation in Jordan and finally return to Palestine to complete the final formalities.

Suddenly, however, the screening at the Allenby crossing became increasingly tense. The couple’s luggage, including their mobile phones, was seized by Israeli officers.

Qaisi’s wife, Francesca Antinucci, told Middle East Eye that she and her four-year-old son were shocked as Khaled was handcuffed and hauled away without explanation.

“I asked repeatedly where they were taking him, but they didn’t answer and ordered me to sit down,” she said.

After a while, Antinucci was taken to a room for questioning.

“Israeli authorities have interrogated me about our city, our address, our jobs, and my husband’s political views. It’s possible that Khaled is experiencing this nightmare as a result of his dedication to researching,” she said.

“It wouldn’t be the first time for a Palestinian, but we didn’t expect this.”

After her interrogation, Antinucci and her son were kicked out to Jordanian territory, without money, phones and any benchmark of their location.

“I asked the officers how we could continue the journey, since they had seized everything. They replied that it was not their problem.”

It was only through the help of a group of Palestinian women, who gave Antinucci 40 dinars, that she was able to reach the Italian embassy in Jordan, a gesture that she remembers as the only piece of humanity she encountered during that period.

After three days, she was able to return to Italy, where the struggle for Qaisi’s release began.

In the hands of Shin Bet

Days after Qaisi’s imprisonment, his younger brother and two of his cousins were also apprehended in Bethlehem. While the former was released within a few hours, the others remain in custody without charge.

Qaisi was taken to the Petah Tikwa Detention Centre, where Palestinians are questioned by the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence service.

Various human rights organizations, including B’Tselem, have long condemned deplorable custody conditions and abuses during interrogation.

According to the family’s lawyer in Italy, Flavio Rossi Albertini, Qaisi remains in solitary confinement in his cell and has been prevented from speaking with his defence attorney for 15 days, the maximum limit allowed by international law.

Despite this, he is subjected to lengthy interrogations numerous times every day, without the assistance of a lawyer.

He appeared in court twice, on 7 and 14 September, when his detention was extended, and will appear again on 21 September.

“These hearings served only to extend the detention requested by the investigators, not to dispute the charges, which don’t exist,” Rossi Albertini explained.

“The file of Khaled is not accessible to anyone. As a result, putting together a defence strategy is impossible. In every democratic country, these violations are incompatible with the rule of law. Human rights, as well as the most basic respect for detention conditions, are, however, not guaranteed in Israel.”

Now the family fears that Qaisi will be sucked into the vortex of administrative detention, which allows his jail term to be renewed for six months at a time without accusation or trial, a fate shared by 1,200 other Palestinian administrative detainees.

The only information about Qaisi’s health came from the Italian consul in Tel Aviv.

“During two visits, Khaled appeared to be in good health, compatible with the situation he is in,” Antinucci explained, adding that the Italian Foreign Ministry, led by Antonio Tajani, had never attempted to make any direct contact with the family.

Despite the Italian government’s silence, numerous solidarity demonstrations have been held around Italy. A petition calling for Qaisi’s release attracted 30,000 signatures in just a few days.

A public assembly attended by hundreds of people was held at La Sapienza University, where a family-led committee was formed to launch a campaign for his release.

“The response has been astounding,” said Antinucci.

“The first steps will be aimed not only at circulating the news, which is still being kept under wraps in mainstream networks and channels, but also at sharing knowledge within universities and mobilizing in various forms until Khaled will be released.”

Elisa Brunelli is an Italian journalist and activist who mainly covers domestic and foreign politics for the Italian-German