Middle East Monitor / September 5, 2020
The release of leading Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activist Mahmoud Nawajaa last month was a welcome reminder that people power can work.
When Nawajaa was kidnapped by a gang of Israeli soldiers in the middle of the night at the end of July, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee in Palestine rallied its global supporters.
The call went out and people around the world answered, calling for his release. He was released after a 19-day detention without charge or trial.
“The Israeli occupation and the settler-colonial apartheid regime arrested me to obstruct the BDS movement, distort its image and intimidate its activists,” Nawajaa expressed.
“Pressure works. Sustained global pressure works even better. I am deeply grateful to all those who pressured apartheid Israel to release me, your solidarity gave me strength and kept alive my hope to be reunified with my loving family and the wider BDS family.”
As happy an event as this was, Nawajaa is only one of thousands of Palestinian political prisoners held under the gravest conditions in Israeli dungeons.
Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer says that there are currently 4,500 of them, including 160 children, and 360 “administrative detainees” – that is, those held indefinitely without charge or trial.
One of them was Daoud Talat Al-Khatib, who died on Wednesday at the age of only 45, of an apparent stroke.
The Palestinian Prisoners Club blamed Israel for the medical neglect of Al-Khatib. He had been only months away from the end of his 18-year sentence.
It was a stark reminder that Palestine’s political prisoners under occupation continue to suffer, year after year, month in, month out. The outside world forgets their names, but the Palestinian people themselves hold the prisoners of their liberation struggle in the highest regard.
This struggle takes all sorts of forms.
Remember the name Mohammed El-Halabi?
He has now been trapped in Israeli jails for the past four years, for the “crime” of charity work.
El-Halabi is the Gaza programme director of the Christian charity World Vision. According to his family, El-Halabi is being tortured into making a “confession” that he funded “terrorism” in Gaza.
His father, Khalil El-Halabi, is a veteran of UNRWA, the United Nation’s agency for Palestinian refugees. He told The Electronic Intifada that he had insisted on the inclusion of teaching both human rights and Holocaust studies at the agency’s schools.
“We raise our children to respect humanity regardless of race or religion,” he explained. “That respect is not granted to my son, who is in jail where he is being physically and psychologically tortured for something he hasn’t done. Is this the peace that Israel talks about?”
Palestinian journalist Amjad Ayman Yaghi reported from Gaza that: “Khalil is convinced that Israel is using his son to target humanitarian programs in Gaza.”
It will be far easier for Israel to curb international aid programmes to Gaza if they have a “confession” from El-Halabi (no matter how coerced), that he had been misappropriating a major international charity’s funds.
Israel’s charges against El-Halabi are transparently fabricated, and have not been tested in open court. He has been subjected to almost 150 court appearances – mostly secret – over the last four years and his lawyer has been subjected to unprecedented restrictions. He has been offered a plea-bargain, but has refused.
Amnesty International has condemned his internment, stating: “Secret trials are the most flagrant violation of the right to a public hearing. Holding these court proceedings behind closed doors would render any convictions obtained unsound.”
The charges against El-Halabi were not even fabricated with much effort. They are transparently concocted and fictitious.
He has been accused of diverting tens of millions of dollars in aid money to Hamas, the ruling Palestinian political party in the Gaza Strip, which also has an armed wing.
But there is one major hole in this story: according to World Vision, the amount he was accused of stealing was actually more than twice the entire budget of the charity’s programme in Gaza.
It would have been impossible for such an amount to “go missing”.
Both World Vision and the Australian government (which has funded the charity) have conducted thorough, forensic investigations and found the Israeli allegations to be baseless.
In 2017, the Australian Foreign Affairs Ministry cleared World Vision and El-Halabi. “Our own ongoing forensic audit has not uncovered any money subverted and to hear DFAT [the ministry] say their investigation hasn’t either is consistent and is very good news,” disclosed the head of World Vision Australia.
For El-Halabi to hold out this long against the pressure of his Israeli torturers is an act of resistance to Israel’s occupation regime, no less heroic than armed resistance.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist living in London who writes about Palestine and the Middle East