Palestinian-French rights lawyer Hammouri deported by Israel

Salah Hammouri has been deported by Israel (Abbas Momani - AFP)

Joseph Stepansky

Al-Jazeera  /  December 18, 2022

Hammouri had been held in Israeli administrative detention based on ‘secret evidence’ without charges since March.

Israel says it has deported Palestinian-French human rights lawyer Salah Hammouri, capping a years-long attempt to expel the Jerusalem-born advocate who had been in detention without charges since March.

The deportation came amid calls for French President Emmanuel Macron to oppose the deportation to France, whose foreign ministry spokeswoman had previously said Hammouri “must be able to exercise all his rights and lead a normal life in Jerusalem, his city of birth and residence”.

On Sunday, the Justice for Salah campaign released an audio message from Hammouri, which he said was recorded as he was being “forcibly deported and uprooted from my homeland”.

“Be assured my beloved homeland that I coercively and forcibly leave you today. I leave you today from prison to exile,” he said. “But rest assured I will always remain the person you know. Always loyal to you and to your freedom.”

In a brief statement on Sunday, Israel’s interior minister, Ayelet Shaked, called Hammouri a “terrorist” and confirmed he had been deported. Hammouri’s Jerusalem residency status had previously been revoked by Israel in 2021.

Israeli authorities have said Hammouri is an activist in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Hammouri has denied the allegation.

A field researcher with the Ramallah-based Addameer prisoners’ rights group, Hammouri’s detention in March sparked condemnation from local and international rights observers.

In early December, Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, charged that Hammouri had been detained “in retaliation for his tireless campaigning for an end to Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians”.

She called the detention part of Israel’s “chilling long-term policy aim of reducing the number of Palestinians in East Jerusalem”.

“Unlawful deportation from the occupied Palestinian territories constitutes a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a war crime,” she said, noting that such crimes would fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC). “Deportation carried to maintain a system of apartheid constitutes a crime against humanity.”

Hammouri, a 37-year-old father of two, had been held in Israeli administrative detention, which allows for 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.

Israel has long maintained the policy is necessary for security to prevent state intelligence from being released, but the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem says the method is used “as an alternative to criminal trial … when [the authorities] do not have sufficient evidence for indictment”. The organization labels the procedure “punitive and retroactive” and says Israel uses it to “detain Palestinians for their political opinions and for engaging in non-violent political activity”.

The detention order was renewed in June and September, with the deportation announced on Sunday coming at the end of the latest extension.

In a tweet late on Saturday, the HaMoked rights group, which had been fighting Hammouri’s deportation, questioned whether France would support the “deportation of a member of the indigenous population against his will”.

France has not released a public statement on the deportation.

In a letter published by the New Arab last week, Hammouri, who is among a cadre of rights workers suing Israel after their phones were allegedly hacked by Pegasus spyware made by the Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group, detailed his detention, which he called Israel’s “eighth attempt to expel me”.

He had previously served a seven-year prison sentence on the charge of plotting to kill a former chief rabbi of Israel, a deal he took in lieu of deportation to France, although he has always denied the allegation.

His wife, Elsa Lefort, had also been deported earlier.

“These are the means of forcible expulsion, of gradual uprooting from my land, my home, my social surroundings, my history in this place,” he wrote.

“But these are not my memories alone, but those of a people whose Nakba (Catastrophe) has not ceased since 1948, experiencing daily arrest, expulsion, surveillance, monitoring, harassment, killing and displacement,” he said.

On Sunday, the Justice for Salah campaign called the deportation a “horrifying escalation in Israel’s systematic practices of ethnically cleansing Palestinians from illegally annexed and occupied Jerusalem (al-Quds)”.

Palestinians born in occupied East Jerusalem are not granted Israeli citizenship. They are instead given permanent residency, which can be revoked.

Joseph Stepansky is a reporter and producer for Al-Jazeera covering US foreign policy, human rights and conflict