Salah Hammouri’s deportation from Israel ‘against the law’, says France

Salah Hamouri, one of the 550 Palestinian prisoners freed to complete a deal in which Israel released 1,027 prisoners for soldier Gilad Shalit (Mohamad Torokman - Reuters)

Jon Henley

The Guardian  /  December 18, 2022

French-Palestinian human rights lawyer had been held in prison without charge since March.

France has denounced Israel’s expulsion of a French-Palestinian human rights lawyer, Salah Hammouri, who had been held in prison without charge since March accused of security offences against the state and ties to a banned militant group.

“We condemn the Israeli authorities’ decision, [which is] against the law,” the foreign ministry said, adding that Paris had “clearly communicated its opposition to this expulsion of a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, an occupied territory”.

Hammouri, 37, a lifelong Jerusalem resident without Israeli citizenship, arrived in Paris on a Sunday morning flight from Tel Aviv, where his wife, Elsa, as well as politicians, NGO representatives and supporters, were waiting to greet him at Charles de Gaulle airport.

A statement from his campaign called the deportation a “war crime” and said it constituted a breach of international law. “Wherever a Palestinian goes, he takes with him these principles and the cause of his people – his homeland carried with him to wherever he ends up,” the lawyer – who holds French citizenship through his mother – said in a statement.

Jean-Claude Samouiller, the head of Amnesty International France, described the expulsion as a “crime of apartheid” to Agence France-Presse, saying it was “a happy day for a family reunited, but for the Palestinian people, a sad day”.

The deportation underlines the fragile status of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, where an overwhelming majority are not Israeli citizens but hold residency rights, which are revocable. It could also spark a diplomatic row with France, which repeatedly appealed to Israel not to carry it out.

The Israeli interior ministry said earlier on Sunday that the lawyer was being deported “following interior minister Ayelet Shaked’s decision to withdraw his residency status”. Shaked declared in a recorded video statement: “I’m happy to announce that justice was served today and the terrorist Salah Hammouri was deported from Israel.”

Hammouri was detained in March and had his residency status revoked on 1 December on the grounds that he was active in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), which is classified by Israel and its western allies as a terror group.

He has worked as a lawyer for Addameer, a rights group assisting Palestinian prisoners that Israel has banned for alleged ties to the PFLP, and spent seven years in jail after being convicted of attempting to kill a prominent Sephardic rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, an accusation he has always denied.

Released in 2011 as part of a swap in which Israel freed 1,027 prisoners in exchange for the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held captive by Hamas in the Gaza Strip for more than five years, Hammouri had not been convicted in the latest proceedings against him.

Israel contended he had continued his activities with PLFP, however, and placed him in administrative detention – a controversial practice that allows suspects to be detained for renewable terms of up to six months without charge.

“During his life he organized, inspired and planned to commit terror attacks on his own and for the organization against citizens and well-known Israelis,” a statement from the interior ministry said on Sunday.

Last year, Hammouri was among six human rights activists whose mobile phones were found by independent security researchers to have been infected with spyware made by the Israeli company NSO Group. It was not known who placed it on the phones.

Jessica Montell, the executive director of HaMoked, an NGO representing Hammouri that described his expulsion as a “dangerous precedent and a gross violation of basic rights”, told Reuters that Hammouri’s case set a precedent for the deportation of Jerusalem residents who held alternative citizenship.

“Because he holds a second nationality, that makes him more vulnerable to deportation,” Montell said, adding that she expected similar cases would emerge more frequently under the new rightwing coalition expected to form Israel’s next government.

Israel considers the entire holy city of Jerusalem as its eternal, undivided capital. The Palestinians have long sought the city’s east, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and later, in a move not recognized internationally, annexed as the capital of a future state.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem can apply for citizenship, but few do, wary of a lengthy bureaucratic process and not wanting to be seen as accepting what they see as an occupation.

The Haaretz daily, citing interior ministry information, has said fewer than 20,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem, 5% of the population, hold Israeli citizenship, and 34% of applications are approved.

Jon Henley is The Guardian’s Europe correspondent, based in Paris