As the prominent Palestinian leader Sheikh Raed Salah remains behind bars in a British prison, condemnation of the British government's action continues to grow from various pro-Justice groups and leading personalities, including many from different Palestinian factions. From nationalist representatives and Islamic figureheads, to Palestinians on the left and secularists, condemnation of the Sheikh's treatment by Britain is unanimous.
Sheikh Salah is the leader of the largest Palestinian civil society body within Israel, representing 1.3 million Palestinians; he works closely with the largest Palestinian umbrella organisation, the Supreme Follow-Up Committee. He is well-liked and respected and his detention in Britain is sending shock waves across the Arab and Muslim world.
Dr Mustafa Barghouti, the Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative and a member of the Legislative Council, has described the Sheikh's arrest as a "grave mistake that is incompatible with freedom of expression and represents an attack on human rights". Dr Barghouti has urged the British government to reconsider its position and to release Sheikh Raed immediately. The secular Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad, has also come out in support of the Islamic Movement leader, and met with Britain's Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, last week; he told Mr Burt that Sh. Raed's arrest would harm the PA and the Palestinian People. Leading Palestinian Christian legislator Hanan Ashrawi has called his detention a "violation of basic human rights and international law, given the fact that he entered Britain by legal means. We also regard this as an unacceptable escalation against Palestinian efforts and against the Islamic Movement. We demand respect for his rights." She also met with Alastair Burt and the British Consulate in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to convey her concerns.
Sh. Raed has refuted all allegations of anti-Semitism made against him and his legal team are pursuing legal action against several British papers that have made what he believes are these libellous claims. Senior Fatah politician Nabil Sha'ath has challenged the British government to provide evidence to justify Sh. Raed's arrest: "Fatah deplores this step and if there is legal evidence against him, we would like to see it. And if there is no evidence he should be released and allowed to continue his tour. If not, we will regard this issue as a political one and not a legal one." He added, "It is the responsibility of the British authorities to guarantee freedoms of expression and to release him to continue his programme."
The British government's actions have been viewed by many as an extension of the discriminatory policies faced by Palestinians daily in Israel and the occupied territories. The Fatah spokesman Ousama al Qawasami has said that Sh. Raed's arrest will give Israel the green light to detain and deport Palestinians as and when it pleases and that this sends a "negative message out to the Palestinian people". At a time when the British government is taking measures to change Universal Jurisdiction laws to appease Israeli figureheads suspected of heinous war crimes against the Palestinian people, and crimes against humanity, the double standards witnessed here by the pro-Palestinian movement and Palestinians themselves leaves a sour taste in the mouth. The Supreme Follow-Up Committee reiterated this sentiment stating: "It would have been more fitting for the British government to pursue and punish Israeli war criminals rather that to fall in line with Zionist dictates to pursue and arrest those who defend the Palestinian people and their rights; who expose the immorality and oppression of the Israeli occupation with its savage and repressive practices."
This affair is incredibly embarrassing for the British government, with Israel once again proving that in its relationship with the UK, the tail wags the dog. As one leading commentator based in Israel put it, "A preacher's arrest shows that the UK can be led by the nose".
The Palestinian National Assembly for Jerusalem, the highest representative body for Palestinians in the Holy City, with members from all Palestinian political parties, Muslim and Christian religious denominations and civil society organisations, as well as independent national figures and academics, has also condemned the British government:
"That the British government should yield to pressure from the Zionist lobby by arresting Sheikh Raed Salah is a serious blow to its credibility in respect of Westminster's relations with the Palestinian people and their cause. In effect, this move by Home Secretary Theresa May makes the British government complicit in the Israeli occupation and its repression of Israel's own Palestinian citizens as well as those in the occupied Palestinian territories. It would have been more appropriate for the British government to apprehend Israeli officials accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, particularly in the Gaza Strip, rather than arresting a Palestinian leader who has been and continues to be a victim of Israeli oppression."
To add insult to injury, Sh.Raed has now been taken from Heathrow Airport's detention centre to a prison in Bedfordshire, without any credible reasons for the transfer being given to his legal team. This limits his lawyers' access to their client as the deadline to lodge an appeal against deportation approaches, suggesting that the British authorities have now realised their initial blunder. Suffice to say that the Palestinian leader is adamant he will fight his deportation for as long as it takes in order to clear his name. This is clearly not the will or actions of a guilty man and whatever happens next, the British government will have a lot to answer for in the coming weeks.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.