The circumstances surrounding Sheikh Raed Salah's arrest by the British government are irregular to say the least. He was taken from his hotel bedroom last Tuesday night and is currently being held in prison pending deportation. Sheikh Raed and his legal team were unaware of any "travel ban" against him, as has been claimed by the Home Secretary.
What is truly appalling, though, is that Sheikh Salah was arrested after he had already attended a round-table discussion in Parliament on Monday and before he was due again as a guest on Wednesday. The purpose of these meetings was to discuss peace and justice in Jerusalem, supposedly an aspiration matching that of the wider international community. How disconcerting is it to know that the guest of one MP has now become the captive of another? One is left speechless by just how reckless our government has become.
Sheikh Salah arrived in London last Saturday having announced publicly his intention to visit the UK. The chief reason for his visit was his anticipated appearance at the Palestine Day conference in London on the 2nd of July and in Manchester on the 3rd, both widely-publicised events. On Monday Sheikh Salah spoke at an event in Conway Hall in Holborn for over two hours. He then spoke on Tuesday to hundreds of people in Leicester. It was also in the public domain that he would be speaking on Wednesday at the Grand Committee Room of the Houses of Parliament alongside MPs Jeremy Corbyn, Richard Burden and Yasmin Qureshi, as well as Lord Alf Dubs and the Palestinian Ambassador, Dr Manuel Hassassian.
Sh. Raed's itinerary was made public, for obvious reasons, with the events being advertised around the country. Nevertheless, not a word of protest was heard from the Home Office. It would have been more than possible for the Home Secretary to notify Sheikh Salah, his legal team or even the event organisers that he would not be allowed to enter the UK. This could have been done very easily before he even left Israel. Yet it wasn't. Not until he had been allowed to enter the country using his own Israeli passport and speak before enthusiastic audiences in London and Leicester was he was arrested in a most disdainful manner. To be allowed into the country to speak in defence of human rights and justice and then, lulled into a false sense of security, to be seized from a hotel bedroom by armed officers and then handcuffed, is treacherous to say the least. Even a lesser man would be humiliated.
Let us assume that the objective of Sheikh Salah's arrest was to keep him out of the country due to what are perceived by some to be his objectionable views, the time it took the Home Office to act on this alleged no-fly-ban was appalling. If the Home Secretary truly felt that Sheikh Raed's tour about peace in the Middle East and Palestinian rights would be detrimental to British society, how is it that he was allowed to travel from Israel to the UK unhindered at either airport? Furthermore, why on earth wasn't he arrested before his lengthy public talks in London and Leicester, and with MPs and Peers in the Houses of Parliament? It is incredible to think that the government could claim to have placed a no-fly-ban on the Sheikh when he was allowed to enter the country by legitimate means after announcing a high-profile tour around the UK and having a meeting with members of parliament.
It is, therefore, ridiculous to believe that the Sheikh entered Britain without the knowledge of the Home Office. After 9/11, how could anyone so well-known arrive unnoticed? If there had truly been an effort to deny him entry into the UK, he would have been stopped in Israel before he boarded his flight for London. It seems that the more likely explanation is that Sheikh Raed Salah was arrested to prevent him from attending his appointment at the Houses of Parliament and stop him from speaking at the Palestine Day conference. The purpose was to sabotage his legitimacy and the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause, crippling any hope for a fair and balanced discourse in this country concerning the Palestine-Israel conflict.
All too often those who argue for the rights of the Palestinian people are dismissed and defamed. Accusations of extremism and radicalism are thrown so casually to the extent that believing in the right of Palestinians to life, liberty and land has become synonymous with anti-Semitism. All sincere efforts by people like Sheikh Salah to bring a genuine Palestinian perspective to the discussion about peace in the Middle East are stripped of their legitimacy and treated as though they were repugnant.
The government is stretching its credibility by expecting us to believe that Sheikh Raed Salah was arrested for his extreme views or due to the allegations of criminal activity when Britain's laws are being twisted by the same ministers in order to welcome alleged Israeli war criminals responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people, including children, into the UK with open arms. The affair is a victory for the pro-Israel lobbyists who pull our government's strings as they undermine the values of democracy, justice and balance for which the British were once famed.
The apparent bias of our government against the Palestinian narrative has become so vivid that it is distasteful. A pattern of preventing Muslim speakers' entry into Britain is part of an on-going campaign of character assassination not only against the speakers themselves but against the legitimate cause of the displaced Palestinian population. There is a clear emphasis on marginalising the genuine Palestinian narrative and those who argue in its defence, turning solidarity into a criminal offence. It was once the case that the British could pride themselves on their balanced and democratic approach to even the most heated debates, yet as key members of the government continue to base their actions and policies on cheap tabloid journalism and YouTube videos rather than empirical evidence, that bragging right is slowly but surely slipping away.
*Ahmad Chaker Jomaa is the Head of Journalism Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS)
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.