A press conference was held at the Palestine Gallery in Euston today by the organisations which have supported the Palestinian activist Sheikh Raed Salah in his ten-month struggle to clear his name. The media briefing followed the recent judgement by the Upper Immigration Tribunal to overturn the Home Secretary’s decision to deport Sheikh Raed Salah from the UK. Saturday’s decision, issued two months after Sheikh Raed’s last hearing, ruled that “the Secretary of State’s decision… appears to have been entirely unnecessary” and that Sheikh Raed’s appeal against the deportation order “succeeds on all grounds”.
Sheikh Raed was invited to Britain for a 10-day speaking tour earlier this year primarily to apprise members of the Houses of Parliament on the situation faced by Israel’s non-Jewish citizens. A few days into his visit, it was claimed by the Home Office that his presence in the UK was not conducive to the public good, and that he was subject to a banning order. He was arrested under the Immigration Act and, following an initial spell in custody, released on bail. Mr Salah was subject to stringent bail conditions including having to report to a local police station daily and restrictions which prevented him from speaking in public. However, he opted to stay in Britain to clear his name of the prime allegations of incitement and anti-Semitism, and for the right to address Peers and MPs.
The court’s decision, which was that Home Secretary Theresa May “was misled” and “under a misapprehension as to the facts”, was hailed as a victory and vindication for Sheikh Raed by those who spoke at today’s press conference. Bail conditions continue to prevent him from speaking in public personally and his lawyer requested the journalists present not to address him.
The panel included Tayyab Ali, legal counsel; Sarah Colborne, Director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign; Dr Daud Abdullah, Director of the Middle East Monitor; Zahi Nujeidat, spokesman for the Islamic Movement in Israel, and Ismail Patel, Chair of the Friends of al-Aqsa. Jeremy Corbyn, MP, also took part; he has been a prominent proponent of Sheikh Raed’s struggle throughout the period in question.
It was made clear that the appeal had turned on the issue of facts; it has never been an issue of anti-Semitism, but rather of opposition to Israeli government policy. The information received by the Home Secretary from a pro-Israel organisation was misrepresented and misleading. She neglected to consult any Muslim organisation on the issue, or to examine the facts presented to her in a proper and considered manner, and was therefore misled by a single external organisation. This underscores the nature of the government’s open door policy to pro-Israeli organisations which needs to be addressed urgently.
Theresa May’s credibility and conduct was brought into serious question on several other problematic issues of concern to the British public. These include inter alia the fact that she did not follow procedure; she sought specifically to prevent Sheikh Raed from addressing parliament; the nature of the course of action she took was inappropriate; and she made her decision in just 17 minutes.
It was asserted that based on prejudice, Theresa May used her considerable powers to exclude, denigrate and cause the denigration of Sheikh Raed, a representative of the Palestinian people, by a large section of the British media. As such, a unanimous call was made for an “opening of all the books” and a thorough, independent inquiry into how this debacle was allowed to occur.
The immigration tribunal asserted in its decision that it was necessary to look at Sheikh Raed’s profile as whole. The three quotes used against him represented the entirety of the body of evidence that could have potentially been brought against him. Moreover, “there is no evidence that the danger perceived by the Secretary of State is perceived by any of the other countries where the appellant has been, nor, save for the very tardy indictment, is there any evidence that even Israel sees the danger that the Secretary of State sees.”
The question was raised if the government is now going to act in line with international law with regard to the situation of Israelis accused of war crimes being allowed to enter Britain. The current situation in which, it was alleged, one party to the Palestine-Israel conflict is feted and the other is excluded and silenced can no longer be allowed to continue. The focus cannot be allowed to continue to be on what is beneficial to the Israeli government; rather, it must be on what is conducive to the good of the British public. The government needs to justify itself and to act in line with the wishes of the electorate. Democracy requires those with power to be held to account.
Sheikh Raed now awaits news of the procedural steps to have the bail conditions removed and his travel documents restored to him. According to the spokesman for the Islamic Movement in Israel, Zahi Nujeidat, the Sheikh is expected to return to Israel “soon”.
This landmark judgement was seen as an important day for British justice, as the tribunal ruled on the merits of the case. It was also seen as an opportunity for the government to change course on the issue of Palestine and of the need for politicians to be even-handed when dealing with this important issue.