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A year on, Palestinian entertainer still doesn’t know why Israel is holding him

Mohammed Abu Sakha, Palestinian clown held by Israel without charges
Mohammed Abu Sakha

The cruelty and injustice of Israel’s policy of administrative detention has once again been highlighted by its treatment of Palestinian circus and school performer, Mohammed Abu Sakha.

Twenty-five-year-old Mohammed has been held by Israeli occupying forces (IOF) since December 2015. According to Addamer, the legal aid organisation representing Mohammed, he was arrested while crossing Zaatara military checkpoint near Nablus on his way to work in Birzeit village near Ramallah. The bus that Mohammed was riding was stopped by the IOF and the soldiers started checking the IDs of the passengers. After identifying Mohammed, they asked him to step outside the vehicle, while pointed their weapons at him, threatening to shoot him if he tried to move.

For reasons that have not been made public or disclosed to Mohammed, his lawyers or family, he was swiftly sentenced to administrative detention, which Israel uses to  hold Palestinians in prison without charge or trial for renewable periods of six-months.

Following his arrest last year, the Israeli army told Al Jazeera that Mohammed was arrested “due to the danger he posed to the security of the region”, noting the case was based on “confidential information”.

Last Monday, Mohammed’s case was due to be presented to the Israeli High Court for review, after numerous unsuccessful appeals to the Israeli military courts. The court had accepted the petition by his lawyer, and a hearing was held on 5 December at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem.

Mohammad Mohammed’s lawyer, however, decided to withdraw the petition after the judges were given the chance to review a file of secret “evidence” provided by the Israel Security Agency (ISA). Mohammed and his lawyer were unable to review the “evidence”, and were therefore unable to prepare a defence. He will now need to wait until tomorrow when his second six month sentence ends, to see whether he will be released.  Friends and family however fear he is unlikely to be released next week.

The judges indicated to Mohammed’s lawyer that they considered the material contained within the secret file to be sufficient in supporting the ISA’s contention that Mohammed posed a “threat to the security of the state of Israel”, despite there being no new material in the file since his arrest in December 2015.

Mohammed’s case once again raises moral and legal questions over Israel’s practice of administrative detention. The routine manner in which Israel arbitrarily detains Palestinians like Mohammed is a violation of international law. Like hundreds of others arbitrarily detained by Israel, Mohammad was denied the right to attend his own court hearing, a practice that is in clear violation of Article 14(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which stipulates:

In the determination of any criminal charge and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.

Furthermore, since his detention a year ago, neither he nor his lawyer were given the opportunity to review the “evidence” allegedly held against him, which is also a clear violation of article 9(2) of ICCPR. Israel is signatory to the covenant and has an obligation to ensure that individuals arrested by the state are informed at the time of arrest and the reasons for the arrest are promptly communicated and the charges explained.

Although Mohammed’s case is unique in catching the attention of the media and human rights campaign groups, his situation is representative of a much larger issue. There are currently 720 Palestinians being held in administrative detention, including three members from the Palestinian Legislative Council.

The secret nature of this process is not only illegal; it is also a very painful for the victims and their family and friends. Individuals held under administrative detention encounter many restrictions to family visits, not least in obtaining permits from Israel which can take months.

Keeping victims and family members in the dark over reasons for their arrest is also a form of psychological torture. Mohammed’s anguishing mother echoed the pain of many Palestinian families, “either charge him or release him” she said before exclaiming “and whilst he is in prison, I want to at least see my son. The last time I was allowed to visit him was in August and before that it was four months previously. Since August I have been denied the right to see him without explanation. His sister and brothers have never been allowed to visit and his father has been allowed to visit just once. At least, as a prisoner, respect his right to see his family.”

Mohammad’s circus school also released a statement which was specifically directed at the European Union. Pointing to the bilateral agreement between the EU and Israel they said: “Israel’s relationship with Europe and the States is based on respect for human rights. The EU is clear on their position – there were EU representatives present at Abu Sakha’s high court hearing and they have released another statement yesterday on administrative detention which references Abu Sakha’s case.”

The circus school protested against the EU’s weak response and called on the union to take firmer action: “If Israel is not respecting their agreement (by the ongoing illegal abuse of human rights), then why continue the relationship with them? We call on everyone to send emails, letters and make phone calls to Israel to demand that Abu Sakha is either given a fair trial or released immediately. We need hundreds of thousands of people to make this pressure.”

In conclusion to their statement they said: “If you put anyone in prison it kills them. Imprisoned between four walls with nothing to do, it first kills you spiritually, then it kills your mind and then it kills your body. Especially when you don’t know why you are there or how long you will stay”.

Mohammed’s friends are campaigning frantically for his release. Speaking to MEMO, Hannah Prytherch commented: “as a UK citizen, I am ashamed of our country. I am ashamed of our historic role in creating the situation in Palestine and ashamed of our ongoing refusal to denounce what the Israeli authorities are doing to the Palestinian people. Abu Sakha is a very special person and his ongoing illegal incarceration is a crime not just against him but against his family, his friends, his students and his community. As UK citizens, we are complicit in this crime and therefore as UK citizens, we are responsible to do something about it. If all UK citizens had the courage, humility and dedication to social justice that Abu Sakha has, the world would be a much better place.”

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