Eighty-one-year-old Dr Muhammad Saleh Al- Khodari had hardly recovered from the sensitive surgery he underwent before Saudi authorities detained him at his home in Jeddah. What is even more strange is that Al-Khodari is well known to the Saudi authorities, for he has been living there for more than 27 years, of which he spent 20 years as Hamas representative in the kingdom, and the Saudi authorities were communicating with him officially in this capacity. He also held one of the most prominent positions in Hamas, being the head of Hamas’ General Shura Council – considered the movement’s legislative body, charged with electing its executive leadership and overlooking its performance.
Al-Khodari, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist), has been detained for more than five months – since 4 April – without being charged. He is considered one of the prominent Palestinian figures, who serve their cause faithfully and diligently, albeit silently. After he finished medical school, he worked at the Kuwaiti Military Medical Health Authority and made honourable contributions to the war effort at the Egyptian front. After reaching almost 80 years of age, he continued with his activism and participated in establishing the Popular Conference for the Palestinians Abroad, and became a member of its General Secretariat.
It seems that Hamas, which for the past few months exhausted all its mediations and means to release Al-Khodari and other Hamas members, has been forced to issue a statement asking the Saudi authorities to release him. This indicates that there is a clear desire on its part to avoid all forms of escalation and clashes, and at the same time keep shouldering its responsibilities for the release of its members.
After a fierce arrest campaign in February, preceded by some limited arrests during the previous two years, there are now around 60 Palestinian detainees in Saudi prisons – in addition to Al-Khodari. Among the detainees Dr Abu Ubaida Al-Agha, the son of one of the founding leaders of Hamas Dr. Khairy Al-Agha; and the author, poet and political analyst ‘Abdul Rahman Farahaneh. Interestingly, none of these 60 detainees have charges brought against them, and for several months, their parents knew nothing about them. Later, after they were contacted, reports spread about them being subjected to various physical and psychological pressures.
As for the common factor between these 60 detainees, it is either being affiliates or close to the Palestinian Islamic movement – thus supporting the Palestinian resistance and fundraising for it – or for the support of the steadfastness of the Palestinian people in Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip (GS) and the rest of Palestine.
The Palestinians and SaudiHistorically speaking, Saudi and its people have been real supporters of the Palestinian people and the Palestine issue; half a million Palestinians live there. The Saudis are among the most benevolent people in supporting Palestine and the steadfastness of its people. As for the Saudi government, in addition to its official support of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) within the “Arab moderation” system and the framework of the “Saudi Initiative”, it has for decades turned a blind eye to the donation campaigns for Palestine, including the resistance movements. This clearly manifested during the First Intifada 1987–1993, and the Second Intifada 2000–2005. The official Saudi leadership has had good relations with the leaders of the Hamas movement, who – until recently – were their guests during the Hajj seasons.
The Palestinian detainees are members of the Palestinian community in KSA, who contributed significantly to the educational, health and economic revival of the kingdom, and the development and building of its infrastructure. The majority of those detained have been living in the country for decades, loved the country and its people, didn’t violate its laws, and worked within the available means to do their duty towards their sacred cause. They deserve all the respect and honour, rather than imprisonment, prosecution, and physical and psychological pressures. Some of them even preferred to endure the pain, and not contact the media, in the hope of a calm and smooth solution to their problem, so that they would not be misunderstood and accused of having a negative stance against the Saudi government.
The Palestinians have a holy and just cause, hence they are politicised by nature. They have been displaced, robbed of their dignity, their property was confiscated, and their holy sites were violated. Thus they had no choice but to do their duty towards their land and people. It is not normal for the Palestinian who works for his cause (within the available means and laws) to be chased, arrested and suppressed; and if he was forced to be silent, he would be accused by the same people of cowardice, weakness, indifference, and selfishness.
After all, the Palestine issue and its liberation have become the duty of every Muslim and Arab. Therefore, if our Arab countries neither wish to work for the Palestine issue, nor face the Zionist project, the least they can do is not stand in the way of those who wish to support Palestine and its people.
This article doesn’t aim to over analyze the political background of this issue, rather we want to clear up some points:
First: The issue of Palestinian detainees (and the Jordanian ones of Palestinian descent) is a human rights issue, par excellence; for they have the right to appropriate detention conditions, real detention justifications, dignified human treatment, and to be released unless convicted. They have the right for the PA, the Jordanian authorities and various human rights organisations to follow up on their cases until they are released.
Second: It’s true that Hamas is part of the “political Islam” movements, however, it is not a “negligible” movement so that its members, leaders and those close to it get arrested and put in dungeons for several months under hard conditions and without trial. The Hamas movement is one of the most popular and respected movements in the Arab and Muslim world, Saudi included. For many years, it has been the movement that leads the Palestinian resistance. In the eyes of many Arab peoples and Muslims, it is the movement that defends the honour of the Ummah in Palestine and constitutes its first line of defence, and it is the one which remained steadfast in the face of the Israeli army in three wars against the Gaza Strip, and its youth are defending Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
In addition to the legitimacy of its resistance, Hamas has gained popular legitimacy by winning the Palestinian legislative elections. It represents a wide popular sector inside and outside Palestine that cannot be ignored or overlooked. This popularity is recognised by all those who deal with the Palestine issue, whether they love Hamas or hate it.
Third: It is to Hamas’ credit that it has remained silent for the past few months and exhausted all means possible to release Al-Khodari and other Hamas members. When it talked about this issue, it did so calmly while seeking a solution and without going into any form of conflict. Hamas behaved similarly when Saudi authorities detained Dr Maher Salah, the head of Hamas abroad. Then after a few months of detention he was released in 2015. However, the current Saudi campaign is harsh, extensive and unjustified. And closing the doors to any communication or understanding is also unjustified.
Fourth: Hamas may be harmed from detaining one of its symbols or the people close to it, and may be – due to people’s fear of arrest and prosecution – there will be a decline in support for the steadfastness of the Palestinian people, coping with the siege, and taking care of the families of prisoners. Nevertheless, the Saudi government and its political system will be harmed too. For the Arab and Muslim peoples love Palestine and Jerusalem, they respect and appreciate those who highly value them, and pour out their anger on those who let them down, chase their freedom fighters, and cut off its support of them, no matter what their reasons and excuses were. The people of Palestine face extreme hardship in order to remain steadfast in their land. Hence, the least that the official regimes can do – if they are unable or unwilling to support Palestine – is to turn a blind eye to those who do.
Fifth: The media and the inflammatory campaigns of the Saudi media against Hamas, the resistance forces and “political Islam” had temporary circumstantial impacts. Then, there were counter results that distorted the image of the Saudi political system in the eyes of the Arab and Muslim masses. For resistance has its credibility as history is written with the blood of its people. Perhaps, the time has come for the Saudi government to retract, put aside those who are falsifying facts, and trying to adorn the “deal of the century”, “normalisation,” “taming” the resistance and drying up its sources of financing, and the alliance with Israel in regional, sectarian or ethnic conflicts. These conflicts will only bring more disasters and woes to Arab and Muslim countries.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.