Palestinian professor Abdul-Halim Al-Ashqar, originally from the occupied West Bank city of Nablus, narrates his suffering inside US jails during his 15-year detention.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Al-Ashqar, who ran for Palestinian presidential elections in 2005, disclosed that he spent a total of about 15 years inside US prisons over "baseless" accusations related to supporting Hamas.
Al-Ashqar started his career at the Islamic University of Gaza in 1985 and became the head of the Public Relations Office, noting that Israel exerted much efforts to close it over allegations that it was run by Hamas.
Al-Ashqar obtained a Fulbright scholarship in 1989 to complete a PhD in the US. "In the beginning, Israel prevented me from travelling, claiming I was an activist in Palestine and I would go to America to bring them more troubles," according to Al-Ashqar.
"In the end, they allowed me to travel, but did not stop making troubles for me," he said, noting that the Israeli occupation authorities were in contact with his university in the US in order to put pressure on him. Due to Israeli pressure, the supervisor of his thesis and dean of the faculty where he was studying, issued him with several warnings.
His professor alleged that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) asked him to give information about Palestinians he knew before arriving in the US, promising him a US passport and money.
"I refused because I knew no guilty people," Al-Ashqar explained, "so they filed a complaint against me in 1998 accusing me of supporting Hamas. I refused to stand before a court and therefore they sent me to prison."
"I went to hunger strike and after 11 days, I was admitted to hospital and force-fed. They promised to help me should I have changed my mind, but I continued my strike which lasted six months. I think it was the longest in US history. However, Hamas was branded by the US as a terrorist group in 1995, but they detained me over claims before that date. I am not Hamas, but an activist who believes in the Palestinian cause and I said this to Americans from the first day."
In 2000, the professor had a three-year work contract with Howard University, which refused to renew the contract in 2003 over claims of having no valid visa or residence clearance.
Consequently, Al-Ashqar applied for political asylum because, according to him, Israel wanted to punish him, but he faced imprisonment in the US over the same claims. "I stayed in prison for two months and I spent them on hunger strike," indicating that the US authorities asked him to withdraw his asylum application and leave the country within two months.
As he had no place to go, he remained and a US court sentenced him to 135 months in prison for claims related to perverting the course of justice. However, such charges usually carry between 24 to 40 months, according to US law. He spent around ten years in prison and was released in 2017. Following this, he began to look for a country that would not hand him over to Israel.
"After a short time on my release, the immigration office summoned me. However, I was sick. I was obliged to go. By my arrival, I was immediately sent to prison and spent 18 months there. That was a stark violation of their laws," Al-Ashqar recounts.
Al-Ashqar claims that the FBI attempted to deport him directly to Israel after he was released in June 2019. "I applied for political asylum. The FBI did not wait, the court deported me in a plane to Israel, but when the plane was in the sky, a senior judge decided to grant me asylum and ordered my return immediately."
He was then placed under house arrest and had a tracing tag put on his leg. He was obliged not to leave his town of residence without prior permission.
Concluding his interview with Anadolu Agency, he remarked that Turkey would be the best place for him because: "It is the only state where its people and its president still sympathise with the Palestinian people, and its leader is strong enough to defy Israel."