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Salah Hammouri shows his French passport during an interview with Reuters in the West Bank neighborhood of Dahiyet al-Barid, December 19th, 2011.
September 20th, 2022
On September 4th, an Israeli military commander extended the detention of 37-year-old Palestinian French human rights advocate Salah Hammouri for another three months without charge or trial, a type of imprisonment known as “administrative detention.” While the commander’s detention order will be reviewed by a military judge, the request is virtually guaranteed to be approved given the deference most military judges show to commanders. Hammouri, one of over 700 current Palestinian administrative detainees, is a human rights lawyer for the Palestinian prisoner advocacy group Addameer, one of the six human rights organizations Israel declared to be “terrorist” groups last October. Israeli authorities have detained Hammouri for the past six months on suspicion of his involvement with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a leftist Palestinian political faction (with an armed wing) that is outlawed as a terror group by Israel. An IDF spokesperson told Jewish Currents that Hammouri poses a “risk” to “the security of the region.” However, since Hammouri’s lawyers are barred from viewing the evidence Israeli military commanders present to an Israeli military judge in administrative detention proceedings, the exact reason for his detention is unknown.
In addition to administrative detention, Hammouri is facing the prospect of deportation to France following Israel’s October 2021 decision to revoke his Jerusalem residency rights on the grounds that, in violation of a 2018 law passed by the Israeli Knesset, Hammouri committed a “breach of allegiance” to Israel because of his alleged involvement with a terrorist group. Hammouri’s case brings together several repressive policies that typically play out in separate cases: Israel’s punishment of human rights workers, its widespread use of administrative detention, and its ongoing attempts to “Judaize” Jerusalem.
“They’re silencing him,” said Milena Ansari, the international advocacy officer for Addameer. “It’s all part of putting pressure on him in order to end any hope for him to live freely in Jerusalem.” Last month, Human Rights Watch called on Israel to free Hammouri. Amnesty International has also repeatedly demanded his freedom, calling his imprisonment an attempt to “muzzle his work on human rights.”
Hammouri has been in and out of prison since Israeli forces first arrested him in September 2001 for participating in student activism and for spray-painting slogans on walls during the Second Intifada. His most prolonged stint in detention was in 2005, when he was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison for involvement in an alleged plot to kill Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Israel’s right-wing Shas party. (In April 2011, in a letter to a French senator, then-French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said the case against Hammouri lacked strong evidence.) Israeli authorities released Hammouri in December 2011 as part of the prisoner swap deal to secure the freedom of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas and held in Gaza for over five years. Since then, Hammouri has been imprisoned two more times, including a stint in administrative detention from August 2017 to September 2018.
When he was most recently detained in March, Hammouri was initially held in a military prison in the West Bank, but was transferred to Hadarim, a prison northeast of Tel Aviv, in July—a move advocates suspect was retaliation for publishing a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron calling on France to pressure Israel to release him.
The targeting of Hammouri has extended beyond repeated imprisonment and administrative detention; it has also incorporated Israeli-made spyware. Last November, the Dublin-based human rights group Front Line Defenders discovered Hammouri and five other Palestinian human rights defenders’ mobile phones were hacked using Pegasus software, which is made by the Israeli company NSO Group and designed to capture its targets’ personal contacts, messages, and phone calls. In April of this year, Hammouri sued NSO Group in France, alleging that the company illegally infiltrated his phone. Moreover, in 2016, Hammouri’s wife, a French woman named Elsa Lefort, was denied entry to Israel and deported to France, forcing Hammouri to travel to France every few months to see his wife and son.
The revocation of Hammouri’s residency rights in Jerusalem continues his punishment, this time building on Israel’s longstanding effort to limit the number of Palestinians who can reside in Jerusalem. After Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, Israeli authorities did not automatically grant Palestinians in the area citizenship. Instead, they were made “permanent residents,” giving them access to Israeli healthcare and social services and the option to apply for Israeli citizenship—though most Palestinians refused to do so, and even of those who applied, few have actually obtained citizenship. Palestinians’ permanent residency status in Jerusalem, however, is tenuous: Since the occupation began, Israeli authorities have stripped over 14,500 Palestinians of their residency rights as part of Israel’s policy to maintain “a solid Jewish majority in the city.”
In 2018, the Knesset gave Israeli authorities a new tool with which to target the residency rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem, passing a law that gave the Ministry of Interior the authority to revoke the residency rights of anyone found to have committed a “breach of allegiance” to Israel. Three years later, the Ministry of Interior used this law to revoke Hammouri’s residency rights. Like the evidence in administrative detention hearings, the evidence behind the “breach of allegiance” allegation is secret and thus difficult to legally challenge. A challenge to Hammouri’s residency revocation is set to be heard by the Israeli High Court next year.
Hammouri is not the first human rights advocate who Israel has sought to deport. In 2019, Israel deported Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir from Israel on the grounds that he violated a 2017 law that bans entry to those who support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement targeting Israel. The expulsion of Shakir, and the potential deportation of Hammouri, emerge “from the same underlying context, where the Israeli government is methodically seeking to muzzle voices that challenge its apartheid over Palestinians,” said Shakir. The key difference between the two cases is that Hammouri is not a foreign national on a work visa—he is a Palestinian under military occupation, and his deportation from occupied territory would be a violation of international law.
Israel has long used deportation as a way to punish Palestinians. Notoriously, in 1992, Israel deported 415 Palestinians to Lebanon in retaliation for Palestinian attacks that killed several Israeli security personnel. While Israel has not deported so many Palestinians at once since then, Israeli authorities have at times deported individual Palestinians, mainly from the West Bank to Gaza. In May, then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett instructed his security cabinet to examine the option of deporting the families of Palestinian attackers to Gaza, though the policy was never enacted. Far-right Israeli Member of Knesset Itamar Ben Gvir, who could be part of the next Israeli cabinet following Israel’s upcoming November elections, wants to expand the use of deportation, calling for the expulsion of those who are “disloyal” to the state.
For now, Hammouri remains in Israeli-controlled territory, in a military jail. The earliest he could be released from administrative detention is December, though the Israeli military could decide to renew his detention again. But his release would not resolve the threat to his right to live in Jerusalem. “If they did not renew the administrative detention,” said Jessica Montell, the executive director of HaMoked, a human rights group representing Hammouri in his residency case, “the fear [is] that he would just be taken to the airport and put on a plane to France.”
That prospect worries Hammouri greatly. “The occupation doesn’t stop at killing, detaining, and displacing us,” Hammouri said as part of a Center for Constitutional Rights submission urging the International Criminal Court to move toward issuing arrest warrants for Israeli officials accused of war crimes. “It persecutes our dreams and assassinates them. The uncertainty of where I may end up, once I am freed, is a tornado of thoughts chasing me daily. It affects my morale, and my psychological state is like being on a roller coaster.”
On September 19th, 2022, an Israeli judge at Ofer military court extended the detention of Hafez Hureini, who was attacked by five armed settlers on his land in At-Tuwani one week ago. Since the attack, he has been held in military prison with two broken arms. The judge reduced his charge from attempted murder to aggravated assault, and extended his detention for three more days. Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.
As part of the Tuesday News Bulletin, Jewish Currents is publishing a photograph taken by members of Activestills every week, archiving ongoing dispossession and resistance from the river to the sea. You can find more information on this collaboration here.
In a September 15th statement, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy criticized the US response to Israel’s killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and called for an independent US investigation into her death. In May, an Israeli soldier killed Abu Akleh while she was covering an army raid in Jenin. Both Israel and the US government said she was likely shot by a soldier by mistake. Leahy questioned how the US State Department could conclude that the Israeli soldier shot Abu Akleh unintentionally without interviewing any Israeli soldiers. “To say that fatally shooting an unarmed person, and in this case one with PRESS written in bold letters on her clothing, was not intentional, without providing any evidence to support that conclusion, calls into question the State Department’s commitment to an independent, credible investigation and to ‘follow the facts,’” said Leahy. Leahy and Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, both Democrats, are continuing to push for passage of an amendment that would force the State Department to determine whether the Leahy Law—a statute requiring the US to cut off military aid to a foreign security forces unit that committed a gross violation of human rights—should apply to the Israeli unit behind the Abu Akleh killing. However, according to a Haaretz report, the chances of the amendment passing are low.
Israeli soldiers and civilians have killed 81 Palestinians in the West Bank so far this year, according to data obtained by Haaretz. This makes 2022 the deadliest year for Palestinians since 2015, when 99 Palestinians were killed. Israeli armed forces committed 78 of the killings, while Israeli civilians were behind the other three. Many of the killings happened during army raids on Palestinian cities and villages. Just last Thursday, the Israeli army killed 17-year-old Palestinian Odai Salah when raiding a village home to militants who killed an army officer the week prior. According to the human rights group Defense for Children International-Palestine, Salah allegedly attempted to shoot a gun at Israeli forces during the raid, at which point an Israeli sniper “deployed in a nearby Palestinian home fired at least two bullets from a window toward Odai.”
On Thursday, Chile’s leftist president Gabriel Boric delayed accepting the credentials of Israel’s new ambassador to the country to protest the killing of Salah. “Today is a sensitive day because of the death of a minor,” a spokesperson for Chile’s Foreign Ministry said. Israel’s Foreign Ministry reacted to the event by calling it “puzzling and unprecedented behavior” that “seriously harms the relations between the two countries.” Elected last year, Boric has called Israel a genocidal state and backed legislation to boycott goods from Israeli settlements. Chile’s Foreign Ministry has rescheduled the date for the acceptance of the diplomatic credentials for September 30th.
53-year-old Palestinian Firas Yaeesh was killed early Tuesday during a firefight between Palestinian militants and Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces who were conducting an operation to arrest a Palestinian militant leader in Nablus. Yaeesh was reportedly a bystander. It’s unclear exactly who killed Yaeesh, though witnesses told Al Jazeera that PA security forces were responsible. A PA spokesperson said no security personnel were in the area when Yaeesh was shot. In response to a spate of attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians, Israel has pressured the PA to crack down on armed groups. But PA security cooperation with Israel is deeply unpopular amongst Palestinians, many of whom view the armed groups as fighters rightly resisting Israel’s military occupation. The PA operation to arrest the militant leader in Nablus sparked demonstrations, with tires and trash cans set on fire throughout the city.
Two separate developments could bolster the chances that Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s former prime minister, returns to power in the country’s November elections. On September 14th, Netanyahu brokered a deal for the extremist Noam party, a religious faction known for its anti-LGBTQ views, to run for election together with the Religious Zionism and Jewish Power far-right parties. Votes for the resulting three-party alliance stand to benefit Netanyahu, since these far-right factions will join his governing coalition if his Likud party wins the most seats. Separately, the Joint List—the coalition of Palestinian political parties inside Israel—split in two over the question of whether to back Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s bid to remain in power. The Joint List breakup may depress turnout for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and it’s possible that Balad, a Palestinian nationalist party now running on its own, will be unable to secure the votes necessary to enter the Knesset.
- Hundreds of Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem shut their doors on Monday as part of a general strike to protest the Jerusalem municipality’s attempts to force Palestinian schools to use Israel’s education curriculum. Palestinians view the proposed changes as a way to stop the teaching of Palestinian identity and history to Palestinian schoolchildren, while Israel says it is concerned about textbooks inciting anti-Israel sentiment.
- The online travel company Booking.com said it would add a warning to listings located in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The company will warn users who book stays in settlements that they are traveling to a conflict area that “may pose greater risks.” In 2019, Airbnb temporarily banned Israeli settlers from listing their homes on the website, before reversing the move under Israeli pressure. Notably, Booking.com is not banning West Bank settlement listings, a move that right-wing Israeli lawyer Eugene Kontorovich said showed that the company “paid attention to the massive damage” that Airbnb did to itself. Human rights advocates have called on companies like Booking.com to fully end their listings in settlements. “The business activity that Airbnb and Booking.com conduct helps make West Bank settlements more profitable and therefore sustainable, thus facilitating Israel’s unlawful transfer of its citizens to the settlements,” Human Rights Watch said in a 2018 report.
- Israel sent a delegation to Washington earlier this month to secure State Department support for Israel’s declaration that six leading Palestinian human rights groups are tied to terrorism, according to an Axios report last week by Israeli reporter Barak Ravid. “The delegation presented U.S. officials with updated intelligence on the Palestinian NGOs and what Israeli officials say is evidence of the organizations’ alleged involvement in terrorism,” Ravid wrote. The delegation came a few weeks after Israeli soldiers raided the organizations’ offices, confiscating documents and welding their doors shut. After the raids, the State Department said it was “concerned” about the actions, though human rights advocates said the US hadn’t done enough in response to Israel’s attacks on Palestinian civil society and that Israel was emboldened by the Biden administration’s lack of a strong response.