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Ahmad Qatamesh: Israeli Prisoner of Conscience

Ahmad Qatamesh: Israeli Prisoner of ConscienceOn April 21, 2011 at 2:00AM, Israeli soldiers arrested Qatamesh at his brother's Ramallah home.

An hour earlier, his wife (Suha), daughter (Hanin), and two female relatives were held hostage to force his surrender.

At gunpoint, they forced Hanin to call him. When connected, a soldier threatened to hold his family hostage and destroy his house if he didn't surrender.

On May 2, in an Electronic Intifada article, Hanin recounted her ordeal, saying:

After breaking in and occupying their home, "(t)hey pointed their machine guns at us and told us they wanted to search the house."

"After a futile search, the soldiers went to the apartment right above ours whose owners - US citizens - were away. They knocked down the main door and wrecked the place."

"They confiscated our phones, disconnecting us from the outside world....The commander forced me at gunpoint to call my father....He then grabbed my phone and shouted at him, 'Surrender yourself or we'll destroy the house!' "

"Perhaps the most important principle that I learned from my dad was never to allow obstacles to keep me from realizing my dreams. I will continue to dream of Palestinian freedom. Along the way, I will continue to expose the brutality of Israel's occupation and our land - and houses."

Qatamesh's wife Suha said:

"It's so clear that he is there because of his ideas and political activism. He is a prisoner of conscience and he is there because of political reasons."

After arrest, he was taken to Ofer detention center in Beitunia.

At the time, the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association expressed grave concern, saying:

"not only because (it's) motivated by his political opinions and beliefs and as such should be considered a case of arbitrary detention, but also because (he's) been (targeted by) Israeli authorities before on numerous occasions, notably" for long incarcerations without charge.

Addameer later composed an undated letter to Netanyahu, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, and other Israeli officials on his behalf for supporters to sign and use. In part it says:

"I am writing to express my strong concerns regarding Ahmad Qatamish's administrative detention, which violates international human rights and humanitarian law."

"Mr. Qatamish, a renowned and respected Palestinian author and political scientist, has been held in administrative detention since 3 May 2011 despite a number of irregularities with his detention that should provide sufficient ground to invalidate" it.

It ended saying:

"I therefore urge you to intervene in this matter without delay and:

Immediately and unconditionally release" him;

"Immediately put an end to Israel's practice of administrative detention and arbitrary arrests;

At all times ensure strict respect for international human rights and humanitarian law during arrests and detention in the occupied Palestinian territory."

More on Israel's abusive administrative detentions below.

Speaking on his behalf, Palestinian activist Mustafa Barghouti called Israel's arrest "a shameless attempt at muzzling him in an unjustifiable attack on his freedom of expression."

Gerarda Ventura, Euromed Platform of NGOs vice president, called him "one of the most sensitive and intellectual people I have ever met," especially in the struggle for "freedom, justice and peace."

A distinguished writer, scholar, academic, lecturer and activist, Qatamish earned his doctorate in political science. He wrote several books on political, philosophical and literary topics, and spoke often at local universities and research centers.

In 2010, he taught at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, the only Arab institution of higher learning in the divided city.

His ordeal began in 1969 when he was detained a few months, then released. In 1972, he was arrested again and imprisoned for four years.

Until 1992, he went underground to stay free until September when he was again arrested and administratively detained for the next five and half years. At the time, he was Israel's longest ever uncharged detainee.

In prison, he was tortured and abused for weeks. Israel called him a "dangerous" national leader. Later he documented his ordeal in prison notes called "I Shall not Wear Your Tarboush."

On September 9, 2011, an Amnesty International (AI) "URGENT ACTION" said:

Qatamesh "received a new six-month administrative detention order on 2 September. The military review of the order has been postponed; he remains in detention and cannot appeal until the review takes place."

AI "is concerned that (he) may be detained solely for the peaceful expression of his political views, in which case the organization would consider him a prisoner of conscience."

"Amnesty urges that action be taken....before 21 October 2011 by sending appeals to Israeli military authorities and diplomatic representatives."

Since detained last April, he's faced numerous delays, irregularities, and other obstructions to keep him isolated. Shin Bet (the Israel Security Agency) claims secret evidence justifies it.

At issue is his outspoken activism, not evidence about alleged crimes. Nonetheless, Israel can hold him indefinitely to silence him.

Abusive Israeli Administrative Detentions

Those held are denied due process. They may be held indefinitely, aren't told why, can't dispute it, cross-examine witnesses, or present contradictory evidence to refute them.

Four Israeli entities have decision-making authority:

  • Shin Bet (the Israel Security Agency);
  • the military commander in charge;
  • the military's prosecutor's office; and
  • military judges who adjudicate cases.
  • Three Israeli laws authorize detentions:
  • the Order Regarding Administrative Detention; it's part of military law governing the West Bank;
  • the Emergency Powers (Detentions) Law for Israel; and
  • the Internment of Unlawful Combatants Law (the 2002 Unlawful Combatants Law).

America has a similar one Law Professor Francis Boyle once called a:

"quasi-category universe of legal nihilism where human beings can be disappeared, detained incommunicado, denied access to attorneys and regular courts, tried in kangaroo courts, executed, tortured, assassinated and subjected to numerous other manifestations of State Terrorism."

Prior to detention, the ISA or police conduct interrogations, lasting from a few days to a few weeks. If no indictment follows, the military commander decides whether or not to detain and for how long. A judge must then approve it.

Each order lasts six months, sometimes three, but can be indefinitely renewed so can last years in Israeli Prison Service (IPS) facilities.

Most detainees are held pursuant to individual administrative orders under the West Bank's Administration Detention Order. It lets commanders order detentions based on a "reasonable (belief) that the security of the region or public security" is at issue.

As a result, prolonged arbitrary detentions are common, grievously breaching international law. Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states:

"Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedures as are established by law."

Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.

Anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in order that that court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful."

Although exceptions are permitted when public emergencies threaten national security, Israel abusively violates international law, including Fourth Geneva's Article 78 stating:

"If the Occupying Power considers it necessary, for imperative reasons of security, to take measures concerning protected persons, it may, at the most, subject them to assigned residence or to internment.

Decisions regarding such assigned residence or internment shall be made according to a regular procedure to be prescribed by the Occupying Power in accordance with the provisions of the present Convention. This procedure shall include the right of appeal (decided on) with the least possible delay. (If it's upheld), it shall be subject to periodical review...."

Acting arbitrarily to silence dissent, Israel spurns international law and norms. Detentions without charge normally last six months in Israeli territory.

Subject to bi-annual reviews, however, military judges can order detainees held indefinitely. Decisions may be appealed to Israel's Supreme Court, but rarely does it intervene.

Administrative detentions never substitute for customary criminal proceedings. Their purpose is only to prevent future lawless acts.

Moreover, detained Palestinians held are protected persons. International law prohibits transferring them to Israeli territory or holding them indefinitely uncharged.

Nonetheless, Israel systematically, abusively, and repeatedly flaunts international law with impunity, including by imprisoning some of Palestine's most heroic figures like Qatamish.

It's done to silence and intimidate anyone challenging Israeli lawlessness.

Israel doesn't have enough prison space for them all or their growing millions of global supporters.


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