First published by Electronic Intifada.
Asa Winstanley | The Electronic Intifada | London | 1 July 2011
After a furor in the British press, a political leader of Palestinian citizens in Israel remains in a British jail tonight. Authorities cut his speaking tour short by arresting him this week.
Sheikh Raed Salah said from prison that he “will not yield voluntarily to the deportation” and that his lawyers will challenge it in the courts. Tour organizers said Friday a formal appeal would be lodged by the end of the day.
Activists accuse Israel of putting pressure on the British government to harass Salah, and Salah himself said “Israel carries the full responsibility for his detention in the United Kingdom.”
Leader of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Salah was arrested and handcuffed by police as he returned to his London hotel from a talk Tuesday night. Yet the UK Border Agency had allowed him to enter the country through Heathrow airport on Saturday, giving no indication anything was wrong.
UK police treated Salah like “a criminal”
Dr. Ibrahim Hamami, a London-based Palestinian activist told The Electronic Intifada on Wednesday that Salah had been given until 6 July to file an appeal against his deportation, and would also be able to seek release on bail. Salah had arrived legally on his Israeli passport without even being questioned, tour organizers said.
The police “treated us badly,” said Salah’s translator Hassan Sanalah, who was with him during the arrest. Sanalah told The Electronic Intifada on Thursday that one policeman “tried to push me [and said] ‘don’t interfere, I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to the man,’ to Raed Salah. I told him he doesn’t speak English but he didn’t care.” They refused to let Sanalah accompany Salah to the station, and said they would use their own translator.
Tour organizers Lubna Marsawa and Samira Quraishy arrived at the hotel just in time to witness Salah being taken away in a police van.
“You felt for him,” Quraishy told The Electronic Intifada yesterday. “He’s such a lovely man, so humble and so polite and so sweet. I felt so angry.” Quraishy works for the Middle East Monitor (MEMO), a group that organized the tour.
Marsawa, also a Palestinian citizen of Israel, tried without success to accompany Salah in the police van. She described the situation as “very humiliating … arresting someone like him [as if] he was a criminal.”
Marsawa added that police seemed to have have been given information that she and the other organizers were violent people. She described how a police woman ran at her, apparently “scared that I may attack them or something.”
Libel proceedings filed
Salah has been in the UK speaking to the public and politicians about the Arab uprisings, and to help the Palestine Solidarity Campaign launch a new campaign on Jerusalem. Before the arrest he spoke at public meetings in London and Leicester, as well as a roundtable in Parliament with MPs and researchers organized by Liberal Democrat Baroness Jenny Tonge. Organizers were given no notice from authorities there was any problem, said Marsawa.
The arrest came after a campaign this week by pro-Israel bloggers and right-wing tabloids such as the Daily Mail accusing Salah of anti-Semitism, a charge he strongly denies. MEMO said the charges were an “absolute lie and a malicious fabrication” and that Salah’s lawyers had begun libel proceedings against journalists in three British newspapers, including Evening Standard London editor Andrew Gilligan.
Gilligan then claimed on his blog he had received no such legal papers, but the offices of Farooq Bajwa & Co countered Friday by releasing a copy of the letter they had written to to Gilligan on behalf of Salah demanding a retraction (“Who is lying?,” 1 July).
According to Adalah- the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Salah has never been charged with incitement or anti-Semitism in Israel. The accusations of anti-Semitism in the British press cited unreliable sources such as MEMRI, a discredited translation service run by a former member of Israeli intelligence.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign meeting to launch the Jerusalem campaign at the House of Parliament’s Grand Committee Room went ahead in Salah’s absence on Wednesday evening, despite press reports it had been “banned” or moved to “an undisclosed location.”
Was Salah banned?
After the arrest, Home Secretary Theresa May issued a statement on the Home Office website on Wednesday saying Salah “was excluded and that he managed to enter the UK. He has now been detained and the UK Border Agency is now making arrangements to remove him [from the country]” (“Islamic movement leader detained,” 29 June).
Later that day, the Speaker of the House of Commons reported that “The Home Secretary informed me late last night that Sheikh Raed Salah has been arrested with a view to deportation on the ground that his presence is not conducive to the public good” (Hansard, Commons Debates, 29 June, column 978).
Some British journalists and pro-Israel bloggers are claiming he entered the UK in spite of a ban, and that the UK Border Agency had made a mistake. But Sanalah told The Electronic Intifada the police who actually made the arrest did not mention any ban or “exclusion.” They instead talked of “a deportation order against him.”
As late as Monday afternoon, one MP questioning Theresa May in the Commons seemed to think Salah had not yet been banned.
MP Mike Freer, a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel, said: “The Home Secretary will be aware that Mr Raed Salah has been invited to speak in the palace precincts [Parliament]. Given this man’s history of virulent anti-Semitism, will the Home Secretary ban him from entering the UK?”
May replied only in general terms about “excluding” visitors whose entry “is not conducive to the public good,” stating that the “Home Office does not routinely comment on individual cases.” There was no specific mention of a ban on Salah (Hansard, Commons Debates, 27 June, column 614).
Mail journalist warned of arrest
Meanwhile, Marsawa accused the Daily Mail of “strange” behavior, and both she and Sanalah spoke of the paper following them around the country. Sanalah said the Mail’s coverage was “politically motivated and racist.” The Mail is well-known in the UK for its anti-immigration editorial positions, and is often accused by critics of Islamophobia.
When Marsawa spoke to Mail journalist Nick Fagge in Leicester he seemed sure Sheikh Salah must have got into the country illegally, she said. Later that day, he said he wanted her to know police may visit Sheikh Salah that night. Marsawa told Salah about the journalist’s warning, but they did not take it seriously. However, when Salah returned to the London hotel with his translator that night he was in fact arrested.
Marsawa says Salah has spoken in Germany, France and Ireland in the past with no such trouble. He has also been in the UK on at least four previous occasions, but had then spoken to mostly Muslim and Arab audiences. “They [only] want the Muslims and the Arabs to make charity, to feed people and to be in the mosques,” Masarwa said.
Marsawa explained that Salah represents a large number of Palestinians in Israel, and was also an important leader for the wider Arab world. He is known as a defender of Palestinian rights in Jerusalem and a leader of ongoing peaceful resistance against the occupation of East Jerusalem, Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes and evictions from Palestinian neighborhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah.
Possible previous assassination attempt against Salah
The Islamic Movement is a legal political group in Israel that chooses not to participate in the Knesset (Israeli parliament), although a separate southern faction does stand candidates. Salah has three times been elected mayor of his hometown Umm al-Fahm, one of the largest Palestinian towns in Israel.
“Sheikh Raed was arrested so many times in his life. Israel was looking for a very single small reason to put him in jail … they would love to arrest him,” Masarwa explained.
In May 2010, Salah was on the Mavi Marmara when it was stormed in international waters by Israeli commandos who killed nine persons. Salah claimed at the time Israeli forces had tried to deliberately assassinate him. One of the victims, Ibrahim Bilgen, bore a likeness to Salah (“Did Israel try to assassinate Sheikh Raed Salah on Mavi Marmara but kill a Turkish engineer instead?,” Ali Abunimah’s blog, 2 June 2010).
In its September conclusions, a fact-finding mission dispatched by the UN Human Rights Council said Ibrahim Bilgen had been “one of the first passengers to be shot” by the Israelis “in a manner consistent with an extra-legal, arbitrary and summary execution” (“Report of the international fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international law …,” UN Human Rights Council Fifteenth Session, A/HRC/15/21, p 29, 37 [PDF]).
UK changing law to accomodate Israeli war crimes suspects
British foreign policy in recent years has been generally regarded as less warm to Israel than in other European states. But the country is moving to change its law to accomodate Israeli war crimes suspects.
Activists and lawyers have tried to use British universal jurisdiction laws to hold accountable high-profile Israeli political and military figures accused of war crimes such as Tzipni Livni, Dan Meridor and Major General Doron Almog. All have had to cancel trips to the UK after judges issued warrants against them.
Both the current Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government and the previous Labor government under Gordon Brown moved to change the law so that the government will be able to stop such prosecutions. In April the changes passed in the House of Commons and the law has now gone to the House of Lords for final approval. Critics say the changes will make it far more difficult to bring anyone accused of serious human rights violations before British courts.
Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation will be published by Pluto Press in October. His website is www.winstanleys.org.