By Richard Lightbown
A further example of the blatant hypocrisy of European politicians towards Middle East realities is detailed on the French website for solidarity with French-Palestinian Salah Hamouri. This 26-year-old son of an East Jerusalem restaurateur and a French teacher holds a French passport, like Gilad Shalit, and speaks fluent French.
As a 16-year-old boy Salah was arrested on 30 September 2001 just before the start of school term, and kept in isolation for two months in Jerusalem’s Moskobieh interrogation centre. He was then tried in a military court and sentenced to five months imprisonment for pasting “anti-Israeli propaganda” in the school grounds. This detention was served in the juvenile section of HaSharon prison in Israel.
Following his release the following January Salah returned to school and went on to study sociology at Bethlehem University in 2003. At the end of February 2004 he was at a party in Bethlehem which was raided by Israeli security and was held in administrative detention for four months.
Salah was arrested a third time at Ramallah on 13 March 2005 and detained in solitary confinement at Moskobieh while he was interrogated. One month into this confinement it was reported in the press that he had been accused with two others of plotting an attack on Rabbi Ovadia Yossef, the spiritual leader of the extreme right Shas party. The evidence against him was that he had been in a car which had driven past the home of the rabbi. At the same time he was falsely linked to a youth movement associated with the PFLP. Salah has always denied the charges against him.
While hearings were repeatedly postponed for lack of testimony or evidence he remained in prison for three years. Finally on 17 April 2008 he was convicted by a military tribunal at Ofer settlement and with a plea bargain compromise, was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for conspiracy and membership of the PFLP youth wing. His renowned advocate, Lea Tsemel, had advised that refusal to accept this compromise would result in even greater punishment. The written judgement set his release for 28 November 2011.
In May 2011 the Knesset passed the infamous “Shalit Law” which imposed harsher conditions on Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails in an attempt to blackmail the release of Gilad Shalit. These changes included the arbitrary option to recalculate prison sentences by civil years rather than administrative years. (Israeli administrative years of 345 days are 20 days shorter.) For Salah Hamouri this meant an additional 140 days imprisonment applied retrospectively and without appeal, and contrary to the release date appearing on the written judgement.
The Coordinator of the National Committee of Support for Salah Hamouri, Jean-Claude Lefort sent a letter to the French Consul-General at Haifa protesting this change of sentence, but received no reply. On 9 October a prison visitor was informed that Salah had been transferred to another prison where he was in solitary confinement. All visits were suspended until 5 November in response to the strike by Palestinian prisoners seeking to reclaim their rights. The Hamouri family was not informed of the prison transfer.
On the 13 October the Deputy and former Mayor of Ivry-sur-Seine, Pierre Gosnat, emailed France’s Minister of State Alain Juppé, to express concerns about the minister’s silence regarding Salah’s detention and urging the minister to show the same initiative he had used in the Shalit case.
The following day Mahmoud Abbas expressed similar hopes when he met with President Nicolas Sarkozy. (M. Sarkozy began campaigning for the release of the Sgt Shalit in February 2008 at a dinner given by CRIF, the Representative Council of French Israelis, where he declared “I see Gilad Shalit as a Frenchman, and that touching Gilad Shalit is attacking France”. This statement followed lobbying from French advocates recruited by the Shalit family.)
Also on 14 October a French Foreign Ministry spokesman, referring to the second release of Palestinian prisoners expressed the hope that Salah would soon be freed. Concerns that this meant that France was campaigning for his release in the prisoner exchange were confirmed by M. Sarkozy on 18 October. Speaking on Radio J, the local radio for the Jewish community in Paris and Lyon, and referring to Salah’s release in the prisoner exchange the president said “we have strongly requested this”. M. Sarkozy did not refer to Salah’s family before making his pronouncements.
The exchange prisoners’ release is set for 18 December, which is three weeks after the date for Salah’s release set by the written statement of the military tribunal. Not only does this extend his sentence while denying another prisoner the right to freedom under the exchange deal, it also raises the spectre that Salah could be deported at the end of his confinement.
Further consternation was raised in France on 19 October when Minister of Defence Gérard Longuet declared in a live interview on France Inter that he knew nothing about this case. Jean-Claude Lefort reacted to this statement saying “This is absolutely staggering, incredible! Either he is absolutely incompetent or he is making a pretence. Every senior politician (before being a minister, he was a senator) must have heard of our countryman Salah Hamouri who has been imprisoned for more than six years in Israeli jails. And since the support committee has protested to parliamentarians in all positions, I do not think that M. Longuet can distance himself from this knowledge.”
This widespread disregard by French authorities toward their responsibilities to a French citizen calls to mind the similar indifference of U.S. politicians to the death of the young American, Furkan Dogan, and illustrates the extent to which racism exists within western political circles.
– Richard Lightbown is a writer and researcher. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.