Outside the Ofer Military Base, Oren Ziv.
Outside the Ofer military base. A factory for detainees. Photo by Oren Ziv
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It began with what dozens of Palestinians experience every month: In the middle of the night, there are kicks on the door or shouts behind it and the house is inundated with soldiers aiming rifles. This time the rifles were aimed at a girl of 14 and her 67-year-old grandmother who are visiting an aunt of 53 and her 22-year-old daughter at their home in El Bireh. Afterwards the young women related that the soldiers “barked” orders, questions and threats.

The soldiers came to arrest 60-year-old Dr. Ahmad Qatamesh. In 1998 he was released after five and a half years of administrative detention. The suspicion – that he is a senior activist in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – was never proved in a trial.

The Shin Bet security service needed extensions of the administrative detention – that is: prolonged arrest without trial. Not even a trial in a military court, which is known for its extreme leniency when it comes to principles and normative procedures.

After his release, Qatamesh completed a doctorate in political science and he earns his living from teaching. He has continued to write books and publish articles against the Oslo agreement, in favor of a single democratic state and against the corruption in the Palestinian Authority.

All of a sudden, before dawn on April 21, 10 soldiers were in the house, all around. The order: Qatamesh (who was at his brother’s home) must report immediately. Qatamesh insisted that the soldiers come to him, and explained how to get there.

On April 28 his remand was extended at the military court at Camp Ofer. The military prosecution requested 11 days under arrest. Representing the prosecution, police investigator Itzik Shmuel, said there was a suspicion of membership and activity in the PFLP. The details – in “the secret report.” He also said: “There was an intention to bring the suspect in for administrative detention and in light of a development it has been decided at this stage to request this remand for investigation … The investigation is dominant and in accordance with developments it will be decided whether or not to interrogate the suspect.”

Qatamesh objected to being defined as a “suspect.” It is, after all, a matter of opinions he expresses openly and therefore he was arrested, he said. If there is a trial – it will be a political trial, not a security trial. The judge, Lt. Col. Shmuel Keidar, ruled that “in the evidence presented thus far ... there is not yet anything of substance to justify continued arrest but the investigator has submitted a confidential report stating heavy suspicions of hostile activity as well as the investigative action the authorities wish to take.” He extended the remand by six days, until May 3 at 5:00 P.M.
May 3 was a day of systemic zigzagging.

Morning. A registry clerk at the prison informs attorney Mahmoud Hassan of the Addameer organization (for the support of prisoners) that Qatamesh was being released and therefore there would not be a hearing on extending his remand. The clerk reconfirms this information at 2:00 in the afternoon (that is, the “heavy” and secret suspicions of April 28 led nowhere).

4:00 P.M. The family is waiting for Qatamesh at the Beitunia barrier – from where one enters and leaves the military court and Ofer Prison.

5:00 P.M. The registry clerk to Hassan: Come, there is a hearing on extending the remand because they are planning to issue an administrative arrest order.

5:30 P.M. Hassan has rushed to the barrier at Beitunia. The soldiers: There isn’t any hearing listed. You do not have permission to go through. Hassan calls a military prosecutor. He says: There is no administrative order, there is no hearing, Qatamesh is being released. The registry clerk at the prison confirms: There is no hearing and Qatamesh is being released. She is preparing him for release.

7:00 P.M. The registry clerk to Hassan: There’s a problem with your client. The Shin Bet has asked me to wait.

8:00. The registry clerk: The Shin Bet says there is an (administrative detention) order. The moment it arrives, I’ll call you.

11:00 P.M. (six hours after Qatamesh’s remand expired). The registry clerk informs Hassan that an administrative arrest order has come by fax. The order is signed by Col. Yair Kuli, the intelligence officer of the Central Command.

On Wednesday morning Hassan receives the order and is dumbfounded. The order is defined as an “extension” of administrative detention. Beneath the detainee’s name, his identity number and the period of his detention, written by hand, there are signs of erasure by whiteout; the date of birth noted is erroneous (1952 instead of 1951); on the one line relating to the reason for the detention it says: “For being a Hamas activist who endangers public security.” At the remand hearing it was stated that Qatamesh is a PFLP activist. How did they leap from there to Hamas in the administrative detention order?

Clearly somewhere in the Central Command, someone’s detention order was taken, photocopied and very carelessly renovated. The Israel Defense Forces may save paper, but is detention for six months, without trial, such a trivial matter that the Intelligence Officer of the Central Command is not obliged to make an elementary check of the details?

The IDF Spokesman has responded: “The remand of Ahmad Musa Qatamesh, who had been under arrest until that time for purposes of investigation, expired on the night of May 3, 2011. However, on that day security sources received up-to-date information it had not had previously, which is able to explain the grave danger posed by the detainee. Therefore an administrative arrest order was issued against him. The order was signed when the military commander had the security material in front of him. Because of the haste to issue the order a number of errors occurred in the formulation of the order and they were corrected in retrospect.”

A miracle occurred in Israel! Sometime between 5:00 and 8:00, right before he was to be released, fresh information was received about the great security risk Qatamesh poses.

N.B. From the day of his arrest until May 2, Qatamesh was interrogated once. The interrogation, he told his lawyer, lasted for 10 minutes.