Ahmed Atoun in police custody - Tomer Appelbaum -  September 27, 2011.
Ahmed Atoun in police custody, September 27, 2011. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
Text size
related tags

More than a year after he sought sanctuary in the Red Cross office in East Jerusalem, police have finally arrested Ahmed Atoun, a Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Yesterday, he was indicted for being in Israel illegally, a first step toward deporting him.

Monday's arrest was accomplished by having two undercover border policemen pose as Arab drivers and stage a fight outside the Red Cross compound. When Atoun left the compound to see what was happening, police nabbed him.

Technically, the Red Cross does not have diplomatic immunity, as embassies do, but police did not want to provoke a diplomatic outcry by arresting Atoun inside the compound.

Atoun is a resident of the East Jerusalem village of Sur Baher. Following his election as a Hamas government representative in the Palestinian elections in 2006, the Israeli interior minister stripped him and three other Hamas PLC members of their Jerusalem residency rights.

The most prominent of the four from East Jerusalem, Muhammad Abu Tir, was among some 40 Hamas PLC members arrested by Israel in retaliation for the June 2006 capture of soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas.

Following Abu Tir's release from jail in June 2010, the Shin Bet security service decided to deport him and his three East Jerusalem colleagues - Atoun, Khaled Abu Arafa and Mohammed Totah. They were given one month to leave the city voluntarily.

When they refused, police arrested Abu Tir and deported him to Ramallah. But the other three sought refuge in the Red Cross compound in East Jerusalem, where they set up a protest tent and received a constant stream of visitors.

The three then asked the High Court of Justice to reinstate their residency. But while the court has yet to rule on the case, it denied their request for an injunction barring police from arresting them in the meantime. Consequently, they haven't left the Red Cross compound in over a year.