Representatives of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee sent a letter yesterday to the British government protesting the arrest of Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement.
Salah was arrested in England on June 26 after he entered Britain despite an exclusion order barring him from Britain. A deportation order was issued subsequently. Salah remains in detention because he refused to comply with the order.
An appeal of the exclusion order, the detention and the deportation order has reportedly been delayed until tomorrow.
Home Secretary Theresa May told the Parliament's Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday that the exclusion order was signed on June 23, almost a week before he arrived at Heathrow Airport and into the country without being stopped. She confirmed that a hearing would be held later in the week. Responding to an MP's question about the reason for the exclusion order, May cited Salah's "unreasonable behavior" but did not elaborate.
In their letter, which they delivered yesterday morning to Britain's Ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, committee members demanded Salah's immediate and unconditional release. The letter said Salah's arrest cast doubt on Britain's support for a public, democratic struggle being waged by a political and social movement in Israel for equal rights for the Palestinian people.
The delegation told Gould the arrest was a surrender to pressure from Israel and from Britain's Zionist lobby and hurt the good relationship between the British Embassy and Israel's Arab population.
Gould said after the meeting: "It was important for me to meet with the delegation this morning and hear their views on the arrest of Sheikh Salah. As I made very clear to them, this decision was not taken lightly and was not the result of external pressure. The British government opposes extremism in all its forms and retains the right to refuse foreign nationals access to the U.K. if they represent a threat to our security or society. Sheikh Salah was excluded because he had engaged in unacceptable behavior. I made very clear to the delegation that this was a decision aimed at one particular individual, and does not in any way detract from the importance we attach to developing our close and warm relationship with the Israeli Arab community."
Speaking to Haaretz after the meeting, Balad chairman MK Jamal Zahalka said: "We made clear that this stance is unacceptable, to say the least, to the entire Arab leadership and we also said someone had been feeding the British authorities incitement against the sheikh and so they hastily issued the exclusion order without checking the facts."
Zahalka also said Gould told the delegation that the exclusion order was issued only a few hours before Salah landed, and for that reason his name was not flagged by the computers at Heathrow.