Israel Arrests and Releases Palestinian Official for Seventh Time Within a Year

The Palestinian Authority appointed Adnan Ghaith a year ago despite provisions in the Oslo Accords with Israel that bar its activity in Jerusalem

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Adnan Ghaith in court in Jerusalem last year.
Adnan Ghaith in court in Jerusalem last year.Credit: Mahmoud Illean / AP

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ordered the release of the Palestinian Authority’s governor for Jerusalem last week less than 24 hours after his arrest, marking the seventh time that Adnan Ghaith was arrested and then released since he was appointed governor by the Palestinian Authority in September 2018.

Ghaith, who lives in East Jerusalem, was arrested six times under suspicion of violating a clause in the Oslo Accords which bars the PA from conducting activity in the city, and once on suspicion of involvement in threatening East Jerusalem residents who were arrested by the Palestinian Authority for selling homes to Jews.

There were also other occasions in which he was summoned for questioning and released after a few hours. He was not interrogated further or charged with a crime following his arrests.

The police said in a statement that they are simply enforcing the law barring Palestinian Authority from conducting activity in Jerusalem and that any attempt to portray things otherwise is “a distortion of the truth.”

In all but one instance, courts have rejected police requests to hold Ghaith in custody. Most of the arrests were coupled with searches of Ghaith’s home or office, sometimes in the middle of the night.

But in none of the cases did the police present sufficient evidence to justify Ghaith continued detention.

Israeli forces near the Dar al-Aytam school, Jerusalem, November 20, 2019.

On orders of Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, police raided East Jerusalem's Dar al-Aytam school on Wednesday on suspicion that the Palestinian Authority was operating a branch of the Palestinian Education Ministry from the building. That evening, Israeli police also arrested the chairman of Jerusalem’s Palestinian parents’ committee, Ziad Shamali.

The following day, police forces came to Ghaith’s house with a search warrant relating to suspected violations of the ban on Palestinian Authority activity in Jerusalem.

By law, Israeli police can arrest and hold an individual for 24 hours before the person’s case has to be brought before a judge. Following Ghaith’s most recent arrest, however, his lawyer, Rami Uthman, sought a court order for his client’s release, which resulted in the governor’s release in less than 24 hours.

All of the police working in Palestinian areas of the city have the lawyer’s phone number, Uthman told the court.“Officers would call me and ask me to summon Ghaith to the station, and he always came and wasn’t a minute late.”

This time, however, “the matter has exceeded the bounds of good taste. They’re simply trying to humiliate him any way they can,” Othman claimed.

The police know full well that they have no evidence against Ghaith and have been arresting him to punish or humiliate him rather than to investigate him, the lawyer asserted. Magistrate’s Court Judge Sarit Zochowitzky-Uri accepted Othman’s position and ordered Ghaith’s release that evening.

Possible new restrictions

In a related development, the Public Security Ministry has stepped up efforts to impose administrative sanctions on Ghaith. For more than six months, Ghaith has been banned by the Israeli army from crossing into the West Bank to go to his office in the Palestinian town of A-Ram, between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Last week Othman was informed that Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan was considering imposing new restrictions on Ghaith, including a ban on his holding meetings or conferences or engaging in fundraising. Ghaith was given 72 hours to oppose such an order.

In a statement, the Israel Police said: “The attempt to present law enforcement work in a different light distorts the truth. In carrying out their duties, the police and enforcement agencies are enforcing the law and preventing any official political activity by the Palestinian Authority in the State of Israel. We are acting and will continue to act against any official who violates the law in this connection. Therefore in any case in which a suspect is believed to have broken the law, he is interrogated and when the interrogation is concluded, the file is transferred to the prosecutor’s office, as is the usual practice. As we have noted in the past, the suspect’s release from custody in the course of an investigation doesn’t in an of itself indicate his innocence or the outcome of the matter.”