Israel Denies Work Permit to Innocent Palestinian 'Arsonist' Months After Freeing Him

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Video of Katosh setting fire to brush near the West Bank town of Battir on Saturday, November 26, 2016.
Video of Katosh setting fire to brush near the West Bank town of Battir on Saturday, November 26, 2016.Credit: Israel Nature and Parks Authority

A Palestinian who was arrested on suspicion of arson but later freed, following a wave of fires in Israel in late 2016, has not gotten his work permit back yet, some nine months later.

Jawad Ali Katosh had ignited a field of dried thorns near his home in the West Bank village of Battir. He has not been questioned again since his arrest and release, let alone charged with anything. But the case remains open, and since his work permit in Israel was canceled after he was detained, he has difficulty supporting his four children, he says.

Katosh was one of the few arrested after the fires erupted in November, after a security camera caught him igniting a small fire on farmland that he owns. “I work my land every Saturday,” he says. “I have figs, grapes and olives.”

After burning the weeds, he waited to see that the fire had been extinguished and then left, he explained, but was greeted after returning home by Israel Defense Forces soldiers, who told him to get into their jeep.

Katosh was arrested on suspicion of arson, though he had lit the fire some 400 meters from his house, several kilometers from the nearest Israeli outpost or facility. Also, the fire had gone out and did not spread.

Katosh spent five days in prison while the police disseminated photographs of him lighting the fire ostensibly to prove that he had committed arson. He was released on bail.

He had been working in the city of Beit Shemesh, outside Jerusalem, to support his family; he has children ranging in age from 6 to 13. However, since his work permit was revoked and has not been returned to him by the state, he has had no way to provide for them.

“I have been working in construction since age 17 and was never arrested, until now,” he says. “The Shin Bet [security forces] man who questioned me told me: Your problem is that you lit a fire on a day when the whole country was on fire’ – but it had nothing to do with me. I have no work and I’m sick of this.”

Attorney Tamir Blank of Lustigman & Blank law offices asked the police to close the case against him three months ago, Katosh says, since, as long as it is pending, he cannot get his permit back. However, he notes, the police have not responded to the request.

Israel's civil administration has confirmed that Katosh’s permit to enter Israel has not been renewed because the case remains open. For its part the Israel Police say the investigation was completed and the case was transferred to the military prosecution for further examination.

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