Israel Is Using a Legal Trick to Expel a Jerusalem Native

In 2005, Salah Hamouri was given a choice: To leave Israel for 15 years or serve seven years in prison. He chose prison over exile. Now he's facing expulsion again

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Salah Hamouri.
Salah Hamouri.
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

This month, Interior Minister Arye Dery informed Salah Hamouri, a 35-year-old Jerusalem-born Palestinian, of his intention to revoke his residency status. In other words, Dery intends to expel Hamouri from his country, his homeland and his home.

“On Wednesday, September 2, someone from the police called me from the Russian Compound,” Hamouri told Haaretz, referring to the police headquarters in downtown Jerusalem, “introducing himself as Bahjat, who is responsible for minorities [Palestinians in the city]. He told me, ‘Come tomorrow. An order has been issued against you.’ I went. He read out the order” – i.e., the letter signed by Dery regarding the intention to expel him.

Then, Hamouri recounted, an officer from the Shin Bet security service came in and introduced himself as Captain Gabi. “Did you explain the order to him?” Gabi asked Bahjat, who replied that he had. Captain Gabi said, according to Hamouri, “‘You’ve forced us to do this.’ I responded, ‘So you’re the ones behind this,’ and he said: ‘You’ve gotten deep into things. You have no place here.’” Hamouri understood the words but they didn’t sink in entirely, even though Israel’s intention to expel him had been hovering over him for some time.

Hamouri, a newly minted lawyer who graduated from Al-Quds University, on the outskirts of East Jerusalem, represents Palestinians in Israel’s Ofer military court on behalf of the Addameer Palestinian prisoners’ rights organization. Relatively recently, he recalled, “young people from Jerusalem who had just been interrogated and released told me that someone from the Shin Bet had told them, ‘Tell Hamouri we’re going to revoke his ID card.’”

Hamouri himself had been tried in an Israeli military court in 2005, when he was convicted of being a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and of planning to kill Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former chief rabbi of Israel. Hamouri said that in the course of his trial, he was offered two options: leaving the country for 15 years or serving seven years in prison. He preferred jail in his homeland to exile.

Hamouri also has French citizenship. His mother is French, and he speaks French. About eight years ago in Jerusalem, he met his wife, Elsa, who is also French. Her father was a lawmaker on behalf of the French Communist Party. Her maternal grandparents were Russians who managed to escape from a Nazi concentration camp.

“I made it clear to her,” said Hamouri, referring to his wife, “that I would not leave Palestine.” In April 2016, when she was pregnant with their son, Elsa returned from a visit to France and at Ben-Gurion airport was arrested, detained for three days and then expelled. She was informed that she would be barred from entering Israel for 10 years.

“Those were the hardest days of my life,” said Salah Hamouri, who has become an internet husband and father, Zooming or Whatsapping in the morning before his son goes to nursery school and another time in the evening, in addition making short trips to Paris, the last of which ended in March.

The Russian Compound detention center in Jerusalem.
The Russian Compound detention center in Jerusalem.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Because it is the dream of so many young Palestinians to immigrate to a Western country, Hamouri’s refusal to take the opportunity to live in France is all the more remarkable. “My place is here,” he asserts. “I am connected to here. And besides, I can’t stand it when someone forces something on me. Neither the occupation nor any other authority.”

Hamouri was released from prison about three months before his term was to end, in 2011, as part of the prisoner exchange following the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. That wasn’t the first or the last he was imprisoned. In 2001, at age 16, he served a 5-month sentence for “providing a service to an unauthorized association.” In 2004, he spent five months in administrative detention, meaning without undergoing a trial, without the right to defend himself and without being charged with anything.

In 2017, Hamouri was interrogated for 10 days until the Jerusalem district prosecution struck an agreement with him for his release subject to posting a bond of 30,000 shekels ($8,800 at current rates), on the condition that he leave Jerusalem and does not enter the West Bank for three months.

He was brought back from court to the Russian Compound jail in order to be discharged, but, he says, “an hour after we reached the agreement, they came and informed me that Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman had issued an administrative detention order against me,” meaning that he would again be detained without trial, without evidence and without the right to counsel. He was released in September 2018. Two-and-a-half months ago, in late June, he was again detained for a week. He was interrogated twice by the police and released.

The new plan to expel him, according to Interior Minister Dery’s letter, is based on those same arrests and periods in detention, membership in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the fact that “you are continuing with your hostile activity against the State of Israel.”

The letter relied on a 2018 amendment to the Entry Into Israel Law, which permits revocation of the resident status of Palestinians who have committed acts “that involve breach of trust vis-a-vis the State of Israel.”

This amended article has been made possible from the outset because Israel has outrageously and unjustly applied the Entry Into Israel Law to Palestinians who are natives of Jerusalem and reside in the city.

The law pertains to non-Jewish foreign nationals who have chosen to live in Israel and who have become permanent residents – a status that is conditional and subject to revocation. Unlike these foreign nationals, however, East Jerusalem Palestinians didn’t choose to “enter” Israel and become residents. Instead it was Israel that decided in the June 1967 war to occupy and annex East Jerusalem, and to pass laws and regulations that abuse and degrade its Palestinian residents.

They don’t live in Jerusalem because they have sworn any allegiance to Israel. They live in the city simply because they were born there and their families have lived there and in the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River for many generations.

Meanwhile, France’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has asked for clarifications from Israel (meaning in a less diplomatic language, that it expressed opposition to Hamouri’s expulsion). “Mr. Hamouri must be able to lead a normal life in Jerusalem, where he was born and where he resides,” the ministry said in a statement on September 4. “His wife and son must also be granted the right to visit him in Jerusalem.”

Minister Dery has given Hamouri 30 days to submit his reasons as to why the expulsion should not proceed.

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