Israel Releases Palestinian Photographer Held for Nine Months Without Trial

The authorities have given Mustafa Al-Kharouf three weeks to change his residence status or leave the country

Mustafa Al-Kharouf on his release from Givon prison.
Adi Lustigman

Israel released a Palestinian photojournalist from East Jerusalem last Thursday who had been detained without trial for nine months after the authorities failed to have him deported to Jordan. Mustafa Al-Kharouf, who has lived in East Jerusalem since he was 12, was arrested in January on suspicion of being in Israel illegally.

In September an Interior Ministry custody tribunal ordered him released on October 24, after attempts to deport him failed. But it also ordered him to leave Israel within 21 days of his release unless he can change his residence status before that.

The Population and Immigration Authority, which had sought to have Kharouf deported to Jordan despite the fact that he does not have citizenship or residency rights there or in any other country, submitted a request Wednesday to delay Kharouf’s release – less than 24 hours before he was to go free. Despite Jordan already having refused to accept Kharouf, the request stated that “the Foreign Ministry is handling his matter on an ongoing basis with the relevant ministries in the Jordanian government and is waiting for their final answer.”

Adi Lustigman, the lawyer representing Kharouf for the HaMoked Center for the Defense of the Individual, opposed the request and called it “cruel.”

On Thursday at noon, Interior Ministry custody tribunal Judge Raja Marzouk rejected the request to delay Kharouf’s release. The conditions set for his release require him to deposit a bond of 12,000 shekels ($3,395) in cash or bank check and to report to the Population Authority’s offices once a week – or whenever the agency demands it.

He was also required to put up another 15,000-shekel personal bond to ensure that he would comply with the order, and to deposit a third-party guarantee of 10,000 shekels. During the three weeks that Kharouf has been given before he must leave the country, he is prohibited from leaving his house between 10 P.M. and 5 A.M. Since nothing has changed regarding his lack of status in Jordan, Kharouf is expected to resubmit a request for residency based on family unification.

Kharouf was born in Algeria. His wife, daughter and father were born in Jerusalem and have permanent resident status in Israel. Due to a delay in the processing of a family unification request, Kharouf did not receive permanent residence status when he was a minor.

Because of this, his status has been dependent on a residency visa, which had been renewed as a matter of course until 2016. At that time, his request to renew it was turned down for unspecified security reasons. In 2018, his request for family unification with his wife and his daughter (then a year and a half old) was rejected. The claim was that he was a member of Hamas.

He vehemently denied this, saying that he knew members of various Palestinian groups due to his work as a photographer, and that the photos he posted on his Facebook page were from demonstrations he had covered. His appeals of the rejection of his request for family unification, and subsequently of his detention and the intention to deport him to Jordan, were rejected.

Mustafa Al-Khafouf on his release from Givon prison.
Adi Lustigman

Never charged

During the legal proceedings over the past three years, the Jerusalem district prosecution and the Shin Bet security service did not respond to Lustigman’s question as to why Kharouf had never been arrested or tried on security charges if they deemed him such a security risk.

Although the Interior Ministry withdrew its original claim that Kharouf is a Jordanian citizen, it continued to claim during the entire period of his detention that the Jordanian laissez-passer travel document in his possession is a passport that allows him to be deported to Jordan, and that discussions on this subject are underway with Jordan. Lustigman’s explanation that Jordanian laissez-passers held by Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem do not allow them to reside in Jordan or any other country, and that a Jordanian diplomat had informed her that the country would not accept Kharouf, fell on deaf ears.

During Kharouf’s months in detention, Jerusalem District Court Judge Eli Abarbanel and Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel accepted the Interior Ministry’s position and allowed the continued attempts to deport Kharouf. In July, Hendel ruled that it was still Kharouf’s responsibility to prove that he had no status in Jordan or any other country. A few days after Hendel’s ruling, the Interior Ministry attempted to deport Kharouf via the Aqaba border crossing, but the Jordanian authorities did not allow him in and he was returned to Givon Prison in Israel.