Israel Releases Palestinian, Set for Deportation to Brazil, After Over 2 Years in Detention

Ma'an Abu Hafez was born in Brazil but moved to the West Bank as a toddler and left no family behind. Israel has been unsuccessfully trying to send him back

Abu Hafez (second left) with family members.

After two and a half years in custody of the Interior Ministry, a Palestinian man who was declared to be an illegal resident eligible for deportation was released on Thursday.

The government tried unsuccessfully to deport the 25-year-old Ma’an Abu Hafez to Brazil, where he was born and left at a young age. He was ultimately returned to his home in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank, after a temporary agreement was reached with the State Prosecutor’s Office.

The agreement was struck as part of the hearing of a petition filed on his behalf to the High Court of Justice by the Hamoked – Center for the Defense of the Individual organization. Attorney Nadia Daqqa demanded that Israel grant him residency in the West Bank. According to the agreement, Abu Hafez will act to receive an up-to-date Brazilian passport and Israel will grant him a visitor’s permit for the West Bank for the next year. Abu Hafez and Hamoked hope that during the next year his status as a resident of the West Bank, where he has lived most of his life, will be legalized.

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Abu Hafez’s father was born in and lives in the West Bank. He spent a number of years in South America and married a Uruguayan citizen there, who converted to Islam and whose family cut their ties with her as a result. In 1997, the father returned to the West Bank with his wife and their three children, but abandoned them a short time later without beginning the process of registering his minor children as residents, and without submitting a request for family reunification with his wife. Since then, the mother and children have been living without legal status in the West Bank. Abu Hafez was younger than three when he entered the West Bank, he does not speak Portuguese and has no relationship with his family or anyone else in Brazil.

In February 2017, he was caught at a surprise checkpoint in the West Bank and sent for detention at Givon Prison. Judicial rulings do not allow people to be held in Interior Ministry custody for long periods of time, and the custody facility in usually intended for short-term detention.

Nonetheless, every month the tribunal for overseeing the custody of illegal aliens in the Justice Ministry renewed his detention while rejecting requests from Hamoked to release him. Appeals to the district court were also turned down.

Abu Hafez and his siblings were entitled to be registered as residents of the West Bank when they were children because their father had residency status. After he abandoned them, they were unable to implement their right to do so. In 2007, their uncle submitted a request for family reunification – in other words, a request to grant residency status to the mother and three children – to the offices of the Palestinian Authority.

The PA passed on the request, as is required, to the military's Civil Administration in the West Bank. Israel controls the Palestinian population registry, and determines who and how many people will receive residency status in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Since 2000, Israel has unilaterally frozen the family reunification process even though it was set in the Oslo Accords, which set the procedures for handling requests and an annual quota for positive responses.

In 2008, Israel approved some 30,000 requests for family reunification, in what was described as an act of goodwill toward Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Abu Hafez’s uncle’s request was not included, like tens of thousands of other requests that have not been dealt. In August 2018, when Abu Hafez had already been in custody for a year and a half, Hamoked asked to clarify at what stage of the process the reunification request was. The Israeli army’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories unit, which the Civil Administration is subordinate to, replied after two months that the request was “still pending.” Two months later, COGAT said the request had been denied because of security information about Abu Hafez that it received before his detention.

In the petition, Daqqa expressed amazement that among the thousands of cases not being dealt with and after years in which COGAT did not deal with Abu Hafez’s request, it did so when security claims were raised against him. Daqqa also noted that in the custody tribunal's hearing, which was held two years after Abu Hafez detention, it turned out that there was no up-to-date security information against him. “Were it not for Israel freezing the family reunification process, there would not have been any legal basis for detaining Abu Hafez,” said Daqqa.