Jailed Belgian-Palestinian Returned to Israeli Prison Hours Before Flight Home

Mustafa Awad, imprisoned for non-violent security offenses committed abroad, had won early release, then Shin Bet intervened

Mustafa Awad.
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A Belgian citizen who was released from a short jail term in Israel under the early release procedure was returned to prison on the orders of the Shin Bet security service – only hours before he was to board a plane back to Belgium.

Mustafa Awad, 37, was released from Gilboa Prison last Monday, February 25, by decision of the Israel Prison Service’s unit for the release of prisoners serving short terms, which was told by an IPS official that “there is no negative intelligence information about him.”

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Awad was thus taken into custody outside prison, since from the moment he was released he was considered an illegal alien. In coordination with the Belgian Consulate he was meant to be flown to Belgium that same night, but the Shin Bet intervened and demanded another hearing on the decision. A week after the first decision, on Sunday, the prisoner release unit once again debated his early release, but this time denied it.

Awad’s attorney, Leah Tsemel, says reversing the release was illegal, because the law says only a representative of the attorney general can ask for a release decision to be reconsidered, and even this must be done before the prisoner is released and not afterward. She has submitted an urgent administrative petition to void the second decision by the prisoner release unit.

Gilboa Prison.
Itzik Ben Malki

Awad, the son of a refugee family from Acre who was born in Lebanon and became a Belgian citizen as a child, was arrested at the Allenby Bridge last July when he sought to enter the country. Charged with membership in a terrorist organization, forbidden military training and transferring funds to activists of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, he was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison.

All his activities had taken place abroad, and included meeting with Popular Front supporters in Belgium, and studying subjects like Marxism, Palestinian history and dabke dancing. In Beirut he underwent three days of training in how to conduct surveillance, how to evade surveillance and how to write reports. He wasn’t charged with any offense involving weapons, and the court even noted that his entrance into Israel and the West Bank wasn’t for terror-related purposes.

The Shin Bet spokesman’s office told Haaretz, “There was no change in the Shin Bet’s position that the early release of the prisoner, who was serving a prison sentence for serious security offenses, could endanger state security and public safety, even if he was kept out of Israel. Because of an error in the prison service’s process, the release committee didn’t receive the Shin Bet’s security opinion, and when the matter was brought to their attention the parties worked quickly to submit the security assessment as required.”

The Shin Bet did not address Haaretz’s question about the gap between the law and the way the unit’s decision was reversed.

The Israel Prison Service told Haaretz that the prisoner was not released at any point and that the procedure was conducted according to the law. In addition, the prison service sent the text of the second decision, which states that the first decision on early release was made without the opinion of the security agencies, which is why it decided that he could be released only if he was expelled from Israel.

Tsemel, in response, told Haaretz that when the unit said his release was conditioned on his leaving Israel, it was understood to mean that he could not be let wander around freely in Israel, which is why he was immediately transferred to Interior Ministry custody until he could be flown out, after all the arrangements were made with the Belgian Consulate and Awad had signed his prison release papers.