Movement Restrictions and Repeated Arrests: Israel's Measures Against Top Palestinian Official

Adnan Ghaith has been arrested 18 times in the last two years, but charges were never filed. Israel claims that his activities are a violation of the Oslo Accords but his supporters insist it’s due to his political power

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Palestinian governor of Jerusalem Adnan Ghaith in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, September 2020.
Palestinian governor of Jerusalem Adnan Ghaith in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, September 2020. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Two years have elapsed since Adnan Ghaith, a 46-year-old resident of Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood, was appointed the Palestinian Authority’s Jerusalem governor by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. During that time, Ghaith has been arrested 18 times by Israeli police and detained or summoned for questioning on dozens of other occasions, mostly about suspected violations of the Oslo Accords, which paved the way for the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and forbid Palestinian Authority activity in Jerusalem.

Ghaith has never been charged with any crime during this time, however, and contrary to the wishes of the Israel Police, he has been released almost every time he has been brought before a judge. During that same period, Israeli authorities have imposed administrative restrictions on him, based on emergency regulations. Police deny any misconduct and say they are committed to enforcing the law.

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Four administrative orders are currently in force against him, all signed by the commander of the Home Front Command, Maj. Gen. Ori Gordin. One bars him from staying anywhere in East Jerusalem other than his neighborhood, Silwan. The map attached to the order shows the only route that he is permitted to take if he leaves the neighborhood.

An order has also been issued barring him from speaking to 51 individuals. The list includes Abbas and other senior officials from the Palestinian Authority, in addition to other people whom he has said he doesn’t know. There is also an order forbidding him from attending various events or demonstrations or to fundraise and another barring him from entering the West Bank.

“One order states that I pose a danger to Jerusalem and in another one that I pose a danger to the territories, so where do they want me to stand between heaven and earth?” Ghaith remarked in an interview with Haaretz. “I have to go to my HMO, but I can’t. I also can’t take my son to school or pray at the mosque, because they are beyond the map. I couldn’t attend my brother’s wedding or the funerals of my father’s wife or my uncle.”

The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, March 14, 2011.Credit: Daniel Bar-On

‘They come at 3 A.M.’

Most of the arrests of Ghaith have come in the middle of the night, including some that have involved a search of his home. “They come at 3 A.M., sometimes at 2 and sometimes at 4. Once they came at 8 A.M. My son, who is 12, knows the names of all the [police] minority division detectives in Jerusalem,” Ghaith quipped.

He has been repeatedly arrested even though he has always shown up for questioning at the police station at the Russian Compound in downtown Jerusalem when summoned – a fact noted by several of the judges whom he has appeared before.

Following his arrest, he is generally taken for questioning to a room designated as Room 4, which is familiar to residents of East Jerusalem. It’s the investigation room of the minority division of the police in the Jerusalem district. He is questioned there on suspicion of violating Israeli sovereignty in the city, which includes East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after the 1967 Six-Day War.

Both Ghaith and his lawyer, Rami Uthman, claim that the Oslo Accords acknowledge the link between the Palestinian Authority and East Jerusalem residents and the right of the PA to have a governor to deal with civil matters relating to Jerusalem’s Palestinians. Ghaith is not the first Palestinian Authority governor of Jerusalem, but none of his predecessors, dating back to 1994, have been the subject of as much attention on the part of the Israeli police or the Shin Bet security service.

“The attempt to present enforcement activity carried out in accordance with the law in another light is distorted and does an injustice to the truth,” the Israel Police said in a response for this article. “By virtue of the role of the Israel Police and law enforcement authorities in enforcing the law and preventing any official political activity on the part of the Palestinian Authority within Israel, we operate and will continue to operate against anyone breaking the law in this regard.

"Accordingly, in every case in which suspicion has arisen that the suspect has broken the law, he is investigated, and at the end of the investigation, the files are transferred to the prosecutor for review, as is accepted [procedure],” the police said in a statement. “As we have noted in the past, the release of a suspect from detention during an investigation does in itself indicate his innocence or the results of the proceedings in his case. We will continue enforcing the laws of the State of Israel at all times and in every place.”

Many East Jerusalem residents believe that’s because Ghaith is seen as one of the few East Jerusalem Palestinian leaders with significant political power on the street. Unlike previous governors, who were tapped from among the Palestinian elite, Ghaith rose to prominence from below.

He was first arrested during the first intifada, when he was 13. Over the years, he has been arrested and given prison time, some of it in administrative detention – without trial – for his political activity. He rose through the ranks of Fatah, President Abbas’ political party, and was the movement’s secretary in Jerusalem until two years ago, when he was appointed governor. In the absence of elections or political gatherings, which the Shin Bet and the police have prevented, it’s difficult to gauge the extent of his power, but he is always surrounded by a group of supporters.

“It could be that you’re right,” he said when asked about his influence on the street, “but do I use that power against the law? That’s the question. If people respect me and like me, what do you want from me?”

Nearly no evidence

So far, the pressure that has been brought to bear on Ghaith has yielded almost nothing in terms of evidence against him. Not only has he never been indicted, but almost every time that he has been arrested, the judges have denied the requests from the police to extend his detention. In all but one case, he was released contrary to the wishes of the police.

In one instance, he was even ordered released by a judge within the first 24 hours after his arrest, which is extremely unusual. In another case, he was arrested because Palestinian activists were disinfecting a public space in East Jerusalem following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. The police claimed this constituted activity on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, but the judge who released him ruled that the activity was no different from the directives issued by the Israeli Health Ministry.

Ghaith’s longest detention was in July. The Shin Bet arrested him on suspicion of involvement in an abduction, over conspiracy to commit a crime and recruiting an Israeli for the Palestinian security services. The Shin Bet provided evidence that impressed the judges, who extended his time in custody three times. But he was eventually released without being subject to further limitations and was not charged. Ghaith said he did not know the alleged abduction victim.

At the moment, the administrative restrictions on Ghaiths’ movements have been supplemented by the arrests. Regarding the ban on meeting the 51 individuals, including those whom he claims not to know but might encounter by chance, he said, “I have asked people to tell me if anyone knows them, so I know to avoid them.”

Israeli policeman stand by a Palestinian governor of Jerusalem Adnan Ghaith during a court appearance following his arrest in Jerusalem, November 29, 2018.Credit: Mahmoud Illean / AP

“Every person who has met with him has been added to the list a month later. There has never been such a thing in the history of the country,” Ghaith’s lawyer, Uthman, said. “At least 15 different judges who have seen the material presented by the police have unanimously decided there was no justification for holding him under arrest for more than 24 hours. Sometimes, they haven’t even given the police that long.”

It’s impossible to cut East Jerusalem off from the Palestinian Authority, the lawyer said. “As long as an individual doesn’t commit a crime, why forbid him from carrying out social activity? Israel knows the Palestinian Authority and also sees that it’s quiet on the ground now,” he said. “Silwan is quiet. His offenses are social activity. All the arrests are meant to humiliate him. They want to cause him to resign his position.”

Ghaith claims that constant harassment against him is the result of the weakness and isolation of the Palestinian Authority relative to Israel during the Trump presidency in the United States. “Israel was given a green light to do everything, and people here in Jerusalem are paying the highest price for such politics,” he said. “You need to act more rationally,” he said, referring to Israeli authorities. “Not just with force. People live here. What does applying more and more pressure get you? Where are you headed?”

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