Israel deports Palestinian lawyer allegedly involved in terror activities to France

Israel announced on Sunday that it had deported a Palestinian lawyer to France, saying Salah Hammouri was still active in a terror group years after he was released from prison for plotting to kill a prominent rabbi.

Hammouri, who holds French citizenship, has been held since March in administrative detention, an Israeli tool that allows authorities to hold suspects for months without charge or access to the evidence against them. He denied all the charges against him.

Hammouri, who has lived in Jerusalem all his life, is being held on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activities due to his affiliation with the terrorist group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), but was not charged or convicted in the latest proceedings against him.

He works for the Palestinian human rights organization Addameer, which was designated by Israel in October 2021 as a terrorist organization, along with several other NGOs — a designation that Addameer, along with the United Nations and several Israeli human rights groups, strongly rejected.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked decided to strip Hammouri of his right of residence in October 2021.

Israel claims that Hammouri himself is a member of the PFLP, which is registered as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union, but has not provided any evidence publicly for these claims.

Announcing her deportation on Sunday morning, Shaked hailed it as a “tremendous achievement” at the end of her tenure as interior minister.

“The sentence for terrorist Salah Hammouri has been carried out and he has been deported from Israel,” Shaked said in a statement.

“This has been a long and drawn-out process and it is a huge achievement that I was able to bring about his deportation just before the end of my duties, using the tools at my disposal to advance the fight against terrorism.” I hope that the future government will continue in this direction and deport terrorists from Israel,” Shaked said.

Interior Minister Ayelet Sheik at a conference at the Srugim news website in Jerusalem on October 30, 2022. (Yonathan Sindel/Flash90)

Expected future interior minister Arie Deri, head of the Shas party, said the deportation “marked the end of a long but fair legal process.”

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There was no public comment from France on the matter.

Israeli human rights group HaMoked condemned the decision, saying “deporting a Palestinian from his homeland for violating allegiance to the state of Israel is a dangerous precedent and a gross violation of fundamental rights.”

Hammoked appealed the 2018 law allowing the state to revoke the permanent residency status of East Jerusalem Palestinians based on “violation of allegiance to the State of Israel” in September 2019.

However, the group was asked to withdraw the petition as the court said it was hearing a motion against the citizenship revocation law for the first time on the same grounds.

The court did not rule on that petition until July 2022, upholding the state’s right to revoke citizenship for breach of allegiance, but in limited circumstances. The Interior Ministry under Sheikh had by then already revoked Hammouri’s permanent residency.

Hammouri worked as a lawyer for Addameer, a human rights group that assists Palestinian prisoners, which was blacklisted by Israel for alleged ties to the PFLP.

According to a 2020 report by Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy, senior Addameer officials have in the past been involved in terrorist attacks, planning such attacks, or inciting terrorism.

Hamouri spent six years in prison after being convicted of plotting in 2005 to kill Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, then the former chief rabbi and spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

Hammouri was released in 2011 in a prisoner swap with the Gaza-based terror group Hamas for the release of captured IS soldier Gilad Shalit.

Israel has since said Hamouri used his residence in Jerusalem to continue “his hostile, serious and significant activities”.

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The decision to revoke his residence permit highlighted the fragile status of Palestinians in Jerusalem, who hold revocable residency rights in Israel but are largely non-citizens.

It also threatens to spark a diplomatic row with France, which has opposed deportations. French President Emmanuel Macron previously expressed concern over the case of Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid (left) and French President Emmanuel Macron give a press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, July 5, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Last year, Hammouri was among six human rights activists whose cellphones were found by independent security researchers to be infected with spyware produced by the Israeli company NSO Group.

It was not known who put the spyware on the phones. Israel maintains that there is no link between the designation of Adamir and five other Palestinian human rights groups as terror groups and any alleged use of NSO spyware. Israel has provided little evidence publicly to support its terrorism designation, which Palestinian groups say is designed to silence them and dry up their sources of funding.

Israel captured East Jerusalem, home to the city’s most important religious sites, in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed the area in a move not recognized internationally. It considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

While Jews in the city are entitled to automatic citizenship, Palestinians are granted residency status. This allows them freedom of movement, the opportunity to work and access to Israeli social services, but they are not allowed to vote in national elections. Residency rights can be revoked if a Palestinian is found to be living outside the city for an extended period of time or in certain security cases.

Palestinians can apply for citizenship. But few do because they don’t want to be perceived as taking what they consider an occupation. However, those who apply face a long and bureaucratic process.

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The daily Haaretz reported this year that fewer than 20,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem, about 5 percent of the population, hold Israeli citizenship and that only 34 percent of applications are approved. It cited information from the Ministry of Internal Affairs provided by Shaked to a parliamentary inquiry.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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