Israel deports Palestinian activist to France

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Israel on Sunday deported a Palestinian lawyer and activist to France after claiming he has ties to a banned militant group, drawing a rare condemnation from the French government.

The expulsion of Salah Hammouri underscored the fragile status of Palestinians in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, where most hold revocable residency rights but are not Israeli citizens. It also worsened a brewing diplomatic spat with France, which had repeatedly appealed to Israel not to carry out the expulsion.

“I’m happy to announce that justice was served today and the terrorist Salah Hammouri was deported from Israel,” Israel’s interior minister, Ayelet Shaked, announced in a videotaped statement early Sunday. The expulsion capped months of legal wrangling.

Hammouri, who was born in Jerusalem but holds French citizenship, landed in Paris just before 10 a.m. local time. Wearing a black track suit and black and white keffiyeh, or Palestinian headscarf, around his neck, he was greeted by his wife and a group of supporters.

Some hugged him, and others clapped in support. Speaking to reporters, Hammouri accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and said his deportation was meant “to show the generations that nobody can resist Israel.” He vowed to fight the order.

“I will continue my right to resist against this occupation until I have the right to go back to my country,” he said.

Israel says Hammouri is an activist in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group that it has labeled a terrorist organization. He has worked as a lawyer for Adameer, a rights group that assists Palestinian prisoners that Israel has banned for al-leged ties to the PFLP.

He spent seven years in prison after being con-victed in an alleged plot to kill a prominent rabbi but was released in a 2011 prisoner swap with the Hamas militant group. He was not charged or con-victed in the latest proceedings against him.

Israel, however, claimed he continued his activi-ties with the banned group, stripped him of resi-dency, and placed him last March in administrative detention — a status that allows Israel to hold sus-pected militants for months at a time without charging them or putting them on trial.

Shaked ordered the deportation when his deten-tion order expired. Israel’s Supreme Court had re-jected an appeal against the decision to revoke Hammouri’s residency status. His lawyers have complained that the decision was based on secret evidence they were not allowed to see.

France’s Foreign Ministry condemned Israel’s deportation of Hammouri after he landed in Paris, saying it has “taken full action, including at the highest level of the state, to ensure that Mr. Salah Hamouri’s rights are respected, that he benefits from all legal remedies and that he can lead a normal life in Jerusalem, where he was born, resides and wishes to live.”

It was not clear what, if any, steps the French government might take.

The Israeli human rights group HaMoked, which had defended Hammouri, condemned Sunday’s expulsion. A Jan. 1 hearing on the matter had been scheduled, and it was not immediately clear how Israel was able to push ahead with the deportation.

“Deporting a Palestinian from their homeland for breach of allegiance to the state of Israel is a dan-gerous precedent and a gross violation of basic rights,” said the group’s director, Jessica Montell. “HaMoked will continue to fight against this uncon-stitutional law.”

Last year, Hammouri was among six human rights activists whose mobile phones were found by independent security researchers to have been in-fected with spyware made by the Israeli company NSO Group.

It was not known who placed the spyware on the phones. Israel said there’s no connection between the terror designation of Adameer and five other Palestinian rights groups and any alleged use of NSO spyware.—AFP