Salah Hammouri

Salah Hammouri, a French-Palestinian lawyer and field researcher at Palestinian NGO Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, looks on at the offices of al-Haq Center for Applied International Law in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on November 8, 2021. (Photo: Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty Images)

Jailed Palestinian Lawyer Implores ICC to Probe Israeli 'Crimes Against Humanity' in East Jerusalem

"We urge the ICC prosecutor to take active and concrete investigative steps in order to break the cycle of impunity for perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Palestine."

A French-Palestinian attorney jailed by Israel as a political prisoner on Monday called upon the International Criminal Court to urgently investigate alleged and documented war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by Israeli officials, including the forcible transfer and expulsion of Palestinians from illegally occupied East Jerusalem.

"The occupation doesn't stop at killing, detaining, and displacing us. It persecutes our dreams and assassinates them."

The U.S. legal advocacy group Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) filed a submission to ICC Prosecutor Karim A. A. Khan on behalf of 37-year-old Jerusalemite Salah Hammouri recounting his years of imprisonment, harassment, and abuse by the Israeli government. The document accuses Israel of committing "ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity in occupied Jerusalem" including "arbitrary detention, residency revocation, forcible transfer, and deportation."

"We write now to respectfully urge you to hasten the investigation in the situation in Palestine and move swiftly towards bringing arrest warrants for concrete cases, amongst which must be one related to the crimes being committed against Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem, including the violations against Mr. Hammouri," the filing states. "The cost of delay, and with it, continued impunity, is being paid daily--in the loss of Palestinian lives, and the denial of Palestinian safety and freedom."

Hammouri, a lawyer and field researcher for the legal aid group Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association--one of six Palestinian NGOs designated "terrorist organizations" by Israel--was arrested on March 7 and subsequently sentenced by a military court to four months of "administrative detention," under which Palestinian adults and children are imprisoned, often indefinitely, without charge or trial. The court accused Hammouri of membership in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a revolutionary socialist group associated with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The arrest came one day after Hammouri published an article in Jacobin blasting Israeli apartheid and detailing his decades of abuse, including political imprisonment, physical violence, and what FIDH called "judicial harassment."

"Today, I stand at the most difficult crossroads of my life, from injury to exile, detention without charge, and more," Hammouri said in a statement Monday. "The occupation doesn't stop at killing, detaining, and displacing us. It persecutes our dreams and assassinates them. The uncertainty of where I may end up, once I am freed, is a tornado of thoughts chasing me daily. It affects my morale, and my psychological state is like being on a roller coaster."

Explaining the legal foundation for Hammouri's request, Addameer general director Sahar Francis said that "Salah's case establishes a dangerous precedent for the Israeli occupation's escalation of residency revocation and administrative detention. The prolonged persecution Salah faces is a war crime and a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute of the ICC."

"It is imperative that the ICC, other international bodies, and states immediately intervene and demand Israel, as an occupying power, release Salah and reverse its decision to revoke his residency," she asserted.

Noting that Hammouri was among the Palestinian activists whose phones were infected with NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, FIDH president Alice Mogwe said that "it is urgent that those responsible for the persecution of Salah Hammouri and other Palestinian human rights defenders, including the Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO, be held accountable."

"We urge the ICC prosecutor to take active and concrete investigative steps in order to break the cycle of impunity for perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Palestine, including East Jerusalem," she added.

According to Monday's ICC submission, Hammouri "has long been targeted by Israel for intense harassment, repeated arbitrary detention, and the denial of his fundamental rights, including the right to family and family unity; freedom of movement; the freedom of association, assembly, expression, and the right to protest; the right to pursue a livelihood; and the right to citizenship."

"His wife, Elsa Lefort, a French national, was denied entry and deported in 2016 by Israel, which prevented the birth of their child in Jerusalem; that entry ban continues until today," the filing continues. "In September 2020, Mr. Hammouri was advised that his Jerusalem residency would be revoked for a 'breach of allegiance' to the occupying power, the state of Israel, and a year later, his residency was in fact revoked. He is now detained without charge and faces imminent deportation."

The document adds:

It is urgent that your office investigate the ongoing--and escalating--attacks on and forced displacement of Palestinians from East Jerusalem alongside the continued transfer of Israeli citizens into the occupied territory as part of its war crimes and crimes against humanity investigation on the territory of Palestine. We call upon your office to focus on the multifaceted efforts to remove Palestinians from Jerusalem, including through house demolitions, discriminatory zoning, forced evictions, arbitrary detention, an elaborate permit system, and the revocation of residency, of which Mr. Hammouri's case is both a stark example and a warning of new tactics.

Israel is already under ICC investigation for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of apartheid in the illegally occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem and in the besieged Gaza Strip. United Nations agencies, as well as international, Palestinian, and Israeli human rights groups, have thoroughly documented a wide range of Israeli crimes under international law including apartheid, ethnic cleansing, invasion, occupation, settler colonization, extrajudicial killing, the killing of civilians including children, and state surveillance.

In his Jacobin piece, Hammouri wrote that "everything Israel's apartheid regime has done is aimed at silencing me and encouraging me to give up and leave the country, as they do with any Palestinian who refuses to bow their head and submit to ethnic cleansing."

"Since its inception, the Zionist movement has been committed to expelling as many Palestinians as possible from our land," he noted. "In the 1948 Palestinian Nakba, arguments for 'forcible expulsion' decisively won the day, and more than 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes."

"Ever since, Israel has contrived increasingly intricate methods for inducing us to leave," Hammouri continued. "This is most evident in my home city of Jerusalem, which today lies directly in the crosshairs of Israeli city planners who intend to transform Palestinians into an isolated minority with no rights and no presence. The expulsion of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah--highlighted again by the demolition of the Salhiya family home at 5:00 am on the coldest day of the year--is merely the most well-known incident of ethnic cleansing, with similar initiatives taking place all over the city."

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Unbowed, Hammouri wrote that "I am continuing with my struggle because I want all Palestinians to live with freedom and dignity, and I know this will not come without a fight, without sacrifice on the part of those willing to take a stand."

"As our people have not given up, neither can I," he added, "and neither can the millions around the world who support Palestine, and whose commitment to our cause is more important now than ever before."

In an interview with Middle East Memo, Lefort said that every time her husband is arrested, "he gets stronger."

"In Israeli prisons, among Palestinian political prisoners, there is huge solidarity among the detainees," she continued. "They are trying to instill collective punishment; they are trying to destroy him. He is just an activist fighting for the liberation of his land, but he is also a husband, a father, a friend, a son."

"Every time they arrest him it is harder for him and also his family and he knows this is hard for all of us," she added, "but his fight for the liberation of his land is stronger than the harassment."

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