PARIS – Palestinian lawyer and activist Salah Hammouri vowed to keep up his fight for the rights of the Palestinian people despite his deportation to France following Israel’s claim that he has ties to a banned militant group.
Hammouri, who holds French citizenship, landed in Paris on Dec. 18 following months of legal wrangling, despite France’s public opposition to the expulsion.
His deportation underscored the fragile status of Palestinians in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, where most hold revocable residency rights but are not Israeli citizens.
In an interview with the Associated Press this week, Hammouri said his deportation “will leave me only the courage to continue my struggle against the Israeli occupation and to defend the rights of the Palestinian people.”
"I can’t imagine myself living out of Jerusalem and out of Palestine because this is the place where I grew up. This is the place where I want to live and this is the place where I want to go back,” he said.
Hammouri said Israeli authorities followed through with his deportation to send a “clear message" that Palestinians in Jerusalem should leave the city in order to “have an Israeli majority in Jerusalem with a minority of Palestinian people.”
Israel says Hammouri is an activist with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group that it, the United States and the European Union have labelled a terrorist organization. He has worked as a lawyer for Adameer, a rights group that assists Palestinian prisoners that Israel has banned for alleged ties to the PFLP.
He spent seven years in prison after being convicted 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 convicted in the most recent legal proceedings against him.
But Israel claimed he continued to be active with the banned group, stripped him of residency, and placed him last March in administrative detention — a status that allows Israel to hold suspected militants for months at a time without charging them or putting them on trial.
Hammouri rejected Israel’s accusations.
“Israeli authorities have no evidence that I'm a member of the Palestinian organization (PFLP)," he told the AP. “If they have had evidence, they would have been able to show it to the French authorities, which they did not.”
“I am an advocate for the rights of the Palestinian people… and human rights and I am a lawyer. I defended Palestinian political prisoners and it’s my right,” he said.
Hammouri said France didn't “work enough to help me and my cause" and opted not to use “means of pressure" at its disposal. He urged French authorities "to use the best means of pressure so that I can go back home.”
France’s Foreign Ministry condemned Israel’s deportation of Hammouri after his arrival in Paris, saying it has “taken full action, including at the highest level of the state" to ensure Hammouri’s rights are respected, receives due process and lead “a normal life in Jerusalem, where he was born, resides and wishes to live.”
Hammouri said he's spending time his wife and children, who are French, in the Paris region, resting and recovering from a 19-day hunger strike he went on in October to protest Israel's policy of administrative detention.
He did not provide details on how he will continue his political activities.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, home to the city’s most important religious sites, in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed the area in a move that is not internationally recognized. It considers the entire city to be 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 ability to work and access to Israeli social services, but they are not allowed to vote in national elections. Residency rights can be stripped if a Palestinian is found to live outside the city for an extended period or in certain security cases.
Palestinians can apply for citizenship but few do, in part because they do not want to be seen as accepting what they see as an occupation. Those who do apply, however, face a lengthy and bureaucratic process with no guarantees of approval.