Friday, July 11, 2008

Administrative Detention: the case of Dr. Gassan Sharif Khaled

I first heard about Dr. Khaled from our coordinator, Valentina. Dr. Khaled’s father, Abu Azzam, had requested that we attend his court case at the High Court in Israel as a show of support. I wanted to learn more about the case before I went, so I met with Abu Azzam at his home in Jayyous, a small village in the northeast part of the West Bank.

This was my first experience with Arab hospitality and it was quite overwhelming. The food, cheer and generosity were double anything I had experienced back home. Abu Azzam certainly fit his moniker, Abu meaning father as he is considered the father of the village. It was hard for me to understand his patience and good humor all while his son was sitting in a military prison, but for most Palestinians that is life in the occupied territories.

His son, Dr. Khaled, is a professor of international and civil commercial law at A-Najah university in Nablas, a major city to the north of Jayyous. He was abducted from his home by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on the 16th of January, imprisoned for two months, and was released on bail after his family raised 30,000 sheckles in addition to the 30,000 raised by Israeli friends, which amounts to around 20,000 dollars. The initial three weeks of his detention included constant interrogation from the Shabak (Israeli Secret Service) at which time his father tells us he was tied down to a chair for twenty hours daily with only four hours for sleep and was not allowed to speak to anyone, even his lawyer.

The initial charges by the Shabak are seen by friends and family as a frame up, completely baseless to anyone who knows him. He is a sworn adherent to non-violence, has never been charged with a crime before, is a man of truth, and is an ardent promoter of the law. However, after backing off its initial charges, the Shabak decided to pursue the matter further. Only ten days after being released, the IDF broke down his door with sledge hammers at 3:30 am and took him away for the second time, severely traumatizing his wife and five children, the youngest just five months old.

Several military court hearings were held after his second detention at which even the military court judge expressed his concern for the Shabak’s lack of evidence for why a second detention was necessary. He warned that Dr. Khaled could not be kept in prison absent any “new facts” pertaining to the case not being provided within 24 hours. The judge ultimately gave in, however, and instated the administrative detention order on the basis of allegations made by the Shabak that Dr. Khaled was “master planning a large scale military attack on the authorities.”

During the course of our afternoon together, I came to understand Dr. Khaled’s situation and learn more about Abu Azzam’s difficulties under occupation as well. As the largest landholder in Jayyous, Abu Azzam faces constant threats to his land. None of his son’s can get a permit to work the land, most of which is between the security fence and the Green Line (the 67 borders). His olive trees have been uprooted by settlers, only to be planted again with the help of internationals and Israelis and then uprooted again. And he can’t sell his fruits and vegetables in the biggest market to the north, Nablus, because, although there is no law that states he cannot, anytime he brings produce to the market, it must be checked by Israeli authorities box by box, after which most buyers have left and the product has lost its freshness. Despite all of this, or because of it, Abu Azzam is a vocal critic of the occupation and has given lectures abroad about the situation in Jayyous and the West Bank as a whole (some Israelis have expressed to me that they think Dr. Khaled is being held in prison because of the activities and position of his father).

The court hearing was brief, about a half hour for oral arguments from both sides, and the three judge panel seemed more critical of the prosecution, but in the end the verdict was handed down in favor of the State, meaning Dr. Khaled will serve the whole six month sentence, which could be extended indefinitely. Under administrative detention, a person deemed as a security threat by the state authorities can be held for up to six months without a trail, essentially suspending the writ of habeas corpus. The defense attorney is at a loss because he cannot see the evidence being brought against his client, evidence that the state can claim is too sensitive to be made public at a trial. It is very much a Kafkaesque reality for those being charged. When they brought out Dr. Khaled, he looked frightened and confused, he didn’t belong in a brown prison jumpsuit surrounded by prison guards, he should be in a classroom teaching. For someone who has studied the law extensively, his predicament must have seemed all the more absurd, but it was all real and I could see the helplessness written on his face. He had no one to turn to; his lawyer, his friends, and the international community could not help him that day. He is still in prison, and who knows how long he will stay, separated from his family, friends, colleagues…his life.

35 comments:

Jan said...

Marty,
I found your blog in the latest edition of Peace Not Walls news. I really appreciate your update on Ghassam Khalid. I was with a group that visited Jayous in June and met Dr. Khalid's sister, who told us about his detention. At that time he had not been charged or had a trial.

I wrote a blog about my trip that you might be interested in seeing: http://apilgrimstales.blogspot.com . I will link your blog to mine, so IF anyone is reading, they can read about your experiences too.

I'm also working on a blog that links Americans to news they would not ordinarily hear. It's still in the formative stage: http://peacenewslinks.blogspot.com

Thanks for your work to make the news known.
----Jan Miller, Denver

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