Palestinian photojournalist at risk of Israeli deportation

2019-06-02 08:58
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the weekly cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem. (Gali Tibbon, Pool via AP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the weekly cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem. (Gali Tibbon, Pool via AP)

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For the past five months, Mustafa al-Kharouf has been languishing inside Israel's Givon prison, away from his wife Tamam and their one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Asia, but now he faces deportation to Jordan.

The 32-year-old photojournalist, son of an Algerian mother and a Palestinian father, has been living in Jerusalem since 1999 when his family moved back.

Despite repeated attempts in the past decade he has been denied permanent residency status, which he is entitled to, thus rendering him stateless.

By the time Kharouf's family met the conditions set out by the policy to get residency, Mustafa was 18 years old and his family were not able to submit an application for family reunification or child registration on his behalf.

In January, Mustafa, who worked with the Anadolu Agency, was arrested after his lawyer challenged Israeli interior ministry's decision to reject his request for legal status.

His fate is now in the hands of an Israeli High Court, which will decide if he will be deported to Jordan, a country he has no ties to.

In order to attain their "legal" status as Palestinians in the city, Kharouf's family applied for the family reunification requests.

But at the core of Israel's complicated laws for Palestinian Jerusalem residents – who are granted residency rights but not Israeli citizenship – is the "centre of life" policy, which has been described as a "legalised cleansing".

The policy, which requires Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem to prove they keep a centre of life in the city to uphold their legal status, has been criticised by rights groups as discriminatory and as a precursor to forcible transfers – a serious violation of international law.

Legal status rejected by Israeli interior ministry

Adi Lustigman, Kharouf's lawyer from the Israeli rights organisation HaMoked, told Al Jazeera that Kharouf tried to regulate his status in Jerusalem for years, but to no avail.

"He had an interim order during some periods, but the rest of the times he has just managed, like many other stateless and status-less Jerusalemites do," Lustigman said.

"It is of course enormously difficult to be a person with no rights, no work permit, and nowhere to go in order to be legal."

From October 2014-2015, Kharouf was granted an Israeli B/1 work visa on "humanitarian basis". Yet requests for a visa extension was eventually rejected by the ministry of interior for "security reasons".

Lustigman believes the ministry's rejections is related to his work as a photojournalist documenting human rights abuses committed by the Israeli authorities in occupied East Jerusalem.

After Kharouf got married to his wife Tamam, a Palestinian Jerusalemite, in 2016, he filled out another family reunification application, but it was again rejected in December 2018 by the interior ministry.

According to Lustigman, the decision is based on unfounded accusations that Kharouf is a member of Hamas, which is banned by Israel.

The lawyer appealed the decision on January 21 2019, but the next day, Israeli forces raided and arrested Kharouf from his home, and he has since been placed under administrative detention – indefinite imprisonment without trial or charges against him.

"My husband is the most optimistic person I know, but now he is beyond miserable," Kharouf's wife Tamam told Al Jazeera.

Tamam is permitted to visit her husband once a week for a maximum of 20 minutes only behind a glass window.

"His spirits have deteriorated so much since his arrest," the 27-year-old school counselor said. "He has lost 10 kilograms, and is very depressed."

A few months later in April, the Israeli District Court rejected Kharouf's appeal, and gave an interim order not to deport him so he is able to take his case to Israel's High Court, with May 5 given as the deadline. The appeal has already been filed, but the High Court has yet to make a decision. Kharouf remains at an imminent risk of being forcibly deported to Jordan.

Deportation order 'illegal'

Saleh Hijazi, the head of Amnesty International's Jerusalem office, called the Israeli decision to refuse Kharouf's residency application and deport him as "cruel and unlawful".

"[Kharouf] must be released immediately and granted permanent residency in East Jerusalem so he can resume his normal life with his wife and child," Hijazi said.

"The arbitrary detention and planned deportation of Mustafa al-Kharouf reflect Israel's long-term policy to reduce the number of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, while denying them their human rights," he continued.

Following Israel's illegal annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, at least 14 600 Palestinians have had their residency permits revoked.

Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, the deportation of protected people from an occupied territory is illegal. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court stipulates that "the deportation or transfer [by the Occupying Power] of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory" constitutes a war crime.

"A person cannot be left stateless", Jessica Montell, Executive Director of HaMoked said in a press release in April. "On the practical level, there is no sense holding Mustafa 'pending deportation' when there is no country to which Israel can deport him.

"The High Court of Justice has recognised East Jerusalemites as an indigenous population with a unique status. Israel must therefore release Mustafa without delay and give him the legal status to which he is entitled as a Jerusalemite".

Tamam has been busy consulting with lawyers to see what can be done but she said that most of them say her husband's case is too complicated and refuse to take it on.

"I haven't thought about an alternative plan for us," Tamam said. "If Mustafa gets deported to Jordan, he will not receive residency let alone citizenship.

"In fact he'll get detained by Jordanian authorities as soon as he crosses the border for as long as it will take them to review his files and come to a decision on what to do with him," she continued.

"If he gets deported, it won't be just one family that will be fragmented. He'll be ripped away from me and my daughter, from his parents, and from his in-laws."

Lustigman says the importance of highlighting Kharouf's case can make the difference in not uprooting the photojournalist's life. 

"We hope that public opinion, press interests, and NGO actions would have a certain weight and be of help," the lawyer said.

Read more on:    palestine  |  israel  |  media freedom
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