Leader of Palestinian political party in Israel routinely harassed and detained at Ben Gurion airport

Israel/Palestine
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Awad Abdel Fattah addressing the Palestine Center in Washington, DC on Israeli repression of Palestinian political movements, May, 10, 2011. (Photo: Palestine Center)

Awad Abdel Fattah is the secretary general of Balad, a Palestinian political party in Israel which was founded by Azmi Bishara in 1995. Balad, or the National Democratic Party as its sometimes known, currently holds three seats in the Knesset represented by Said Naffaa, Jamal Zahalka, and Haneen Zoabi.

Balad issued a press release today charging that authorities at Ben Gurion airport routinely harass and detain Abdel Fattah. From the release:

The latest incident occurred last month, when Awad Abdel Fattah, the NDP’s secretary-general, returned from a speaking tour in Europe. Among his engagements, he met Finland’s Foreign Minister, Erkki Tuomioja, and leaders of political parties in Belgium and Sweden to discuss the increasingly repressive political atmosphere in Israel towards the country’s 1.4 million Palestinian citizens.

When Mr Abdel Fattah exited the plane in the early hours of May 3 he was pulled aside for interrogation and detained for more than two hours without his passport. When repeated requests for its return were ignored, and he was not given a reason for his detention, he told the security staff to keep the passport and headed towards baggage reclaim.

It was the third time in a month that he had suffered such treatment at Ben Gurion airport.

At baggage reclaim, Mr Abdel Fattah was surrounded by security staff and threatened with arrest. Only when Mr Abdel Fattah caused a scene in the baggage reclaim area, in front of other passengers, was he told that the decision to detain him been “an order from higher-up”.

This was confirmed a short time later by a senior member of the security police who arrived to speak to Mr Abdel Fattah privately.

Mr Abdel Fattah recounted: “He told me that the matter was not in the hands of the police but had come from the intelligence services. He suggested that members of my party in the Knesset should call the Minister of Internal Security.

“Minutes later, apparently because of the embarrassment I had caused them, they returned my passport and let me go. At this point, at 6am, I had been detained for three hours.”

This treatment should be seen in the context of the harassment other Balad members have received including Bishara, who has been living in exile in Qatar since 2007, and Haneen Zoabi who had her parliamentary privileges stripped following her participation in the Gaza flotilla.

Here’s the full press release:

Press release
National Democratic Party
7 June 2012

Head of Arab Political Party Harassed, Detained at Israeli Airport

The National Democratic Party has accused Israel’s security services of repeatedly harassing one of its leaders each time he leaves and enters Israel.

The NDP, which represents Israel’s large minority of Arab Palestinian citizens and has three members sitting in the Israeli parliament, has suffered a campaign of persecution from the Israeli security services for many years.

The latest incident occurred last month, when Awad Abdel Fattah, the NDP’s secretary-general, returned from a speaking tour in Europe. Among his engagements, he met Finland’s Foreign Minister, Erkki Tuomioja, and leaders of political parties in Belgium and Sweden to discuss the increasingly repressive political atmosphere in Israel towards the country’s 1.4 million Palestinian citizens.

When Mr Abdel Fattah exited the plane in the early hours of May 3 he was pulled aside for interrogation and detained for more than two hours without his passport. When repeated requests for its return were ignored, and he was not given a reason for his detention, he told the security staff to keep the passport and headed towards baggage reclaim.

It was the third time in a month that he had suffered such treatment at Ben Gurion airport.

At baggage reclaim, Mr Abdel Fattah was surrounded by security staff and threatened with arrest. Only when Mr Abdel Fattah caused a scene in the baggage reclaim area, in front of other passengers, was he told that the decision to detain him been “an order from higher-up”.

This was confirmed a short time later by a senior member of the security police who arrived to speak to Mr Abdel Fattah privately.

Mr Abdel Fattah recounted: “He told me that the matter was not in the hands of the police but had come from the intelligence services. He suggested that members of my party in the Knesset should call the Minister of Internal Security.

“Minutes later, apparently because of the embarrassment I had caused them, they returned my passport and let me go. At this point, at 6am, I had been detained for three hours.”

Earlier, his wife, Fathiyya Hussein (Abdel Fattah), who returned on the same flight from a business trip to Brussels, was threatened with arrest when she refused to leave the airport without her husband.

The NDP has suffered a campaign of persecution and intimidation from the Israeli security services over the past decade. Despite being a legal party, its former leader, Azmi Bishara, was forced into exile and its members are regularly called in for interrogation by the intelligence services, during which they are often warned to quit the party.

Mr Abdel Fattah has been arrested for his political activities on several occasions, including most recently in 2009 when he led a demonstration against Israel’s attack on Gaza, in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed.

Mr Abdel Fattah added: “The goal of this policy of targeting our party is to restrict our freedom of political action and to humiliate and insult representatives of the Arab public.

“It is part of the systematic persecution of our party and its leaders, an attempt to smear our image and make us look dangerous to the general public.”

Israel’s harassment of its Palestinian citizens at Ben Gurion airport has come under increasing scrutiny. A year ago the Supreme Court demanded that the airport authorities and the Israeli intelligence service, the Shin Bet, explain why security checks were being conducted in a discriminatory manner against Arab citizens.

Mr Abdel Fattah’s treatment coincides with other revelations of harassment and a lack of accountability from security staff at Ben Gurion airport.

Several passengers arriving from abroad with Arab names say security officials demanded they log into their private email accounts so that the contents could be read. Lawyers argue that the policy violates Israeli law.

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