Palestinian astrophysicist Imad Barghouthi, a professor at Al-Quds University, is currently being held in Israeli administrative detention – imprisonment without charge or trial. His three-month sentence is indefinitely renewable on the basis of “secret evidence” to which he and his lawyer are denied access.
Barghouthi’s imprisonment has touched off protests from scientists and academics around the world; his work in astrophysics is world-renowned. AURDIP (the Association of Academics for the Respect of International Law in Palestine, France), BRICUP (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine), and BACBI (Belgian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) have appealed to the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, urging him to request the suspension of the EU’s Association Agreement with Israel until Barghouthi is freed.
He was imprisoned once before in December 2014 while en route to an academic conference in the United Arab Emirates. He was also then ordered to administrative detention without charge or trial; the resulting protests of international scientists – including AURDIP, BRICUP, Committee of Concerned Scientists, MESA (Middle East Studies Association) Committee on Academic Freedom, and Euroscience – helped to secure his early release in January 2015.
Barghouthi, from the village of Beit Rima, marked his 54th birthday in Israeli prison after being arrested on 24 April by Israeli soldiers at a military checkpoint by Nabi Saleh. Not only has he been taken away from his research and his students at Al-Quds University, he has also been taken away from his family.
“Imad is the source of love and kindness in our house. He is very joyful and he spreads positivity wherever he goes,” says Duha Barghouthi, 17, Imad’s daughter and a graduating high school student. “He used to help me – and my twin sister – in our homework and exams. Unfortunately, as seniors, we are in the middle of our final exams. Passing our exams without him next to us as we study and prepare has impacted us negatively.”
“My father teaches and plants concepts and ideas of freedom through education to his students, his children, and his colleagues,” Duha said, emphasizing her father’s commitment to Palestinian science.
“My father is a man who loves his country and he has paid a price for that. He rejected job offers from several countries around the world in order to stay in Palestine and work to raise up his nation through science and education of the youth. It is this love of country that fills his soul,” Duha said.
Al-Quds University, where Barghouthi teaches, has seen its campus invaded by Israeli soldiers, and departments and student organization offices ransacked, while student activists and leaders at the university have been arrested and imprisoned. Israeli officials have alleged Barghouthi is involved with Palestinian political party and resistance movement Hamas; like most Palestinian political parties, Hamas is designated a “prohibited organization” under Israeli military orders. Under administrative detention, however, the Israeli military and intelligence service need no charges to justify his detention – just a “secret file” inaccessible to Barghouthi or his lawyer.
“He stood against the war that the Israeli army launched on Gaza, that senseless, merciless war that killed children and destroyed homes,” said Duha. “He asks countries to stand with the oppressed Palestinian people who are suffering, and stands against all kinds of terror. And his rights were confiscated by the occupation. This is what Israel considers a ‘danger’ – especially that my father is a well-known scientist.”
Barghouthi is one of approximately 750 Palestinians held under administrative detention, all without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence, and a total of over 7,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Administrative detention was first used in Palestine by the British colonial mandate, and continued in the “emergency laws” imposed by the Israeli occupation. Other prominent Palestinians held in administrative detention include journalists like Omar Nazzal, member of the General Secretariat of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate and five more Palestinian journalists. Barghouthi is far from the first academic to be held in administrative detention; writers like Ahmed Qatamesh and professors and lecturers like Ghassan Thuqan and Yousef Abdulhaq, among many others, have been imprisoned by Israel, often without charge or trial.
Duha noted that her father firmly adheres to the principles of the academic boycott of Israel, and has rejected multiple offers for joint scientific projects with Israeli institutions. “My father refuses to work or coordinate with Israeli institutions. He totally rejects scientific normalization. This is part of his peaceful resistance to the occupation,” said Duha.
“Personally, I think Israel is somehow trying to force him to accept offers of normalization projects,” said Duha. She noted that his resistance comes with a cost, saying that “Academics and scientists who agree to participate in normalization projects receive privileges from the occupation.”
She urged international scientists to support her father’s case. “Scientists should be awarded, not imprisoned. I know there are already organizations that are concerned with such cases,” Duha said. “But I urge them to do more legally. My father isn’t the only scientist who has been persecuted by the Israeli occupation. There is a war on Palestinian education. I hope to see Israel held accountable for its cruel actions on an international level.”
She noted the work of organizations and prominent international academics, mathematicians and scientists who have spoken up to urge Barghouthi’s freedom. “My father is fortunate enough to have made an international reputation for himself academically. People all over the world are speaking up for him, but what he would like most is for people to speak up for all Palestinian prisoners.”