Expelled by Israel, Salah Hamouri refuses to be condemned to silence

Since his expulsion to France by Israel on December 18, the Franco-Palestinian lawyer Salah Hamouri says he has suffered more often from his right thigh, where an Israeli bullet collected in 2000, when he was a teenager, remains embedded.

“When it’s super cold, it hurts me a little,” he told AFP in mid-January in Paris, where the temperatures are much cooler than in Jerusalem.

“I think about it all the time. It’s part of the traces of the occupation that pursue me,” continues this slender man with intense blue eyes, pointing to a small round scar.

Salah Hamouri was 15 in 2000 when the Second Intifada started, the Palestinian uprising which lasted until 2005. As Palestinians rained stones on Israeli soldiers, he said he felt “something touching him”. “There was a lot of blood. They took me to the hospital. They couldn’t remove the bullet.”

The episode will anchor, he says, his determination to defend Palestinian rights. He who, at the age of “5-6 years”, had found himself practically “every night gathered in a room with his family”, while the Israeli army searched, in vain, his house in search of an uncle “accused of having taken part in the First Intifada” (1987-1993).

“At 6 or 7 years old”, Salah Hamouri says he discovered the prison by visiting this uncle. He himself will then multiply prison stays. Now 37 years old, he has lived nine years, nearly a quarter of his life spent in detention.

– “Still scared” –

Five months in 2001, four months in 2004, thirteen months in 2017, ten days in 2020, then nine months in 2022… “What he is doing is not something to blame, so we have always supported him “, assures his mother Denise, who came to see him in Paris.

His shortest stays behind bars almost all involved administrative detention, a regime described as “illegal at the level of international law” by Nathalie Godard, an executive of Amnesty International, because neither the accused nor his lawyers know the alleged facts.

Between 2005 and 2011, Salah Hamouri was imprisoned for participating in the attempted assassination of Ovadia Yossef, Israel’s former chief rabbi and founder of the ultra-Orthodox Shass party.

“He found himself pleading guilty to reduce the sentence he risked having, but he was innocent,” Elias Geoffroy, of the NGO Association of Christians Against Torture (ACAT), told AFP in November. , which awarded him its 2022 Human Rights Prize.

The Israeli Interior Ministry insists, however, that Salah Hamouri is “a terrorist” of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), an organization considered “terrorist” by the Jewish state and the European Union.

In 2016, the Israeli government expelled his wife Elsa Lefort, then a French consular employee and pregnant with the first of their two children. Five years later, Amnesty International, after analyzing his mobile phone, found that it was hacked by the Israeli spyware Pegasus.

“Since a very young age, (Salah) Hamouri has supported terrorist acts and has taken advantage of his residence permit in Israel for these acts”, recently affirmed the Israeli authorities, who on December 18 ended up deporting him to France, which called for him and his family to be able to live together in Jerusalem and regretted his expulsion.

– “War crime” –

A decision described as a “war crime” by the UN, because international humanitarian law “prohibits the expulsion of protected persons from occupied territory”, according to one of its spokespersons.

Born in East Jerusalem, part of the Holy City annexed and occupied by the Jewish state, where he spent his entire life, the lawyer did not have Israeli nationality but only a Jerusalem residence permit. In addition to a French passport, inherited from his mother.

Salah Hamouri “is an emblem of the repression against civil society” carried out by Israel, which wants “to silence dissenting voices in its policy of apartheid against the Palestinian population”, considers Nathalie Godard.

His expulsion constitutes in this sense “an extremely dangerous precedent for the Palestinians of Jerusalem, for whom loyalty to the occupying power will be required” if they want to stay on the spot, worries the Palestinian Milena Ansari, colleague of the lawyer to Addameer, an NGO defending the rights of Palestinian prisoners, which Israel also describes as “terrorist”.

“By deporting Salah, (Israel) believes it will silence him, that he will see the beauty of France and forget the agony of Palestine. But I’m sure that won’t happen,” she says.

In fact, the lawyer multiplies the interventions for five weeks that he is in France. On Wednesday, he was received at the European Parliament.

“Israel has not won in its desire to silence me. My voice will be higher, stronger. My fight will continue,” he insists. “I will not give the occupier this opportunity to feel that it has won by forcibly deporting me from Palestine.”

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