Israel said it has deported a Palestinian lawyer and activist to France, claiming he has ties to a banned militant group, despite objections from the French government.
The expulsion of Salah Hammouri underscored the fragile status of Palestinians in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, where most hold revocable residency rights but are not Israeli citizens. It also set up a possible diplomatic spat with France, which had repeatedly appealed to Israel not to carry out the expulsion.
“I’m happy to announce that justice was served today and the terrorist Salah Hammouri was deported from Israel,” Israel’s interior minister Ayelet Shaked said. Mr Hammouri was born in Jerusalem but holds French citizenship.
Israel says Mr Hammouri is an activist in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a group that it has labelled a terrorist organisation. He has worked as a lawyer for Adameer, a rights group that assists Palestinian prisoners that Israel has banned for alleged ties to the PFLP.
He spent seven years in prison after being convicted in an alleged plot to kill a prominent rabbi but was released in a 2011 prisoner swap with the Hamas militant group. He has not been convicted in the latest proceedings against him.
Israel, however, claimed he continued his activities with the banned group, stripped him of residency and placed him last March in administrative detention — a status that allows Israel to hold suspected militants for months at a time without charging them or putting them on trial. Mr Hammouri was not charged in the current case but Ms Shaked ordered the deportation when his detention order expired.
Israel’s Supreme Court had rejected an appeal against the decision to revoke Mr Hammouri’s residency status. France’s Foreign Ministry condemned Israel’s deportation of Mr Hammouri after he landed in Paris, saying it has “taken full action, including at the highest level of the State, to ensure that Mr Salah Hamouri’s rights are respected, that he benefits from all legal remedies and that he can lead a normal life in Jerusalem, where he was born, resides and wishes to live”.
Israeli human rights group HaMoked, which had defended Mr Hammouri, condemned the expulsion. A hearing on 1 January on the matter had been scheduled and it was not immediately clear how Israel was able to push ahead with the deportation.
“Deporting a Palestinian from their homeland for breach of allegiance to the state of Israel is a dangerous precedent and a gross violation of basic rights,” said the group’s director, Jessica Montell. “HaMoked will continue to fight against this unconstitutional law.”
Last year, Mr Hammouri was among six human rights activists whose mobile phones were found by independent security researchers to have been infected with spyware made by the Israeli company NSO Group. It was not known who placed the spyware on the phones.
Israel said there is no connection between the terror designation of Adameer and five other Palestinian rights groups and any alleged use of NSO spyware. Israel has provided little evidence publicly to support the terrorism designation, which Palestinian groups say is meant to muzzle them and dry up their sources of funding.