Israel trying to deport stateless Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem

By Oren Ziv

Mustafa al-Haruf, a stateless Palestinian journalist who lives and works in Jerusalem, has been in an Israeli detention facility for the past month, fighting a deportation order to Jordan, a country he has no ties to. Al-Haruf, born in Algeria to a Palestinian father, has lived in East Jerusalem since he was 12, and is married to a Jerusalemite Palestinian woman, with whom he has a small child.

His story is a complicated one. It also encapsulates the problematic situation for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, who are residents of the city, but not citizens of the State of Israel. Their residency can be taken away from them at any given moment — even if they were born or raised in Jerusalem.

Al-Haruf, 32, is the son of an Algerian mother and a Palestinian father from East Jerusalem. His family moved to East Jerusalem shortly after his twelfth birthday. Like many other Palestinians, it took years for his father to formalize his status, since he had been living abroad for so long. After finally receiving status, al-Haruf’s father attempted to formalize that of his children. Mustafa’s request was rejected since he was 18 and four months, and therefore too old according the Israeli authorities.

According to al-Haruf’s attorney, Adi Lustigman, who is representing him on behalf of Israeli human rights organization Hamoked, the family went to the Interior Ministry office on Jerusalem’s Nablus Road, which is known for its endless lines. “There were no procedures for a parent who wanted to register his or her children. Therefore, by no fault of their own, it took the family a long time to request residency for the children,” says Lustigman.

“In all my 18 years of work, I have not seen a single case in which Israel arrested someone who came to Jerusalem as a child for being undocumented. Mustafa has no other place where he can legally be,” says Lustigman.

After being rejected by the Nablus Road office, Al-Haruf turned to the Interior Ministry’s humanitarian committee, which also refused to accept his request. Eventually, he was granted a B1 visa, most often given to foreign workers for a one-year period. “The state is treating children who were born in East Jerusalem or abroad as foreigners,” Lustigman explains. “It defines the requests of these children as family unification cases, even in instances in which the resident has left to study abroad.”

“I came here as a child, it was not my choice to live here,” Al-Haruf said to Judge Michael Silberschmidt, who headed the Interior Ministry tribunal that heard the case, during a hearing on February 19. “I have lived my entire life in a giant prison — Jerusalem. I have been waiting for 20 years. I went to the Jordanians and told them I am Palestinian. The Palestinians told me that I am from Israel. The Israelis tell me I am Jordanian. So now I ask the Interior Ministry — who am I?”

“This is my first time in prison,” al-Haruf continued as he choked back tears, “it is hard for me to have my family see me this way. I know myself, I did not do anything illegal in the 20 years I have been living here.”

Rejected for ‘security reasons’

The fact that Al-Haruf is a journalist adds yet another complication. Over the last few years, he has been working as a photojournalist for the Turkish outlet Anadolu Agency. Before that he worked as an independent photographer, focusing on clashes in the Old City, and specifically around Al-Aqsa Compound.

Al-Haruf’s request to renew his visa was rejected in 2015 for “security reasons.” His attorneys say that this was likely due to the photos of clashes he had published on his personal Facebook page (Al-Haruf closed his Facebook account in 2016). He was arrested once again for Facebook incitement in 2017 — both cases were closed.

Al-Haruf was also arrested in 2015 near Al-Aqsa Compound and charged with attacking a police officer. Al-Haruf says that he, not the police officer, was the one who was attacked, and in a rare turn of events an Israeli court accepted his argument. The case was dropped, and the officer responsible was convicted in a disciplinary proceeding by the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department.

In 2016 Al-Haruf married a Palestinian woman from East Jerusalem, with whom he has a daughter. Following his marriage, he reached an agreement with the Interior Ministry to undergo a process of family unification and thus forgo the humanitarian route. As part of the family unification process, the authorities looked into his criminal and security record.

On January 21, 2019, the Interior Ministry informed Lustigman that it would refuse the family unification request. Al-Haruf appealed the decision, but a few hours later, in the early hours of the morning, police officers and immigration inspectors raided his family home in the Wadi Joz neighborhood and arrested him. At first, they instructed his wife to pack her belongings and go with them, until they were convinced that she was indeed an East Jerusalem resident. Their landlord, too, was arrested overnight on suspicion of harboring an “infiltrator.” He was later released.

Since his arrest, al-Haruf has been held in Givon Prison in the city of Ramle, where he is waiting for a decision on his case.

During the tribunal hearing, Lustigman argued that Israel could not deport al-Haruf since he does not have citizenship or status in any country. The Interior Ministry claims he has a Jordanian passport, but Lustigman says that the passport’s sole purpose is to allow Palestinians to reach Arab countries through Jordan, but does not grant them any legal status in the Hashemite Kingdom, nor does it allow them to live there.

A representative of the Interior Ministry admitted that al-Haruf is not a Jordanian citizen, yet still insisted on deporting him to the country. “We look into the case of a specific detainee when there is a final decision that he can be deported,” she said at the hearing. “If there’s a problem, we will deal with it.”

‘An attack on freedom of the press in Israel’

“Can a person be deported to a country in which he is not a citizen?” Lustigman asked aloud during the hearing. “It is our understanding that the answer is no. Even if this is technically possible, Al-Haruf has no connection to Jordan, he has no family [there], he has no ability to live there legally. He has no ability of living anywhere and he cannot move with his family anywhere.”

Following his arrest, the Interior Ministry claimed it had received recent “classified material” from the Shin Bet — in addition to that which had been presented during the family unification process — according to which al-Haruf is a “member of Hamas involved in illegal activity and in contact with other members in a proscribed organization.” Al-Haruf had never been arrested or charged on these grounds in the 20 years he has lived in East Jerusalem.

Al-Haruf denies the allegations. “If I did something, let them take me to prison. But they did not tell me a thing. I need to understand the charges.” He says his contract stipulates that he act according to the same rules that apply to Israeli journalists. “I do not belong to any side. I am a journalist. I do not write, I photograph,” he told the tribunal. When asked about his contacts with terrorist groups, al-Haruf responded: “Let them give me a list of people with whom I cannot speak and publish it in all the newspapers.”

Turgut Alp Boyraz, al-Haruf’s superior at Anadolu, says the allegations are baseless. “This is an attack on freedom of the press in Israel,” he told the tribunal. Lustigman further argued that “people call him because he is a journalist. People he knows and those he doesn’t; he goes and photographs. (Full disclosure: I know al-Haruf from his work as a journalist).

Throughout the hearing, tribunal head Silberschmidt asked representatives from the Shin Bet to enter the room to discuss the classified information. It is difficult to describe the absurdity of the situation: al-Haruf and Lustigman were asked to leave, with the latter given the option of handing her pre-written questions to Silberschmidt, who would then hand them over to the Shin Bet representative who would be able to respond. The representative of the Interior Ministry was allowed to remain in the room.

Lustigman asked the Shin Bet representative whether the activities described in the classified material are directly or indirectly connected to al-Haruf’s activity as a photojournalist, and why he has never been taken in for questioning regarding these supposed allegations. After a 30-minute closed-door hearing, Silbschmidt read aloud the Shin Bet’s response, according to which the agency has “information that goes beyond the work of the appellant.” The Shin Bet did not explain why al-Haruf was never questioned.

Unsurprisingly, the appeal was rejected. “Indeed, the fact that the appellants do not have access to the information available to the security services makes it difficult for them to respond or refute the information,” Silberschmidt wrote in a decision published on Sunday, while adding that “there is no reason” to intervene in the decision to reject the family unification request. “The Minister of the Interior is given extensive discretion when considering a person’s request to receive status in Israel, even more so when the Minister of the Interior believes that the candidate poses a danger to the security of the state and the public.”

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