(The following report appeared in Mondoweiss)
Since May 9th, Israeli police and the Shabak (security services) have detained more than 2,000 Palestinians inside the territory Israel has occupied since 1948. But the detention of Sheikh Kamal al-Khatib in Kafr Kanna (north of Nazareth) on Friday, May 14, was the most dramatic and notable. As the police surrounded the Sheikh’s home, local residents spontaneously organized a mass demonstration against his detention, and soon there were clashes with the police. The police used live ammunition to disperse the crowd, and Mako reported (here, in Hebrew) that eleven of the demonstrators were evacuated for medical treatment, at least four of them in severe conditions.
When al-Khatib was indicted two weeks later (on May 27) in the Nazareth Magistrate’s court, his lawyers protested that his violent arrest was illegal to start with. The factual base of the indictment only mentioned three posts on Facebook. By law, the police are entitled to invade people’s homes and arrest suspects without a judicial warrant only in hot pursuit or to prevent imminent crime. Old posts of Facebook don’t justify it. In many previous occasions, when the police or the Shabak wanted to warn al-Khatib about his political activities, he was summoned to the police station where he was interrogated. But the new aggressive approach was exactly the message that the Israeli oppressive state wanted to convey.
Sheikh Kamal al-Khatib is one of the most prominent political figures among the ‘48 Palestinian public. He was the deputy leader of the Islamic Movement (sometimes called “the northern faction of the Islamic Movement”, but it is definitely the real thing) before it was outlawed by Israel in November 2015. Like many other members of the Islamic Movement, he continued his public activity after the movement was banned, and served, between other roles, as head of the “Liberties Committee”, the committee responsible for the defense of political and Human Rights on behalf of the “high follow-up committee”, the unified representative body of 1948 Palestinians.
Al-Khatib is represented in court by a joint team from Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel, led by advocate Hassan Jabareen, and from Al-Mizan Rights Foundation (from Nazareth) led by advocate Omar Khamaisi.
Indictment of the Palestinian narrative
On receiving the eight-page indictment against al-Khatib, Jabareen protested and informed the court that he could not relate to such a lopsided document. Ten out of the 22 articles in the indictment are not connected to anything that is related to the accused, but are simply used to “set the context” – presenting a one-sided narrative of the conflict between the Palestinians and the Zionist movement and Israel from the beginning of the previous century until the latest bombardment of Gaza. In this narrative there is no ethnic cleansing, no occupation, no settlements on confiscated lands, no discrimination, no oppression, no Apartheid, only Arab rioters and terrorists constantly attacking innocent Jews and their revered security forces.
Against this background the court is required to assess the “danger” of the three Facebook posts, the only specific subjects of the indictment, that are taken from the page named “The Sheikh Kamal al-Khatib” (here, in Arabic). The indictment repeats many times the accusation that al-Khatib “called for violence”, “encouraged acts of terror” and “praised Hamas”. But in all the three quoted posts, even after being translated to Hebrew by police translators (his lawyers dispute the accuracy of the translation) – there is not a single call for violence, no praise for violence, and the name of Hamas (or any other organization that Israel considers as “terrorist”) is not even mentioned.
One of the posts that the indictment describes as “supporting terrorism” relates to the “Buraq Revolution” of 1929, which al-Khatib compared to the recent events, as both started with Jewish extremist provocations in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque. He mentions that in both cases the ensuing struggle quickly spread all over Palestine, and he mentions the casualties on both sides. Al-Khatib explained during his interrogation that he warned of the explosive potential from provocations in Al-Aqsa in order to prevent bloodshed. But the very fact that he speaks about these historic events from a Palestinian perspective was enough for the prosecution to declare it “support of terrorism”.
How to identify incitement?
In his 1982 satirical play “The Patriot”, Hanoch Levin wrote:
A man walking down the street glancing nervously from side to side and over his shoulder – shall be suspected of being an Arab terrorist.
A man walking down the street looking calmly ahead of him – shall be suspected of being a level-headed Arab terrorist.
A man walking down the street looking up at the sky – shall be suspected of being a religious Arab terrorist.
A man walking down the street staring at the ground – shall be suspected of being a shy Arab terrorist.
A man walking down the street with his eyes shut – shall be suspected of being a drowsy Arab terrorist.
A man not walking down the street – shall be suspected of being a sick Arab terrorist.
All the suspects listed above shall be arrested. In the event of an attempted escape, a warning shot will be fired in the air. The body will be taken to the forensic institute.”
The first of the three posts that are cited in the indictment as “incitement to violence” was published on April 19. On the previous day there was a demonstration in Yaffa in solidarity with the people of al-Quds. The demonstrators were attacked by the police and there were clashes. The post includes four images of wounded people and one image of a police concentration, all apparently taken in Yaffa the previous day. This post is relatively short, so I will quote it here in full (my translation from the original Arabic text):
“Jaffa the hard number
Jaffa has always been the lung and flank of Jerusalem.
Just as Jerusalem faces the settlers’ flocks, so did Jaffa last night in the face of their swarms.
It is the same police and its hostile attitude toward every Palestinian, Arab and Muslim, which attacked our people in Jaffa, but Jaffa’s heroes prove every day that they are a difficult number.
All greetings and kisses on the forehead of each of you, O lions of Jaffa.
Jaffa, the definitive evidence of the failure of the Zionist project to distort the identity of our people in the Palestinian inside (a term relating to 1948-Palestine – YH), despite the 73 years of the Nakba of Jaffa, and indeed of every Palestinian.”
Al-Khatibs’ lawyers explained in court that the text should be understood, according to the accompanying images, as encouragement to and solidarity with the people that were wounded by police violence. They claimed that in these words, like in the two other posts, there is nothing that constitutes an offence according to the law.
The prosecutor admitted that al-Khatib did not explicitly call for violence, but claimed that this is because he is “cautious” and “sophisticated”, which makes him even more dangerous.
On Tuesday, June 8, Judge Doron Porat, the president of the Nazareth Magistrates’ court, decided to accept the prosecution’s request and ruled that al-Khatib should be held in prison until the end of his sentencing, with no option for bail. Even though there were no calls for violence from the accused, he built an incriminating “logical reasoning”, extending Levin’s measures:
“So is the case with the “Yaffa publication”, which was accompanied by pictures of wounded people from the Arab sector. These people seemingly took part in riots that evening, and seemingly were wounded in confrontation with security forces… the advocates claimed that those things were said with the purpose to strengthen the wounded. However, even if I assume that he meant them… those wounded rioted before, seemingly, and hence he encouraged and praised the violent acts that they performed, seemingly. Still, it is people that confronted the security forces and were wounded during confrontation. Hence, the Yaffa publication also can be an inciting publication.” (Page 40 of the protocol, decision by Judge Porat on June 8, 2021)
In short, a wounded Arab is an Arab that attacked the police, and solidarity with him is an incitement to violence!
What was not translated?
The third post in the indictment is a video with a nine-minute-long speech that Sheikh Kamal al-Khatib gave on May 11 at a public meeting that was held in his town, Kafr Kanna, in solidarity with al-Quds and al-Aqsa. The long translated text includes many things that are not connected to the accusations in any way, like al-Khatib citing religious texts including the famous saying that “the best jihad is to speak truth in the face of a tyrannical ruler”. In his speech he mentioned the attacks by fascist settlers against the Arab population in different places and stressed the need for unity against these attacks. He praised the new Palestinian generation as conscious and brave and applauded their steadfastness in the face of the oppressors.
The only section of the speech that was not translated is where he described in detail a specific act of steadfastness: when Palestinians were called to come to pray in al-Aqsa, but the Israeli police decided to prevent them and blocked busses and cars on the main road leading to al-Quds. He described how the Israeli police expected the Palestinians to return to their towns, but thousands of them started, instead, walking the twenty kilometres separating them from al-Aqsa. It created such a huge traffic jam that the Israeli police finally preferred to let them continue their way in their vehicles.
No wonder that this vivid example of victory by popular struggle was omitted from the indictment – it contradicts all the narrative that is built by the prosecution according to which Palestinians are always perpetrating violent attacks for no reason.
Based on this text the prosecution also bases the claim that al-Khatib is “supporting Hamas” – but Hamas is not even mentioned, and what he said, even according to the police translation, is “Bless Jerusalem, bless Gaza, bless “the inside”, bless Palestine, bless our people in the “inside”, in Gaza, in the West Bank, in Jerusalem and in the diaspora.”
The logic of this text being considered “support of a terrorist organization” is that, according to their racist thinking, the Palestinian people as a whole are considered a terrorist organization.
Defending the innocents
The defense lawyers presented to the court a video with a sermon that al-Khatib delivered in a mosque in Kafr Kanna on the day of his arrest. In this sermon he talked about events that happened near the town a few days before, when a Jewish driver was attacked by an angry crowd – and other residents of Kafr Kana saved him from the crowd, brought him to receive medical treatment and later escorted him to safety. He said that the protest doesn’t justify attacks on the innocents, praised the actions of the residents that helped the victim and said that, if he was present there, he would have acted like them.
Even this sermon was later distorted by the prosecution and the judge, claiming that by denouncing the attack on innocent victims, al-Khatib actually praised and encouraged other attacks.
Sheikh Kamal al-Khatib was released under restrictive conditions
On Sunday, June 20, in the Nazareth District Court, Judge Arafat Taha accepted Sheikh Kamal al-Khatib’s appeal the lower court’s decision to detain him until the end of the legal proceedings against him. Judge Taha, after reading al-Khatib’s words in the original Arabic, accepted most of the claims of the defense lawyers against the prosecution and the lower court judge that claimed al-Khatib’s speech was incitement to violence and support of terrorism.
Still, as a condition for his release, al-Khatib had to pay high bail, he is not allowed to be in his town of Kafr Kanna for 45 days, and he is prevented from any public pronouncement for three months.