Days of Palestine

Thursday, February 9

An open letter to Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel

Days of Palestine -

Why did not Belgian prime minister ask Israeli occupation to immediately and unconditionally release Belgian citizen who has been in Israeli jails for a couple of months without trial?

Dear Prime Minister Charles Michel,

Since you are the highest rank and the most influential person within the Belgian government, I am writing to you about the dilemma of Mostapha Awad, 36, who is a Belgian citizen of Palestinian ancestry held in an Israeli prison for nearly two months.

Mostapha was arrested on July 19th at the Allenby border crossing with Jordan. Israeli security officers questioned him because he was a peace activist and the co-founder of the popular debkeh (Palestinian dance) troupe Raj’een, which performed at numerous events in Belgium and across Europe.

I urge you to intercede on behalf of Mostapha Awad to help secure his release. Israel is notorious for arresting Palestinians without charges and it often subject them to torture and forces them to sign a confession in Hebrew, even if they do not know the language. Mostapha's family, who live in a refugee camp in south Lebanon, are not allowed to visit him. 

It is also time to show Israel some back bone by simply asking them to either charge or free Mostapha Awad as required under the Israeli law, as well as international law.

Here are some critical questions about the case of Mostapha Awad that need to be raised with your Israeli counterpart:

1. What evidence does Israel have that Awad has helped transfer funds from the PFLP in Syria and Lebanon to European activists?

2. Was any one of those European activists engaged in any illegal activities against their respective countries and or Israel?

3. Since Awad arrived at Tel Aviv airport several years ago to visit his parents' hometown north of the city of Akka, Palestine for the first time, why did Israel not arrest him then instead of denying him entry?

4. Why didn't Israeli tip Belgian officials about his "alleged illegal activities?"

5. Did Mostapha sign any confession? Was it in Arabic or Hebrew language? Mostapha does not read or write Hebrew.

6. Let’s assume Awad was a member of the PFLP in Belgium; Israel still does not have a jurisdiction over another sovereign nation, such as yours.

7. If Israel detained Awad for being a member of the PFLP, would Israel contemplate to assassinate or kidnap the Palestinian resistance icon Leila Khaled who is a prominent PFLP leader? For those who are not in the know, in February 2011, five Israeli Mossad agents kidnapped Dirar Abu Sisi, the operational manager of Gaza's only power plant, during his visit to Ukraine with his wife and six children. Abu Sisi was then smuggled out of Ukraine to an airplane and was taken to Israel.

Speaking of EU citizens held illegally behind bars in Israel, I should share with you the story of a French-Palestinian lawyer and human rights defender Salah Hamouri who has been imprisoned without charge or trial for over a year.

Salah Hamouri was arrested at his home in Jerusalem. His detention was ordered by Israeli War Minister Avigdor Lieberman, based on information available on the website of Samidoun, a Palestinian Prisoners Network. 

Like Mostapha Awad, Hamouri is also being held without charge, without any evidence of guilt and without any right to defense or trial. Those two Palestinians are held under administrative detention act (ADA), a policy under which Palestinians may be held indefinitely without charge or trial. Some Palestinians have been held under ADA in administrative detention for years.

ADA is a procedure that allows the Israeli military to hold prisoners indefinitely on secret evidence without charging them or allowing them to stand trial. It is renewable every 6 month at the whim of the occupiers, a practice that was not even deployed during the Nazi era.  

Belgium should send a loud and clear message to Israel that it will stand strongly against ill treatment of its citizens and will use every available means to ensure the safety of its citizens. By demanding the immediate and unconditional release of one of your citizens, you are not asking the state of Israel for a FAVOR. 

Here is few examples what other governments did when their citizens were held and or abused in another country: 

1) Last month, the US has imposed sanctions on Turkey's justice and interior ministers over the continued detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson. Reverend Brunson has been held on espionage charges for nearly two years, but the White House believes he is a victim of unfair and unjust detention.

2) After the US government arrested and strip-searched an Indian diplomat in December 2013,  the indecent triggered an uproar between the US and India. The Indian diplomat was charged in New York with visa fraud related to her treatment of her housekeeper. The diplomat was arrested outside her daughter's school. India's Prime Minister called the diplomat's treatment "deplorable;" and Indian National Security Adviser called it "barbaric." Indian officials also summoned US Ambassador Nancy Powell, took away US diplomats' identification cards that gave them diplomatic benefits, and removed security barriers outside the US Embassy in New Delhi.

3) Meanwhile, according to April 23, 2018 article in Bridges for Peace, the European Parliament called for the immediate and unconditional release of the Israeli citizens, and for the retrieval of the Israeli soldiers' bodies held in Gaza. The EU Resolution made no reference to i) the remains of 261 Palestinians still being held by Israel. Those are people who were killed in the line of duty and/or during midnight raids or at checkpoints for no reasons, thus denying their families the chance for proper burial and paying their respects. ii) The resolution also ignored the status of the 6,500 Palestinian political prisoners, among them 63 women and 350 children that Israel continues to hold, iii) Sadly the EU Resolution did not make a demand for the immediate and unconditional release of the two EU citizens Mostapha Awad and Salah Hamouri held in Israeli jails without charges.

Why not? If you do not demand the release of your citizens held captive, who will? 
Please forgive me if I may sound I am lecturing you about diplomacy and international relations. It is obvious here that Israel is making a baseless accusation against this young man and is creating something out of nothing and that Belgium should be outraged.

Don't get me wrong, many football fans across Belgium don't care that several of their football national team players are Muslims, including Belgian super star Morouane Fellaini, but they do care when their governments abandoned their fellow Muslims in a foreign country when s/he is in distress.

My intent with this letter is to appeal to you in the name of fairness, justice and human decency to help put an end to the suffering of one of your citizens  and to demand an immediate and unconditional release of him.