Free Britain’s Palestinian political prisoner

By Frances Davis

Britain’s current detention of Sheikh Raed Salah, the high profile and well-respected Palestinian political leader, represents a serious attack on the right to political expression and an attempt to suppress the views of a popular representative who opposes Israeli state policies against the Palestinians. Britain’s arrest of him, essentially because of his political views, is a stepping up of cooperation with Israel’s attempts to suppress the growing solidarity movement.

Raed Salah heads a respected party, the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, the largest movement amongst Israel’s 1.3-million Palestinian citizens. The party and Salah are popular because they campaign vigorously against Israel’s racist actions against Palestinians. He has three times been elected Mayor of the Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm (including with over 70 per cent of the vote).

Raed Salah arrived in Britain on a speaking tour on 27 June, addressed a meeting in Parliament and a couple of public meetings before being arrested late at night on 28 June by British police. He was initially detained at an immigration detention centre but then was transferred to prison.

He had been due to speak at a second meeting in Parliament on June 29 alongside British politicians. The meeting went ahead without him, but was addressed by Labour MPs Richard Burden, Jeremy Corbyn,and Yasmin Qureshi, former Labour MP Martin Linton, Labour peer Alf Dubs, and Liberal Democrat peer Jenny Tonge.

Raed Salah is an exponent of non-violence and he strongly refutes the allegations of anti-Semitism the pro-Israeli section of the media have thrown at him. He plays an important role defending the rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem. Since 2002, the Israeli authorities have attempted to bar him from travelling abroad, yet he continues to bring the issues to global attention, including last year when he participated in the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza. For his British speaking tour he was due to have a wide range of meetings with political representatives, academics and others to discuss the plight of Palestinians living within Israel and Jerusalem. He would have been speaking out against Israeli policies.

The British government made the decision to ban Raed Salah to assist Israel, had him arrested, and is now seeking his deportation. He is challenging this and his case is due to be heard at an immigration court this Friday (8 July).

Attempts to demonise and criminalise political opposition, in order to silence and stop it are not new tactics by imperialism. In Ireland, and many other places, banning orders, exclusions and other anti-democratic measures have been commonplace in the past.
In the case of Raed Salah and other Palestinians, explicitly racist campaigns are waged by pro-Israeli sections of the media claiming leaders of the Islamic organisations that oppose the Israeli occupation are “hate-preachers”.

The British government says Raed Salah presence here is not “conducive to the public good”. The hypocrisy is plain for all to see. The Tory-led government has told Israel it will change the universal jurisdiction laws, so that suspected Israeli war criminals can avoid prosecution in Britain. Israelis who have ordered crimes of violence against Palestinian civilians (not simply advocated such actions) will be free to come to Britain whilst Palestinian advocates of non-violent opposition to Israel are being banned.

The British government’s actions have been condemned by Palestinian political forces from across the spectrum; not just resistance currents, but also by those that collaborate with the occupation. Amongst those denouncing Raed Salah’s imprisonment are: Dr Mustafa Barghouti of the Palestinian National Initiative, Fatah, Hanan Ashrawi Executive Committee member of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and Salam Fayyad the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister.

Raed Salah should be immediately released and given back the democratic right to political expression. The British government should be condemned for taking such blatant anti-democratic measures at the behest of the Israeli government.

Such actions will ultimately fail – as they did in Ireland – as it is not possible to suppress opposition to a scale of injustice such as that faced by the Palestinians. One cannot advocate democratic solutions to conflict situations and then ban and imprison leaders who represent one side. Palestinian political leaders and representatives should have the right to be heard – Raed Salah, who can speak in Palestine and Israel should have a hearing here. As the Guardian editorial pointed out “a British home secretary is being even more intolerant to the representatives of Israel’s Arab minority…than the state of Israel itself.”

Solidarity actions in support of Raed Salah should be supported. A well attended protest calling for the freeing of Raed Salah took place on 4 July at Downing Street. Currently there is an on-line petition that should be circulated. For future actions keep in touch with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.