Jordan turns back stateless Palestinian journalist Israel tried to deport

Israel attempted to deport Mustafa al-Haruf, a stateless Palestinian photographer from East Jerusalem, to Jordan without any coordination. Al-Haruf has been living in the country for over 20 years, yet Israel refuses to grant him permanent status.

Palestinian journalist Mustafa al-Haruf seen at a Jerusalem Court following his arrest for supposed incitement on Facebook. He was released the following day and the case was closed, December 2017.
Palestinian journalist Mustafa al-Haruf seen at a Jerusalem Court following his arrest for supposed incitement on Facebook. He was released the following day and the case was closed, December 2017.

Jordanian authorities refused to accept a stateless Palestinian journalist from East Jerusalem whom Israel tried to deport to the Hashemite Kingdom earlier this week.

Mustafa Al-Haruf, a 33-year-old Palestinian photojournalist who lives in Jerusalem, does not hold any status or citizenship in Jordan.

Israel claims that because he holds a Jordanian travel document, a special passport given to many Palestinians, he can be deported there.

After Israel’s High Court rejected a request for an additional injunction against his deportation last week, the Interior Ministry tried to send Al-Haruf to Jordan on Sunday night, after which his attorney was unable to locate him.

Only on Tuesday, when his attorney finally managed to get ahold of him, did al-Harouf tell her he had been taken to the Ben Gurion Airport, and a few hours later to the border with Jordan near Eilat.

“They left him in the Jordanian crossing without any coordination [with the other side] while handing his passport to a stunned Jordanian police officer,” the attorney, Adi Lustigman said. “The Jordanians opposed the deportation and told him he was a Palestinian and cannot enter Jordan.”

She added that Al-Haruf, who had been waiting at the Jordan-Israel crossing for several hours until his return, said that he had not been given food and had been left in the sun for a long time.

After the incident was widely reported in the Jordanian media, Israel tried to deport him a second time but Jordan refused to take him again. Israeli authorities brought him back to the Givon Prison in Ramle on Tuesday evening.

Al-Haruf, who has worked as a photographer in Jerusalem over the last several years, was born in Algeria but has lived with his family in East Jerusalem since he was 12 years old. For some 20 years, he was granted work visas that were renewed periodically. Over the last few years, he has been working as a photojournalist for the Turkish Anadolu Agency. Before that he worked as an independent photographer, focusing on clashes in the Old City, specifically around Al-Aqsa Compound.

Al-Haruf is married to a Palestinian woman with residency in Jerusalem, with whom he has a two-year-old daughter. Israel rejected his request for status through family unification and in January arrested him for “illegally residing in Israel.” He has been in custody ever since.

The king steps in?

The full details of what transpired this week are still unclear, but his Lustigman said that on Monday morning she was sure that her client had already been sent to Jordan. “At 7 a.m. I was told by prison officials that ‘he is no longer in our hands,'” she said. A few hours later, HaMoked, the Israeli rights organization representing al-Haruf, was informed that the deportation had failed.

Maj. Gen. Rafat al-Matarna, the commander in charge of Allenby Bridge, one of the crossings between the two countries, told the Jordanian news outlet Amman Net that “there will be no agreement to allow a person to enter Jordan without the appropriate legal paperwork” and that the Jordanians had “returned him to the occupied territory.”

Sources familiar with the affair said they believe that Israel hoped to transfer Al-Huruf to Jordan without any prior coordination, since there was little chance that a coordinated deportation would succeed. They said Israel may have hoped that confusion or inattention by Jordanian border officials would allow al-Haruf in despite not having the proper documents.

Al-Haruf’s story quickly spread throughout the Hashemite Kingdom, eventually reaching close associates of King Abdullah II, who intervened in the matter, according to several people familiar with the affair. They emphasized that now that the case has gone public, there is no chance that Jordan will ever agree to accept al-Huruf.

Mustafa al-Haruf seen at an Interior Ministry tribunal with his wife and daughter, February 19, 2019, in Jerusalem.
Mustafa al-Haruf seen at an Interior Ministry tribunal with his wife and daughter, February 19, 2019, in Jerusalem.

“Why did they have to arrive like thieves at night, take him to Eilat and try to dump him there?” Lustigman said. She said the failed deportation attempt proves what she has been arguing in Israeli courts regarding Al-Harouf’s status for months.

“If there was any doubt Mustafa had no status and there was no way to expel him, it disappeared after the failure to expel him,” added.

It appears, however, that the Interior Ministry intends to continue trying to deport Al-Harouf to Jordan. The Justice Ministry told HaMoked that the Interior Ministry is “using all means at its disposal” to deport Al-Haruf as soon as possible.

No status, no citizenship

When al-Haruf was 12 years old, his Palestinian father returned from Algeria to Jerusalem with his children, although it took him years to formalize his children’s residency status in the city. By that point, Al-Haruf was over 18 years old — too old to get status along with his siblings.

In 2016, Al-Haruf married an East Jerusalem Palestinian woman with whom he had a daughter. He applied for family unification, which was rejected on security grounds. Al-Haruf has been arrested twice in cases that involved his work as a photographer, first in 2015 for allegedly assaulting a police officer and again in 2017 for alleged Facebook incitement. Both cases were dropped.

The Israeli Interior Ministry claims al-Haruf has a Jordanian passport, but Lustigman says that the passport’s sole purpose is to allow Palestinians to reach Arab countries through Jordan yet does not grant them any legal status in the Hashemite Kingdom, nor does it allow them to live there. Both Lustigman and Jordanian sources say al-Haruf does not have Jordanian citizenship, and that his life is based in Jerusalem.

In his decision rejecting al-Haruf’s request for an injunction, Supreme Court Justice Hendel wrote that the Interior Ministry admits that al-Haruf’s Jordanian travel document does not constitute evidence of Jordanian citizenship. Nevertheless, Hendel wrote that “the state remains consistent in its claim that the applicant has some status in Jordan and that he can be sent there.” According to his decision, the burden of proof is on al-Huruf and his attorneys to demonstrate that he lacks status in Jordan.

Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The arguments of the petitioners on this matter are based on the assumption that the applicant is ‘stateless and cannot be deported anywhere,’ but this assumption has not been proven,” Hendel concluded.

The alleged security reasons for al-Haruf’s denial of status in Jerusalem are classified and have not been revealed in any of the precedings, but the High Court ruling gave a few clues.

“It is doubtful whether the classified materials refer to actions that, in and of themselves, go beyond the limits of legitimate journalistic coverage — including, of course, reports that are not sympathetic to the State of Israel,” wrote Hendel. “However, other information corroborates that the petitioner clearly crossed the line between his journalistic work and assisting terrorist organizations and their activities, which thus provides context and meaning to the actions, which on their face were legitimate.”

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.