Israel releases stateless Palestinian journalist it tried to deport

After nine months in detention and two failed deportation attempts, Israel releases East Jerusalem resident Mustafa al-Haruf. He has been living in Jerusalem for over 20 years, yet Israel refuses to grant him permanent status.

The family of East Jerusalem resident Mustafa al-Haruf greets him upon his release from Givon prison after nine months of detention, on October 24, 2019. (Oren Ziv/
The family of East Jerusalem resident Mustafa al-Haruf greets him upon his release from Givon prison after nine months of detention, on October 24, 2019. (Oren Ziv/

Journalist Mustafa al-Haruf, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, was released from Givon Prison on Thursday afternoon after nine months in detention. Waiting to greet him were his wife, young daughter, relatives, friends, and his lawyer.

“It’s good to be out,” said al-Haruf as he embraced his 2-year-old daughter. While he was in prison, he had only been able to see her through glass during visiting hours.

Al-Haruf’s wife, Tamam, who had been waiting outside for several hours, said: “We are happy that his imprisonment is finally over and Mustafa is free to return to his family. This whole period has been very difficult. We all suffered from his imprisonment, particularly his daughter. He cannot leave Jerusalem; it is the center of his life. How can he go to a foreign country? He has no other place to live.”

Al-Haruf was arrested in January from his East Jerusalem home and charged with illegal residency, even though he has lived in Jerusalem since the age of 12. He is married to an East Jerusalem resident, and his father was born in the city. During his imprisonment, the government tried unsuccessfully to have him deported to Jordan.

Last month, the custody review board at Givon Prison decided that al-Haruf would be released if the Interior Ministry failed to have him deported by Oct. 24. In his decision, Judge Raja Marzouk wrote: “I have not found that the deportation procedure is progressing significantly. The detention of the prisoner is not based on his behavior or on his conduct.” The judge added that the delay in releasing al-Haruf had been caused by Jordan’s refusal to take him in.

In his decision, the judge ordered al-Haruf to establish his legal status in East Jerusalem within 21 days, or leave the country. The ruling ignores the fact that al-Haruf cannot leave Israel, because he does not have legal status or residency in any other country.

On Wednesday evening, a few hours before his scheduled release from prison, the Interior Ministry submitted a request to delay it for another week, claiming that it was close to an agreement with Jordan for his deportation. According to the request submitted to the judge: “The Ministry of Interior is working continuously in cooperation with the relevant Jordanian authorities, and is waiting for their response.” Nevertheless, Judge Mazouk ruled on Thursday morning to uphold al-Haruf’s release.

“This is a happy day. We are seeing him leave the prison in which he should not have spent a single day,” said his lawyer Adi Lustigman. She continued: “There is a long battle ahead of us regarding his status. As the son of two parents who were permanent residents of Jerusalem, he should have been given an identity card when he was a child. We will not back down until he receives his residency permit and can live with his family in the only place he knows as home.”

Al-Haruf’s story is Kafka-esque. He has no legal status or connection to any place in the world besides Jerusalem, the city in which he has been living for 20 years, but the Interior Ministry has for years refused to grant him a resident’s permit.

Over the last few months, the Interior Ministry tried twice to deport him to Jordan. In July 2019, he waited for hours at the border crossing between the two countries, but the Jordanians refused to allow him in. Informed sources acknowledged last month that Jordan would never agree to accept al-Haruf.

During the deportation hearings, the Interior Ministry presented classified evidence from the Shin Bet, according to which al-Haruf was ostensibly connected with or active in terror organizations. He has never, however, been charged with or tried for any such connection. Because the information is classified, al-Haruf and his lawyer could not contest the charges.

Throughout the period of his imprisonment, al-Haruf insisted that he had not committed any crime, and that the associations he has been accused of resulted from his work as a journalist. As a reporter, he has on several occasions covered demonstrations at Al-Aqsa Mosque. “We were given a list of people with whom it is permitted and forbidden to speak,” he said during one of the deportation hearings. Israeli journalists may speak with any source, including enemy sources; but when a Palestinian journalist speaks with the same sources, or receives information about political demonstrations, the state regards this as “contact with members of an unauthorized organization.”

While al-Haruf’s imprisonment attracted the attention of journalist advocacy NGOs around the world, in Israel his story was received with indifference. Journalist advocacy organizations did not try to help him. Nor was the story reported by the Israeli media — except by Amira Hass for Haaretz newspaper, and by this media platform.

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