After entering the UK legally on 25 June, Palestinian political activist Sheikh Raed Salah was arrested on the night of the 28th. Throughout my coverage of the case reporting from different court rooms, it has at times been hard work to establish the facts. UK courts do not allow recording equipment of any kind (even the court room sketches we see on TV are apparently drawn from memory outside), and it’s sometimes difficult to know what documents are being referred to in court by the lawyers and the judge.
So I was pleased to be able to acquire a number of the documents used in the case, which led to my recent expose, exclusive to The Electronic Intifada, about how the UK government had plotted with the Israel lobby to ban Salah from the country. To provide a solid evidential backing to my reporting, I am now able to share with you the following documents mentioned in court.
On the night of 28-29 June, Raed Salah was arrested in his hotel room by UKBA officers. He was erroneously told that he was being arrested for immigration offenses. Partly because of the fact he was not told the correct reason for his arrest until 30 June, the High Court later ruled this detention unlawful. The following document is the original notice of intention to deport they served on Salah after his arrest.
Document 1: The deportation order
You’ll note in paragraphs 5-9 that three central accusations are leveled at Salah as allegedly justifying the decision to deport (and by implication the 23 June decision to exclude). Paragraphs 7 and 8 need not detain us long. Clearly there is an attempt here to “other-ize” the Arabic word for martyr, “shahid”, but that only works on the minds of those blind to the long history of Palestinian peaceful popular resistance, of which Raed Salah is one such leader. “To die as martyrs” in this context is obviously a call to defend the al-Asqa Mosque, even if the cost were to be death at the hands of the Israeli occupation forces (Salah confirmed as much in court). It would be clear to any Arab listening to the speech. Anyone ignorant enough to doubt this, should just look at the Arab uprisings that have swept the region this year. Demonstrators killed by the regimes are widely referred to as martyrs (shuhada is the correct plural), both in popular parlance and in Arab media such as al-Jazeera.
Paragraph 6 would be far more problematic, were it a genuine quote. But in fact it has been fabricated by the Jerusalem Post, and the government has not bothered to check it out. The UKBA and the Home Secretary Theresa May have been foolish enough to uncritically take at face value a polemical editorial about a Palestinian activist written by a hostile, right-wing Israeli paper. It seems that at a later point this quote was challenged, and so either the UKBA asked pro-Israel group the Community Security Trust (CST) for the original text or the CST volunteered it.
To prove this quote has been fabricated, you need only compare it with the original poem it is a highly corrupted and selective version of. The following document is the original Arabic of the poem as it appeared in the Islamic Movement journal, Sawt al-Haq wa al-Hurriyeh (The Voice of Rights and Freedom). Page two of the document shows a close-up of the article on page one.
Document 2: The original Arabic text of the poem
The next document is one of the CST’s reports on Salah, including an English translation of the poem, along with CST commentary. This report has clearly been sent some time after 18 July, when Salah was released on restrictive bail, since the CST actually references (and misunderstands) my 18 July report from the High Court. (I say misunderstands, because Salah was clearly denying writing the fabricated “poem” as rendered by the government in document 1.)
Document 3: the CST’s English translation of the poem
This document forms part of the evidence in the UKBA’s case, and was presented by them to the immigration judges in the Birmingham Tribunal. The government’s only witness, senior UKBA case worker Jonathan Rosenorn-Lanng, testified under cross-examination that this specific document (among others) came from the CST.
Several points are interesting here. Firstly, the word “Jews” appears nowhere in the poem. That fact alone is enough to justify a charge of fabrication or being “doctored”. Second, even if the Jerusalem Post had used square brackets to insert the word “Jews” into the text (they didn’t) it would have still been a fabrication. Reading the whole poem, it is clearly an attack on generalized oppressors of different kinds. The main target seems to be the Israeli occupation forces (although even they are not named) but allusions are also made to three Arab tribes mentioned in the Quran and the Biblical Pharaoh – who of course oppressed the Israelites.
On what planet does an anti-Semitic poem take the side of the Israelites against the Pharaoh?
Thirdly, it’s important to note that, though there are inaccuracies in the English translation the CST provides, even judging from a seemingly hostile translation it’s impossible to accurately portray the poem as anti-Semitic. Dr. Stefan Sperl, Head of the Arabic Section and Senior Lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) testified in his written evidence to the Tribunal that the way the poem had been characterized as anti-Semitic in the deportation order (document 1) and in the original exclusion order was “inaccurate and misleading”. He also pointed out five specific translation errors, including his opinion that the rendering “the Creator has deemed you to be monkeys and losers” should instead read “it is about you that the All-mighty has pronounced the verdict: be apes and losers”. He also notes this was a quote from the Quran (Sura 2, verse 65). The CST don’t mention who wrote their translation, but claim it was “reviewed” by an unnamed “very senior professor of Arabic literature”.
Fourthly, it’s interesting to compare what the CST says behind closed doors when it knows it’s addressing the government alone, compared with what they’ve said in public. Why is it left to me to release this document to the public? Why did the CST not publish it on their blog? Note that in their commentary the CST admits the poem does not contain the word “Jews”, but that “Salah can be challenged on who else he could possibly be referring to as his ‘oppressors’ who ‘decayed in our land’.”
This comment gives us an insight into the anti-Semitic strategy of Zionism to conflate Israel with “the Jews” in general. Read as a whole, the poem is clearly about Israeli attacks on Palestinians, comparing them to Quranic and Biblical stories of oppression. It says nothing at all about “the Jews” as a whole.
In a previous blog post I challenged the CST to openly publish the secret reports on Raed Salah it sent to the British government to help the UK Border Agency (UKBA) ban Salah from the country. Almost a week later, and I’ve heard nothing back from the them. So I’ve decided to start publishing the reports myself, since the CST seems so coy. Document 3 is only one of several reports the CST sent on Salah, and the government has admitted that its case was developed even after Salah had been arrested, with different reasons added than those in document 1 above. Document 3 was certainly not the first report the CST sent (the first was sent before he had even entered the country).
In all likelihood it will not be the last either, unless the government departments in question start to reassess their questionable relationship with the CST when it comes to critics of Israel, especially Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims.
Bilal, a commenter below has questioned the Quranic verse quoted in the poem claiming that, even though the UK misrepresented Salah, the original verse is in fact racist. Dr. Stefan Sperl, a specialist in Arabic poetry with decades of experience disagrees with Bilal. The following are relevant sections of his expert opinion to the court:
The Qur’anic verse here cited is part of a longer passage in Sura 2 which runs as follows:
‘The [Muslim] believers, the Jews, the Christian, the Sabeans – all those who believe in God and the Last Day and do good – will have their rewards with their Lord. No fear for them, nor will they grieve’ (62). And we accepted your solemn pledge, raising Mount Sinai high above you, saying ‘hold fast with strength what we have given you and remember what is therein so that you may remain conscious of God (63). Then you turned away after that; had it not been for God’s favour and mercy you would have perished (64). You are well aware of those among you who profaned the Sabath whereupon we said to them “Be apes and outcasts!” (65) and set them up as a warning example for their time’ (66).
The passage first affirmed that Jews, Muslims and Christians who act righteously will all equally find favour with God (verse 62). After a reference to Mount Sinai it goes on to mention those ‘who turned away from God’ (verse 64). Among them them are certain Jews who during the time of Moses disregarded the laws of the Sabbath and to whom it was said: ‘Be apes and outcasts!’ (verse 65). It follows that the citation ‘be apes’ is not to be understood as a racist or anti-Semitic invective. The words were originally addressed only to those Jews who had broken the religious law, not to the Jewish people as whole [sic. – AW]. Quite on the contrary, as shown in verse 62 cited above, this very same Qur’anic passage asserts the equality of Jews, Christians and Muslims before God.
(N.B. The word “Muslim” in square brackets above was in Sperl’s document). He continues further down, in reference to the same passage and other similar ones:
Whether these statements are to be taken as factual or metaphorical has been a matter of debate among Muslim interpreters. What is certain, however, is that none of three verses [sic. – AW] state that Jews are descended from pigs or monkeys. This entirely erroneous interpretation of the verses has been propagated by some extremist Islamists and seized upon in turn by Western Islamophobes.
… while the poem is an outcry against injustice, it cannot be called racist or anti-Semitic. It makes a moral, ethical, political and religious point, not a racial one. Its addressees are the ‘perpetrators of injustice,’ not the Jewish people as a whole.
It’s worth noting that Dr. Sperl said in court that “A message to the perpetrators of injustice” was a more accurate translation of the poem’s title, rather than the CST’s “A message to the oppressor” rendering.