Israel arrests Palestinian archbishop during protest against church takeover

Greek Orthodox Archbishop Theodosios (Atallah) Hanna during a visit with released Palestinian prisoner Ahmad Khalaf in occupied East Jerusalem, 1 January 2014.

Saeed Qaq APA images

Israel arrested a prominent Palestinian Christian leader on Saturday during a demonstration in the Hebron area of the occupied West Bank.

Atallah Hanna, activist and Archbishop of the Orthodox Patriarchate at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, was detained and interrogated by Israeli occupation forces as dozens of Palestinian and foreign activists had gathered to protest the takeover of a Palestinian church compound by Israeli settlers, according to an Arabic-language report in al-Araby al-Jadeed.

“[Israeli] occupation forces prevented the activists from reaching the building,” Hassan Barajiya, an activist from the National Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, told al-Araby al-Jadeed. “They managed to arrest Archbishop Atallah Hanna, who was close to the soldiers, and take him to the side.”

Archbishop Hanna was subsequently transferred to the Etzion detention center in a nearby Israeli settlement, where he was issued a summons to return for interrogation before eventually being released.  

Secret deal

Beit al-Baraka, the church compound where the protest was staged, is situated between the al-Aroub refugee camp and Hebron, a Palestinian city in the southern West Bank.

The compound was secretly purchased three years ago, through a Swedish organization, by Aryeh King, founder of the Israel Land Fund, a right-wing settlement organization that aims to push Palestinians off their land and replace them with Jewish Israelis, according to a recent investigation by the Israeli daily Haaretz.

King, who is known for buying Palestinian homes or properties through proxies, was funded by Irving Moskowitz, an American millionaire with a long history of funding Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, especially in East Jerusalem.

In recent months, settler organizations have been preparing the site to house 20 settler families. Establishing an outpost there would, according to Haaretz, “also allow the settlers to spread out from the site” into adjacent lands.

Earlier in June, Israeli occupation forces forcibly prevented a similar march to Beit al-Baraka, assaulting and injuring protestors, according to Ma’an News Agency, and declaring the area a “closed military zone.”

Protest organizer Yousef Abu Maria told Ma’an that Palestinians feared the new settlement would threaten not only the refugee camp, but also a nearby Palestinian college and school. Israel already has plans to build a road for settlers in the area.

Arrested without charges

Archbishop Hanna’s arrest came just days after Israeli occupation forces arrested Daoud al-Ghoul, a Palestinian activist and tour guide from East Jerusalem.

In December 2014, Israel banned al-Ghoul and other local activists from entering Jerusalem for “security reasons” for four months, as reported by The Electronic Intifada at the time.

After relocating to Ramallah, al-Ghoul received another military order informing him that he was also banned from being in the West Bank and had to move to Haifa, a coastal city in northern present-day Israel.

Although al-Ghoul has not been accused of or charged with any crimes, Israeli authorities barred him from international travel until October 2015 and renewed the ban on his ability to visit Jerusalem or the West Bank twice since April.

After being summoned for questioning to the Russian Compound – an Israeli interrogation center in Jerusalem – al-Ghoul was arrested on 25 June.

Prisoners protest

Meanwhile, more than 60 Palestinian administrative detainees – held on “secret evidence” without charge or trial – are boycotting Israeli military courts to protest their detention, according to Addameer, a Ramallah-based group that monitors Israel’s arrests and detentions of Palestinians.

Addameer has documented at least 401 Palestinians presently being held as administrative detainees, including six lawmakers from the Palestinian Legislative Council. Among those is Khalida Jarrar, a prominent left-wing lawmaker who Israel has hit with a dozen charges related to her prisoner solidarity work and activism.

Israel has issued more than 50,000 administrative detention orders against Palestinians since 1967, when its military occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

“The Palestinian prisoners’ movement has been fighting against the policy of administrative detention for decades, which includes boycotting military courts and hunger strikes on the individual and collective levels,” Addameer reports in its press release. “Between 2011 and 2015, dozens of administrative detainees launched an open hunger strike against the policy of administrative detention.”

Earlier this week, Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan ended a 55-day hunger strike against his being held in administrative detention. In exchange for ending the strike, Israel has agreed to release him on 12 July.

“Thank God that my husband is coming back to us victorious,” his wife Randa said at a press conference about her husband’s release. 


Patrick Strickland

Patrick Strickland's picture

Patrick O. Strickland is an independent journalist and frequent contributor at The Electronic Intifada. He is presently working on his first book for the London-based publishing house Zed Books. See his in-depth coverage for EI.