I am currently at risk of deportation by Israel from my home city, Jerusalem, where I was born to a Palestinian Jerusalemite father and a French mother and have lived all my life.
My wife, Elsa Lefort, is a French citizen. She was deported by Israel in 2016 while we were expecting our first child. For four years, I have been separated from my wife and son.
Our lives have been completely upended as a result of Israel’s policies and the continued false accusations and defamation intended to discredit my reputation and work as a human rights defender.
The Israeli authorities have recently escalated their assault against me. On 3 September, I was notified that Israel’s interior minister intends to revoke my permanent Jerusalem residency status, claiming that I allegedly “breached loyalty” to the State of Israel.
Israel is throwing the weight of the occupation against me, as it has countless other Palestinians. And not for the first time.
When I was 16 years old, I was arrested and detained for five months over my participation in student activities during the second intifada. In 2004, I was arrested again and spent another five months in detention without charge or trial.
I denied the accusations against me and served most of a seven-year sentence. I was released in 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange deal.
Israeli interior minister Aryeh Deri is the current leader of the Shas party.
After experiencing the Israeli occupation’s oppression and brutality at a young age, I resolved to become a vocal and passionate human rights defender.
In an attempt to regain control of my life after several years in prison, I enrolled in university, graduated from law school and immediately entered into a human rights program for my master’s degree. It was during that time that I met Elsa.
In 2015, Elsa and I decided to travel to France to visit her family before the birth of our son. Upon Elsa’s return on 5 January 2016, she was detained at Ben Gurion Airport for two days and ultimately denied entry.
Elsa had a one-year visa that she received through her work at the French consulate in Jerusalem, and was seven months pregnant at the time. Despite this, she was held at the airport alone, denied contact with anyone, did not receive any medical attention and was then returned to France.
Israel’s goal was to deny our son the right to be born in Jerusalem and hold Jerusalem residency status.
My family’s experience is not unique and my case is but one example of Israel’s systematic practice of population transfer and demographic manipulation in Palestine, particularly in Jerusalem.
Since 2018, following amendments made to the Entry into Israel Law, the Israeli interior minister has been empowered to revoke the residency of Palestinians in Jerusalem for “breach of loyalty to Israel.”
The very concept is ludicrous. How can a brutally subjugated and colonized population be expected to pledge loyalty to its occupier?
The amendment and a range of other Israeli policies are contrary to international humanitarian law and seek to expedite the removal of Palestinians from Jerusalem.
Israel has employed various strategies to force a 30:70 ratio of Palestinians to Israeli Jews in the city. Since 1967, it has revoked the residency of more than 14,500 Palestinians from Jerusalem, and thousands more face daily challenges to maintain their residency and existence in the city.
There have been some international denunciations of Israel’s policy of residency revocation on the basis of “breach of loyalty,” including my case.
Israel has already punitively revoked the residency rights of more than 13 Palestinians from Jerusalem. These include three elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the former Palestinian Authority minister of Jerusalem affairs.
The list will continue to grow unless international condemnation is coupled with action in the face of ongoing Israeli violations of Palestinian rights.
Jerusalem is my home. Elsa and I had hoped to establish a life together as a family here and that is being denied to us.
No matter what the Israeli interior minister decides, my family and I remain committed to pursuing justice and to building a family life with dignity and peace in Palestine.
Salah Hammouri is a lawyer with the human rights group Addameer and is currently enrolled in a human rights master’s degree program at Al-Quds University.