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Israel poised to deport stateless Palestinian photographer

Israeli riot police and undercover policemen arrest a Palestinian protester during clashes in the mostly Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, 28 January 2011
Israeli riot police and undercover policemen arrest a Palestinian protester during clashes in the mostly Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, 28 January 2011

GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 5 February 2019.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns Israel's "cruel" plans to deport Mustafa al-Kharouf, a stateless Palestinian photographer based in East Jerusalem, and calls on the authorities to free him and stop denying him residency papers.

Mustafa al-Kharouf has been working as a press photographer in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem for years, firstly as a freelancer and then for the Turkish news agency Anadolu. Although he has lived there since he was a child, his repeated attempts to legalize his status by various methods have never succeeded.

On 21 January, the Israeli authorities notified his lawyer that his latest attempt had been refused and the police went to his home and arrested him the same day. He has remained in detention ever since and is now facing deportation to Jordan, a country with which he has no ties.

At a hearing on 19 February, the Israeli police said the Israeli intelligence services possessed classified information proving Al-Kharouf's links with the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and which Israel regards as a terrorist organization.

Al-Kharouf denied having any contacts of a political nature with Hamas. "I do not belong to any side," he told the court. "I am a journalist. I do not write, I photograph (...) Let them give me a list of people with whom I cannot speak and publish it in all the newspapers."

His lawyer, Adi Lustigman, who is a member of the Israeli NGO Hamoked, said the only questions put to Al-Kharouf by the Israeli authorities were about his photos, especially those he had posted on Facebook. Photographers are liable to be accused of inciting violence if they publish photos of clashes.

Al-Kharouf was briefly arrested on several occasions in 2015 and 2017 for posting photos of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers on Facebook, or once after an argument with an Israeli police officer while taking photos. In none of these cases were charges pressed against him.

"Expelling someone to a country with which they have no ties is a cruel punishment," said Sophie Anmuth, the head of RSF's Middle East desk. "It seems likely that the real reason for wanting to deport Mustafa al-Kharouf is linked to his work as a photographer and to his sharing photos on social networks. We call on the authorities to free him at once and to quickly give him residency papers."

His lawyer told RSF: "This is the first time in 18 years of work that I have seen a Palestinian who arrived in Jerusalem as a child being arrested for lacking residency status. And the state of Israel is obliged by the UN treaty in regard to stateless people to help regulate their status in its territory." Al-Kharouf was born in Algeria of a Palestinian father who moved to Jerusalem with him when he was 12. He is now married to a Palestinian woman who is a legal resident, and they have a young daughter.

The Palestinian Territories are ranked 135th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

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