JERUSALEM – The Palestinians say Mohammed Abu Sakha is a circus clown. Israelis say he’s an active member of a terrorist organization.
For the past six months, Abu Sakha has been held in a prison cell without being formally charged. And despite worldwide protests and promises that he would soon be released, this week the Israeli military renewed his detention for another six months.
Friends say he needs some circus magic to gain his freedom.
“This is a military court, nobody can do anything to free him,” said Shadi Zmorrod, founder of the Palestinian Circus school in the West Bank, where Abu Sakha has worked and lived since 2007.
Israel’s internal security agency, Shin Bet, said however that it has information proving Abu Sakha is an active member of the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a left-wing Palestinian faction outlawed as a terror organization in Israel.
They said he is a danger to regional security and recommend to the Israeli military courts, which administer Palestinian areas of the West Bank, that he be held in detention for at least another six months.
“We are completely booked, we don’t even have hardly any time to even make jokes, how could he have time to belong to a political party?” Zmorrod said.
Those who work in the school, which provides activities for local children with difficult backgrounds and disabilities, as well as performing at home and abroad, have little free time. They barely see their families, Zmorrod said.
Abu Sakha was arrested Dec. 14, 2015, on the way back from a rare visit to his parents in the northern West Bank city of Jenin
“Our school is a circus school, we don't think it's necessary to talk about politics, religion or money. We do talk about our daily lives and how we live as Palestinians behind the occupation wall, but we are not allowed to ask students if they are Muslim, Christian or Jewish,” Zmorrod said.
Abu Sakha’s colleagues are worried about how being locked up – after a life of juggling and jumping on trampolines – will affect his mental and physical state. Only his mother has been allowed to visit him, Zmorrod said.
“The arbitrary detention of Mohammad Abu Sakha is yet another shameful example of the Israeli authorities’ abusive use of administrative detention,” said Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International.
“The Israeli authorities must either charge Mohammad Abu Sakha with a genuine criminal offense or order his release,” Luther said.
Under international law, administrative detention is only permitted in exceptional circumstances, and Israel says it uses it specific cases. Amnesty, however, said in a news release this week that Israel has used it to detain thousands of people, including Palestinian prisoners of conscience.
As of April 30, 2016, some 692 Palestinians were being held by Israel in administrative detention. Of these, 13 were children. Administrative detention orders are issued by Israeli military commanders and are renewable an unlimited number of times. Some Palestinians have been held without charge or trial for years, said Amnesty in its release.