Detention by Palestinian security shouldn’t be a punishment

By Daoud Kuttab

Last March 3rd Reverend Johnny Shahwan the founder and chair of the board of the Liqaa Center in Beit Jala was detained and the center was sealed shut by the Palestinian authorities. The action came because of the huge public reaction to a photo in which Shahwan appeared alongside a well-known radical Israeli at the center. The pastor, according to a public statement, said he did not know the radical Israel who crashed a talk he was giving to German guests and asked to be photographed. He later posted the photo on his social media account and a storm blew up against the Palestinian pastor.

This article is not about that event and how the radical made it to Beit Jala and whether it was a deliberate act or an accident. This is an article that attempts to answer a simple question. Is the detention for one month by the Palestinian security officials a unilateral form of punishment or simply, as has been rumored, aimed at protecting the pastor from other Palestinians who have threatened his life?

The Palestinian ministry of interior had reopened the center and appointed a temporary committee to manage it. It also supervised elections of the council board which led to the election of reverend Atallah Essawi. Pastor Shahwan did not run and sent his congratulations to the winner via a phone call from prison to his wife. It was hoped that after the local board elections Reverend Shahwan would be released but instead, his remand was extended on March 30th. A trial date has been set for May 23rd and attempts to have him released-on bail was rejected even though the pastor is well known and there is no fear of him running away. In fact, the court could have released him and confiscated his passport until the trial is over.

The strange thing about this detention is that it is based on an obscure Jordanian law. Article 130 of the Penal Code talks about the crime of “injuring national feelings.”

Also strange is the deafening silence of Palestinian civil society organizations especially those that are specialized in human rights. The law is made to protect the weak and to ensure a fair trial away from the influence of the security forces. Article 32 of the Palestinian Basic Law states that “any violation of the private freedom or the privacy of anyone or any other rights guaranteed by the basic law is a crime.” Also, article 111 states that “it is not permissible to place restrictions of the basic rights except where absolutely necessary and for the purpose allowed by the emergency law.” As far as it is known the Palestinian emergency regulation is connected to the Covid 19 pandemic and cannot apply to daily issues other than public health.

If the detention is done to protect Reverend Shahwan as some have rumored, there are much less restrictive ways for that. The reverend and his wife also hold German citizenship and can be persuaded to travel for a period until the storm calms. Already the reopening of the center and the return of regular services it gives to the local community which is well appreciated are taking place.

The Shahwan family and friends of the pastor insist that he did not know the intruding radical Israeli, nor was he invited but at the same time, they are abstaining from speaking to the local and international media so as not to embarrass the Palestinian government and not to allow the case to be taken advantage of. But this silence should be praised not interpreted as weakness or the acceptance of the claim of normalization or any other claim. These accusations have not been stated in the Basic Law while the protection of citizens is the responsibility of the Palestinian security which must ensure to protect of the weak from the bullying acts of the society.

We are hopeful that the security and legal authorities will release Reverend Shahwan and that only the courts have the responsibility of setting the record straight and the request for bail should not be rejected without proper justification.

تكافح مجلة “ملح الأرض” من أجل الاستمرار في نشر تقارير تعرض أحوال المسيحيين العرب في الأردن وفلسطين ومناطق الجليل، ونحرص على تقديم مواضيع تزوّد قراءنا بمعلومات مفيدة لهم ، بالاعتماد على مصادر موثوقة، كما تركّز معظم اهتمامها على البحث عن التحديات التي تواجه المكون المسيحي في بلادنا، لنبقى كما نحن دائماً صوت مسيحي وطني حر يحترم رجال الدين وكنائسنا ولكن يرفض احتكار الحقيقة ويبحث عنها تماشيًا مع قول السيد المسيح و تعرفون الحق والحق يحرركم
من مبادئنا حرية التعبير للعلمانيين بصورة تكميلية لرأي الإكليروس الذي نحترمه. كما نؤيد بدون خجل الدعوة الكتابية للمساواة في أمور هامة مثل الإرث للمسيحيين وأهمية التوعية وتقديم النصح للمقبلين على الزواج وندعم العمل الاجتماعي ونشطاء المجتمع المدني المسيحيين و نحاول أن نسلط الضوء على قصص النجاح غير ناسيين من هم بحاجة للمساعدة الإنسانية والصحية والنفسية وغيرها.
والسبيل الوحيد للخروج من هذا الوضع هو بالتواصل والنقاش الحر، حول هويّاتنا وحول التغييرات التي نريدها في مجتمعاتنا، من أجل أن نفهم بشكل أفضل القوى التي تؤثّر في مجتمعاتنا،.
تستمر ملح الأرض في تشكيل مساحة افتراضية تُطرح فيها الأفكار بحرّية لتشكل ملاذاً مؤقتاً لنا بينما تبقى المساحات الحقيقية في ساحاتنا وشوارعنا بعيدة المنال.
كل مساهماتكم تُدفع لكتّابنا، وهم شباب وشابات يتحدّون المخاطر ليرووا قصصنا.

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