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Israel releases Palestinian clown after two years without trial

Muhammad Abu Sakha, who teaches children with special needs at a circus school in the West Bank, is released after spending two years in Israeli prison. He was never once charged or brought to trial. 

By Yael Marom

Mohammed Abu Sakha (photo: Courtesy of Addameer)

Mohammed Abu Sakha (photo: Courtesy of Addameer)

A moment before the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, Israel decided to release Muhammad Abu Saha, a Palestinian clown and educator, from administrative detention. In the blink of an eye, after two years of imprisonment with no trial, he is no longer a threat.

Abu Sakha, 26, joined the Palestinian Circus School as a student at age 14. Over the past years he began teaching the children there, focusing on work with children with special needs. In December 2015 he was arrested on his way to work while crossing a military checkpoint near Nablus, in the West Bank. He was placed in administrative detention shortly after, which has now been extended twice.

Administrative detention orders are used by Israel to imprison detainees without charging them or bringing them to trial, on the basis of secret evidence. Such orders can be renewed indefinitely for up to six months at a time. They can also be used to extend the jail time of someone who has finished serving their sentence.

On Wednesday, following his release, Abu Sakha drove to his family home in Jenin, accompanied by his friends from the Palestinian Circus School.

After two years, however, Abu Sakha has mixed feelings about his released: “I’m happy to be released … but I know that there are many people in the same position as me still inside, so I’m sad at the same time,” he told Middle East Eye upon leaving prison. A few months ago, Abu Sakha took part in the last major hunger strike among Palestinian prisoners, refusing food for 41 days. Now he hopes to return to the circus.

Israeli and Palestinian circus artists protest in Tel Aviv for the release of Palestinian clown, Mohammed Abu Sakha, who is being imprisoned by Israel, July 5, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli and Palestinian circus artists protest in Tel Aviv for the release of Palestinian clown, Mohammed Abu Sakha, who is being imprisoned by Israel, July 5, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

At the time, the IDF Spokesperson said that Abu Sakha had been arrested for “his involvement in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine,” deeming him a “severe security threat.”

During one of his hearings, Abu Sakha, told the court: “I am a circus performer. I am a clown. I have traveled around Europe and met with all kinds of people, Palestinians, Israelis, Americans. I have no intention of engaging in violent acts.”

According to the Israeli organization HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, as of the beginning of August there were over 450 Palestinians held in administrative detention.

Yael Marom is Just Vision’s public engagement manager in Israel and a co-editor of Local Call, where this article was originally published in Hebrew.

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