On December 18, 2022, Salah Hammouri landed at the Charles de Gaulle Airport near Paris, greeted by his wife, friends, and supporters. But the occasion was somber. After a long struggle to stay in his hometown of Jerusalem, the 37-year-old Franco-Palestinian lawyer was expelled for an alleged breach of loyalty to the Israeli regime.
“I think France didn’t do enough to try and stop this decision,” Hammouri told Palestine Square almost a month after his expulsion. “France had many means of pressure... but the French government, once again, decided to treat Israel like a state above international law.”
The latest development in Hammouri’s case is not only the culmination of a decades-long campaign against one man and an illustration of the lengths Israel will go to stifle Palestinian voices and their right to self-determination but also a glaring example of the indifference of Western countries to the violations committed by the occupation. A fact that remains difficult to divorce from these countries’ refusal to face the impact of their own colonial pasts.
Decades of escalating pressure
Born in Jerusalem to a French mother and Palestinian father, Salah Hammouri was first detained by Israel at the age of 16 and spent five months in prison for handing out political leaflets. In 2005, a 19-year-old Hammouri was once again imprisoned, this time held under administrative detention — a widely contested Israeli policy of incarceration without charges or trial used almost exclusively against Palestinians.
After three years in prison, he was accused of being involved in a plot to assassinate Ovadia Yosef, the founder of the hardline ultra-Orthodox Shas party. While Hammouri has consistently denied any involvement in the alleged plot, he agreed to a plea deal in 2008 to avoid the alternative proposed to him: banishment from Palestine for 15 years. With only a few months left on his seven-year prison sentence, he was released in 2011 as part of the Shalit prisoner swap — but like countless other Palestinians who were freed as part of the deal, his woes did not end there. From 2015 to 2016, Hammouri received three consecutive six-month bans from entering the occupied West Bank, a barely disguised bid to hamper his pursuit of a law degree at Al-Quds University.
In early 2016, his wife Elsa Lefort — then six months pregnant — was detained at Ben Gurion Airport and banned from entering Occupied Palestine for 10 years over claims that she was a danger to Israel's security. This stunt had two major consequences: preventing the couple’s child from being born in Jerusalem, the only means by which a Palestinian can obtain a Jerusalem residency ID and live in the city legally under Israeli law, and pressuring Hammouri to choose between his homeland and his family in France.
Hammouri refused to cave and stayed in Palestine despite being torn away from his family. In turn, Israel began to escalate its pressure. His phone was hacked with Pegasus spyware, and he was held under administrative detention for over a year between 2017 and 2018. Then Hammouri was detained for eight days in 2020. His Jerusalem residency ID was revoked in October 2021 in accordance with a 2018 law allowing the revocation of residencies of Palestinians alleged to have breached loyalty to the Israeli regime. Not long after, he was violently detained in March 2022 and once again held without charge or trial until his expulsion in December.
After years of what the International Federation for Human Rights has termed a campaign of “judicial harassment,” Hammouri is again punished under the absurdist cover of breach of loyalty. But what does loyalty to the 'state' even mean when the 'state' sees your existence as incompatible with its own? Hammouri’s crime, in the eyes of the Israeli regime, is his quest to stay in his homeland, a pursuit not only for his own rights as an individual but as an advocate for the rights of his fellow Palestinians. By speaking up about his own experience, Hammouri exposes Israel’s policy of forcible displacement of Palestinians that has been implemented since the days of the 1948 Nakba.
Hammouri’s situation is far from isolated, as Israel has revoked the residencies of nearly 15,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites between 1967 and 2016. Perhaps less well-known, however, are the mechanisms levied against Hammouri and their family because of their status as French citizens. Israel has a long history of using families as levers, notably foreign spouses, who have notoriously been targeted over the years with draconian visa requirements in a bid to push their families into leaving Palestine in order to stay together.
The French government has condemned Hammouri’s expulsion as contrary to law and said it has been fully mobilized since his last arrest to ensure his rights — as guaranteed under the Fourth Geneva Convention — are respected. But how much faith can be put in these words when President Emmanuel Macron congratulated Benjamin Netanyahu in November on his recent electoral victory and vowed to “strengthen the already strong ties” between Paris and Tel Aviv? With Netanyahu’s new government dubbed “the most right-wing in Israeli history” — a dizzying claim given the relentless oppression of Palestinians by every successive Israeli government since 1948 — Macron’s actions show, once again, the hypocrisy of the so-called country of human rights.
“I believe that France has decided not to play a role in the Palestinian cause,” Hammouri told Palestine Square. “I don’t think it will have a role to play as long as it doesn’t change policy … the occupation, the rights of the Palestinian people, these are essential questions to which France must respond. You cannot have an effective role without taking a clear stand. I don’t think the Palestinian people are counting on French diplomacy to affect change on the ground.”
Much like the United States’ tepid response to the murder of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May, France’s weak protestations regarding the treatment of one of its own citizens are yet another signal to the Israeli government that it can proceed with impunity in its quest to ethnically cleanse the land of its Indigenous inhabitants. In this sense, Hammouri’s case is not only among the latest examples of Israel’s efforts to ensure Palestinians either stay quiet, leave, or die but is an indictment of the persistent second-class status of people with foreign origins in French society (by Hammouri’s own assessment, a “fourth- or fifth-class citizen”). Hammouri told Palestine Square that as of mid-January and since his arrival in the country, he had not been contacted by anyone from the French government: “This isn’t the treatment for a French citizen,” he said.
France’s long-standing refusal to reckon with its colonial past and continued racism against its Arab and Black citizens not only verges on delusion but also directly feeds into who the country deems worthy of deploying its full apparatus to protect. France’s internal policies speak to which states it gives a pass when they violate some of the most elemental of human rights.
While Israel may believe it has had the last word, Hammouri is not giving up the fight. “My goal is to return to Palestine, and I will do everything for that,” he said, including possibly pleading his case to the International Criminal Court. “I may be far from Palestine, but I always carry Palestine with me, and my struggle will continue from France; that is clear,” he added — with or without France’s support.