November 30, 2009
By Matthew Kalman
A Palestinian law professor just released by Israel after being held for 20 months without trial in administrative detention has told The Chronicle that he intends to go straight back to teaching and continue promoting a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Ghassan Khaled, 40, a lecturer in commercial law at An-Najah University, in the West Bank city of Nablus, was arrested in January 2008, was held and interrogated using extreme methods that he says amounted to "torture" before being released, and then was rearrested in March 2008.
He was released last Thursday night, on the eve of the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice Eid Al-Adha, and spent the holiday resting with his wife and five children at his parent's home in the village of Jayyous.
Mr. Khaled said he would resume lecturing at An-Najah on Wednesday and thanked his many Israeli friends who had come to court to argue against his imprisonment and offer guarantees for his release — without success.
"Me and my father and all of our family, we have a lot of Israeli friends," Mr. Khaled said in an interview. "They came to court to support me, and they told the judge, 'We know him, we know his father, we are ready to give any guarantee that at any time they will not do anything illegal.'"
He said he had never been told the reason for his detention because his was a "secret file" that neither he nor his lawyer was allowed to see. He was held for four months at Megiddo Prison, in northern Israel, before being transferred to the Ketziot prison camp, in southern Israel, where inmates sleep in tents of 20 men, in walled sections containing six tents, six showers, and exercise space.
"I kept telling the judge that I'm a lawyer, and according to the Geneva Convention I have the right to know why I am arrested," he said. "I told them that according to the Geneva Convention, administrative detention is considered as a war crime because I have the right to know why I am arrested. I have the right to defend myself."
Article 78 of the Fourth Geneva Convention says a conquering army has the right to hold in administrative detention people who pose a threat to the security of the region, but critics say the Israeli authorities' use of the measure far exceeds its original purpose.
In response to an inquiry last month from The Chronicle, the Israeli army denied that Mr. Khaled was in administrative detention.
Mr. Khaled said that during his initial interrogation, in January 2008, he was tied to a chair for up to 22 hours a day and deprived of sleep for more than a week, causing severe swelling in a knee. He said an Israeli judge had ordered immediate treatment, but by the time the prison authorities allowed him to see a doctor, there was no longer any evidence that the problem had been caused by his ill treatment during the interrogation.
Despite his bitter experience, Mr. Khaled said he was more persuaded than ever to continue his work to promote peace and dialogue.
"Not only do I feel that I can continue — now I think that it's more necessary," he said. "I'm thinking that it's true even more than in the past because we have very serious work to convince others that violence is not useful for us, and it's not helpful for us, and through dialogue and through negotiation we can resolve all our problems."
"There are a lot of Israeli people who are peaceful people. They support peace," he continued. "That's why I will use all of my ability, all of my power, to convince others about how we can resolve our problems according to international humanitarian law, to convince others that fanaticism or fundamentalism or extremism is not useful for us and is not useful for anyone."