May 26, 2011

Major-General Avi Mizrahi
Commander of the IDF – West Bank
GOC Central Command
Military Post 01149
Battalion 877
Israel Defense Forces, Israel
Fax: +972 2 530 5741 / 530 5724

Ehud Barak
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense
Ministry of Defense
37 Kaplan Street, Hakirya
Tel Aviv 61909, Israel
Fax: +972 3 691 6940 / 696 2757

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein
Ministry of Justice
29 Salah al-Din Street
Jerusalem 91010
Fax: +972 2 628 5438 / 627 4481

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to defending freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our concern regarding the detention of writer and academic Dr. Ahmad Qatamesh.

According to our information, at 2:00 a.m. on April 21, 2011, Israeli security forces arrested Dr. Ahmad Qatamesh, a writer who has lectured in the humanities department at al-Quds University in Jerusalem, at his brother’s home in Ramallah. He was taken to Ofer detention center in the West Bank, where he was questioned for approximately 10 minutes by the Israel Security Agency (ISA). At a hearing one week later, on April 28, a military judge agreed to extend his detention for another six days for further questioning, although none occurred during this period. At another hearing on May 2, the ISA made a request to extend his detention again, reportedly to question him about his association with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Qatamesh denied active involvement and the military judge refused the ISA’s request.

A military court official later told Qatamesh’s lawyer that Qatamesh would be released at 5:00 p.m. on May 3. However, at 8:30 p.m. that day, Qatamesh was instead handed an administrative detention order signed by the West Bank military commander of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The order appeared to have been produced for another detainee, since Qatamesh’s name was written over correction fluid. The order was for an “extension” of administrative detention even though this is Qatamesh’s first detention order since the 1990s. The order also stated that he was an activist in Hamas, an organization with very different political views than those of the PFLP.

We understand that administrative detention orders allow Israel to detain Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza strip without charge or trail for periods of up to six months, and that these orders can be renewed indefinitely. Detainees are held on the basis of “secret evidence,” which the Israeli military authorities claim cannot be revealed for security reasons—not even to the detainee or his or her lawyer. The detainee cannot challenge the reasons for his or her detention.

PEN American Center is seriously concerned that Ahmad Qatamesh is being held for the peaceful expression of his political views in violation of his right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Israel is a signatory. We therefore call for his immediate and unconditional release, unless he is to be promptly charged with a recognizable criminal offense and brought to trial in full conformity with international fair trial standards. We also seek assurances of his well-being in detention.

Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.


Hannah Pakula
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

Dr. Michael B. Oren
Ambassador of Israel to the United States
Embassy of Israel to the United States
3514 International Drive, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 364-5423

>> Back to Rapid Action