BRITISH PARLIAMENTARIANS INVITED MOHAMED ABU MUAILEK TO LONDON – BUT HE WAS STOPPED FROM GETTING TO THE UK
A peace activist from Gaza who has been denied entry to Britain addressed a London audience on July 8 (2012) – by internet. The British government had refused him a visa, but the event went ahead at a cinema, and the activist spoke in a pre-recorded Skype conversation from Gaza City.
Former Palestinian militant Mohammed Abu Muailek used to fire rockets at Israel but publicly renounced violence, leading to his arrest and imprisonment by Hamas.
He was slated to speak after the showing of a documentary film called Friends Under Fire, about his change of heart and his subsequent imprisonment.
Abu Muailek was also due to address the All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Conflict Issues in June and invitations to attend had been sent to all British Members of Parliament. But the Home Office’s Border Agency in Amman, Jordan, rejected his application – even though it was fully backed by letters from the All-Party Group. The group has re-invited Abu Muailek to address them as soon as a visa is granted.
One of the Parliamentary Group’s most senior members, Labour Party MP Andy Slaughter, attended the cinema showing and told the audience he would do everything in his power to ensure Abu Muailek was admitted into Britain.
“It’s outrageous that a country which is a beacon of freedom of speech has not allowed an advocate of peaceful co-existence to talk to Members of Parliament in our capital city,” said Paul Martin, a London-based journalist who specialises in documentaries on the Middle East and Africa. His film on Abu Muailek’s story, ROCKET MAN UNDER FIRE, ran eight times in 2010, while Abu Muailek was still in jail.
The documentary and the campaign launched on the website www.dissidentunderfire.com ”led to such pressure on Hamas that it seems they decided executing Mohamed was counter-productive,” Martin says.
The Home Office’s rejection letter claimed Abu Muailek might refuse to leave Britain after his visit to Parliament. ”That is either foolish or some form of paranoia,” said Martin. “He would gain nothing by staying in the UK, especially under the unpleasant conditions of any asylum-seeker. Mohamed has been offered a financially worthwhile fellowship with a prestigious foundation in South Africa – and the British government had been sent a copy of that invitation letter too.”
Abu Muailek was invited to the foundation’s peace fellowship programme by its founder Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the famed anti-apartheid clergyman who won a Nobel Peace Prize.
“It is heart-warming and encouraging that young people – even with firmly entrenched views based on years of indoctrination and propaganda – can convert hatred into friendship,” said Martin. “It points to the need for and the benefit of grassroots dialogue in conflict situations.”
Abu Muailek’s change of heart came about through his work solving computer problems for an international company. One of the company’s fellow-workers happened to be based in Tel Aviv and, as they corresponded, Abu Muailek began to revise his views.
But it was a dangerous move: in April 2009 he was seized by Hamas’s internal security and charged with spying — an offence carrying an automatic death sentence.
When Martin heard of his plight, he decided to go back to Gaza to give evidence in the military court trying the young Palestinian. “I was advised by his family that it could save his life if I showed that Mohamed was simply a dissident who publicly rejected the regime’s use of violence – the antithesis of what a spy would do,” he said.
But when the British film-maker went to the court, he himself was arrested by Hamas and accused of being Abu Muailek’s spymaster.
After 26 days and international pressure, and a visit to Gaza by British MPs, Martin was released. Abu Muailek, who is 27, was not freed until October 2011 after two and a half years in prison.
“Mohammed considers his life may still be at risk in Gaza from people who disagree with the decision to let him out of jail,” Martin said.
|Mohamed Abu Muailek was a Palestinian militant who fired rockets from Gaza into Israel. Then, largely because of an internet friendship with the “enemy”, Dan, from Tel Aviv, Mohamed changed his mind. Deciding that violence was wrong, Mohamed became a dissident, and argued that Palestinians should seek co-existence with Israel. Hounded by Hamas, he was thrown in jail in April 2009 facing a likely death penalty. Surprisingly, he was set free late last year (2011). But Mohamed, 27, remains trapped in Gaza, under threat of death by enemies of his peaceful stance.