Palestinian clown held by Israel without trial for months despite global pleas to set him free

A clown from the West Bank’s Palestinian Circus School has been held without trial by Israel for over five months. Mohammed Abu Sakha helped disabled children before he was detained by the Israeli military without charge.

Nine-year-old Muhammad has lost a friend. He used to enjoy being helped and looked after by Abu Sakha, whom he hasn’t seen since the middle of December. 

“When he is with me, I feel there is no difference between me and other children,” Muhammad told RT’s Paula Slier. “When I would stand and fall, he would come behind me and hold me.” 

Like many other children at the Palestinian Circus School, Muhammad is disabled and 24-year-old Abu Sakha, who was a clown, would go out of his way to make the boy’s life better. 

Muhammad’s mother, Amal Barghouti, has also noticed a change in her son’s behavior. Abu Sakha used to give up his spare time to take him on motorcycle rides or help to teach him to walk. However, since the clown’s arrest, she says her son’s progress has been hindered.

“Mohammed Abu Sakha was a brother and friend to my son Muhammad. He had a big influence on his life and taught him to be stronger in spirit. Since he has been sent to prison, his [Muhammad’s] life has gone backwards,” she told RT.  

Abu Sakha’s woes started on December 14, when he was detained on his way to work at the Palestinian Circus School in Birzeit, near Ramallah. He was eventually moved to Megiddo prison in the north of Israel and was handed a six-month administrative detention on December 25. 

The 24-year-old was arrested because the Shin Bet intelligence agency believes he has links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which Israel sees as an extremist organization. Although the group has scaled back its terror activities over the last few years, it is still seen as a terror group by Israel. 

The Palestinian Circus School has denied that Abu Sakha has any links to terror groups and said his life is “dedicated to the circus” and that his only crime is “making children happy.”

The school’s mission is to train Palestinian children and youths in circus arts and thereby “strengthen the social, creative and physical potential of the Palestinians, seeking to engage and empower them to become constructive actors in society,” the school’s website says.

On Friday, a UN panel lashed out at Israel for its continued use of administrative detention against Palestinian suspects. The detentions can last "for months or even years," with almost no access to those detained, said the co-chair of the Committee against Torture panel, Jens Modvig of Denmark, as cited by AP.

In March, Amnesty International made an appeal to release the clown. 

“Mohammad Faisal Abu Sakha is now detained inside Israel,” Amnesty said. “This violates the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, which stipulates that detainees from the population of an occupied territory must be detained within that territory. Relatives of Palestinians residing in the occupied West Bank have great difficulty obtaining permits to visit their family members detained in Israel.” 

Abu Sakha, who started to train at the Palestinian Circus School in 2007, before becoming an instructor four years later, is one of around 700 Palestinians who are being held in administrative detention by Israel. The Israeli government says these are necessary preventative measures in order to stop Palestinians from carrying out attacks against Israelis. 

In December, a report by the Knesset's state control committee showed that over the last decade Israel exercised administrative detention 4,691 times on 3,761 people between January 1, 2005, and November 1, 2015.

However, only 252 people were found to have been indicted through administrative detention, which shows the vast majority of people being held have committed no crime.