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Khaled El Qaisi: Israel holds Italian student without charge

Khaled El Qaisi: Solidarity grows in Italy with Italo-Palestinian student held by Israel without charges
4 min read
16 September, 2023
A Sapienza University meeting in Rome gathers hundreds around the Committee for the liberation of the Italian-Palestinian student Khaled El Qaisi, detained by Israel without charges
Demonstrators holds a banner for the release of Khaled El Qaisi, an Italian-Palestinian student arrested Aug. 31 by Israeli authorities at the Allenby crossing [Iacopo Smeriglio]

Hundreds of academics, political representatives, union members, students, and activists gathered in Rome on Friday in solidarity with Khaled El Qaisi, an Italian-Palestinian student detained by Israel since August 31 without charge.

El Qaisi, who is a translator, researcher and student in the Department of Oriental Languages and Civilizations at Sapienza University of Rome was on a family trip to Bethlehem, said his wife Francesca Antinucci, to register their marriage and the birth of their only child, Kamal, now four years old, in the Palestinian Authority registry office, to obtain the right to family reunification.

The child witnessed his father being handcuffed by the Israeli military while crossing the Jordanian border at Allenby’s bridge checkpoint on their way back to Italy.

Khaled, a founding member of the Palestinian Documentation Center and activist in the group “Giovani Palestinesi” is being detained in the Ashkelon prison centre. A court at Rishon LeZion, not far from Tel Aviv, where Khaled was brought after his arrest, extended his detention on September 14  for one more week, citing “threats to national security”.  No further details were provided by th Israeli authorities.

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El Qaisi is a dual Palestinian and Italian national - a “privilege” that allowed him to avoid being tried by a military court instead of a civilian one in Israel according to his supporters and family. However, activists say his fundamental rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, established by the UN in 1966 and ratified by Israel in 1991, have not been respected.

A committee for Khaled’s liberation has now been set up to focus on his legal rights before a judicial system that allows the detention of suspects without clear charges and without giving him proper legal support. El Qaisi family lawyer, Flavio Rossi Albertini, said that the legal team was able to meet his client only once - adding that in the absence of detailed charges, it is impossible to plan Khaled’s defence and provide anything more than moral support.

Earlier, Albertini urged the Italian government to intervene, telling local media "Israel does not guarantee fundamental rights for a fair trial". So far, Rome has only commented to confirm the arrest amid pressure from some lawmakers to hold a special session of parliament to discuss the case.

Francesca Antinucci [Alba Nabulsi]

Fear of administrative detention

Since the case has not received proper coverage in the Italian media so far, the committee founders organized Friday's public meeting to tell Khaled's story and pressure the Italian government, while raising awareness among the Italian public accustomed to high-profile cases like the detention of Italy based student Patrick Zaki and the murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni in Egypt.

The risk of Khaled being targeted for his activism in the Giovani Palestinesi group and for his dedication to the Palestinian Documentation Center is real. His family and supporters are concerned for him, and some activists said he could be placed under the notorious “administrative detention” without charges renewable every 6 months, admissible under Israeli rule, joining more than a thousand Palestinians behind Israeli bars so far under this draconian measure.

At the event on Friday, Khaled’s wife Francesca and his mother Lucia Marchetti, connected via video link from Palestine, expressed gratitude for solidarity and painted a picture of Khaled as an engaged student and citizen, a dedicated translator and a loving father, son and husband.

Among those present speaking out on his behalf were activist groups and representatives from Rome’s students networks, academics, unions and NGO representatives, such as Tina Marinari from Amnesty International and Luisa Morgantini, former vice president of the European Parliament and head of Assopace Palestina, a prominent pro-Palestinian network.

Ada Barbaro, Associate Professor of Arabic Literature and Language at Sapienza, spoke in the name of the academic community, thanking the university rector for the declaration of concern and for hosting the  Committee’s meeting inside its Literature Department.

His mentor Francesco Zappa, Associate Professor in History of the Islamic Civilization, said Khaled is “an extremely calm, respectful and intelligent young man, fulfilled with intellectual curiosity".

"I knew nothing [until now] about his precious activity of documenting Palestinian history and society," he added.

"Khaled is in the hearts of all of us. I still can't believe he's going through all this right now. All I can say is that I hope he wakes up soon from this nightmare”.