Polish humanitarian worker banned from reentry to Israel-Palestinian areas

Polish Foreign Ministry demands explanation for Shin Bet's ban on Kamil Qandil, but has not received an answer.

September 11, 2013 19:27
3 minute read.
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An unprecedented controversy has begun with Warsaw over a Polish humanitarian worker whom the Shin Bet denied reentry to Israel and the Palestinian areas, in a ban the Supreme Court upheld on Wednesday.

According to Polish Embassy spokesman Jacek Olejnik, it is the first time that a Polish humanitarian worker has been banned from entering the country.

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Olejnik said that his government sent a letter to Israel last week protesting the treatment of its citizen, Kamil Qandil, when the controversy started, but had yet to receive a response.

The Polish delegation was still trying to understand the situation and to decide how to react and whether there were broader issues involved, Olejnik said.

At the same time that this case has been playing out, Israel and the EU have been meeting to discuss the EU’s expected settlements boycott.

According to Kamil Qandil’s sister, Alicja Qandil, a Polish journalist, Kamil has a valid work visa, issued in July 2013 by the Interior Ministry at the request of the Polish Humanitarian Action NGO.

Olejnik confirmed that Kamil was here on behalf of the PHA, a well-known Polish organization.

Alicja Qandil added that Kamil was here to work on rehabilitating water cisterns to supply access to water relating to four ancient cisterns in the South Hebron Hills.

Former European Parliament president and Polish prime minister Jerzy Buzek tried to intervene on Kamil’s behalf and had spoken to a high-ranking EU representative currently in Israel, she said.

She and Kamil’s lawyer, Yadin Elam, said Kamil went to Poland for a few days for a wedding, and upon his return the Shin Bet detained him at Ben- Gurion Airport.

Elam said that Kamil tried to enter the country by filing a petition with the Lod District Court, sitting in its administrative court capacity, but was rejected on the grounds that he presented a security issue.

Kamil’s lawyer added that at that initial hearing last week, none of the secret evidence against Kamil was presented or summarized for him, and that made him powerless to defend himself.

Next, Kamil’s lawyer appealed to the Supreme Court, where Kamil for the first time received a summary of the evidence against him, which merely said that he had connections with terrorist elements, without specifying whom.

According to Elam, although Kamil told the court that he had no idea why Israel was preventing him from entering the country, Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis said the situation was more complicated than that.

Asked if she understood why Kamil was being prevented from entering the country, his sister said that she could not imagine what evidence the Shin Bet had against him.

She said that their father is Palestinian and that both of them had been harshly interrogated when entering the country in the past.

In one instance, Alicja said she was questioned in Arabic even though she does not speak the language.

She said she continued to tell her interrogator that she did not understand him and that he yelled at her in Arabic and was about to body search her when they released her, realizing that she was a member of the media.

Elam said he also had few clues, though he noted that the water project that Kamil was working on had caused controversy in the past.

The village where Kamil worked on the water project is right next to the West Bank security barrier, and some villagers have been leaving the area claiming difficult conditions have been imposed on them.

Elam asked why the Shin Bet had not arrested Kamil in the West Bank if he was truly dangerous and why it waited until he left the country.

The Shin Bet responded that Kamil had been prevented from entering the country due to “security considerations” that the Lod District Court had found “reasonable.”

It added that Kamil had not been arrested, only prevented from entering the country, and that he had been and was free to return to Poland at anytime.

The Shin Bet denied that considerations other than “security information” were responsible for Kamil’s detention or that there was any intention to generally harm humanitarian efforts aimed at assisting the Palestinians.

Israel’s domestic security organization often takes action against individuals for security reasons, while not revealing the basis of its claims, to avoiding exposing its intelligence assets that obtained the information.

Ben Hartman contributed to this report.

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