Invited by the University of Birmingham Conservatives, controversial backbench MP Jacob Rees-Mogg visited campus on Friday 9th March, speaking about his views on free speech, housing, mental health, Russia and tuition fees to a packed lecture theatre of around 300 students.Written by Erin Santillo & John Wimperis on 16th March 2018
UoB Professor Denied Entry to Israel
Professor Kamel Hawwash, from University of Birmingham’s Department of Civil Engineering, was recently deported from Israel, preventing him from visiting relatives during the Easter holiday
Professor Hawwash, who was travelling with his wife and 5 year-old son, was banned from entering Israel under a new law that bans entry to foreigners who advocate for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The legislation was passed into law by the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) in March, and effectively bars supporters of a boycott on Israel from entering the country.
“'I have been denied entry to my homeland'
‘I am personally devastated at the denial of my entry,’ Professor Hawwash said. ‘Firstly because I could not be with my wife and son for our holiday, but also because I have been denied entry to my homeland’. As Israel controls access to the Palestinian territories, Professor Hawwash claims that the ban effectively prevents him from visiting family in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
According to Professor Hawwash, the officer at Israeli passport control showed him papers printed in Hebrew which the officer claimed were some of his tweets in which he allegedly referred to Palestinian terrorists as ‘shaheeds’ (martyrs). ‘Since I do not read Hebrew,’ Professor Hawwash said, ‘I could not comment on any specific tweet and I asked for him to produce the tweets in English, which he did not.’
After speaking to the officer for about half an hour, he was then told that he will be denied entry, but his wife, who has a Jerusalem residency permit, was allowed to go through. Professor Hawwash was then sent on a flight back to Birmingham, through Brussels, the following morning after receiving no help from the British Embassy.
Speaking to Redbrick, Professor Hawwash explained that there are effectively four entry points to visit the Palestinian territories, all of which are controlled by Israel. ‘While I was denied entry at Tel Aviv, the head of the Palestinian community in Chile was denied entry on Monday at King Hussein bridge for the same reason,’ he told Redbrick. ‘He is Christian and was visiting over Easter.’
“'I believe the new law is counterproductive'
Last summer, Professor Hawwash appeared on Russia Today to talk about the very law that would eventually prevent him from visiting relatives who he claims he may never see again due to their old age. ‘I believe the new law is counterproductive,’ Professor Hawwash told Redbrick. ‘Not only did it stop my entry but would be applied to British Jews who support BDS even if it is only of the illegal settlements.’
As well as having served as Vice Chair of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign for eight years, Professor Hawwash writes frequently on Middle East affairs through various publications and on an online blog. Professor Hawwash has expressed support for the BDS movement in the past, and has defended it as a ‘peaceful’ movement. ‘Our demands as the BDS Movement are moral and legal,’ he told Russia Today in August 2016. ‘It is Israel’s action through its settlement expansion, its refusal to adhere to international law, that is the problem.’
Speaking to Redbrick, Professor Hawwash said that the voluntary work that he does in solidarity with the Palestinian people is important to him as a British-Palestinian person with a ‘real connection’ to his homeland. ‘I do not want to see any more suffering on either side,’ he said. ‘Sadly, the policies of the current Israeli government are not promoting peace and coexistence’.
Speaking to the Independent, the Israeli embassy in London echoed the accusation that Professor Hawwash had previously praised terrorists as martyrs. ‘Israel is seeking a peaceful resolution to its conflict with the Palestinians,’ a spokesperson said. ‘Those who promote extremism should not be allowed to foment their hatred in Israel.’
Professor Hawwash was criticised earlier last year for referring to Muhannad Halabi, who murdered two Israeli men in a terror attack, as a ‘martyr’ at an event held at the House of Commons. At the event, titled ‘Challenging the Narrative: the Obstacles in Advocating for Palestinian Rights’, Professor Hawwash said ‘I call him a martyr because I’m speaking from a Palestinian perspective. I don’t care what the Israelis call him. They want to call him a terrorist, that’s up to them.’
“'The law which was applied was only passed in March and to my knowledge I am one of only three people who it has affected'
During the attack, which took place in 2015, Halabi reportedly fired at police who arrived at the scene, and was then shot and killed by them. Professor Hawwash told the audience at the event, organised by the Palestinian Return Centre, that he considers what Halabi did as an act of ‘revenge’ for what the Israeli government does to Palestinians. ‘He was killed by an Israeli soldier, to us he’s a martyr,’ he said.
Speaking to Redbrick, Hawwash defended his comments by saying that the recording was taken out of context. ‘I believe I said that whatever others consider him to be, to Palestinians he is seen as a martyr,’ he told Redbrick. ‘I believe it was in the context of saying unless you understand what drove him to carry out the attack, then we cannot find ways towards peace.’
When asked whether he has any plans to request permission to enter Israel in the future, Professor Hawwash told Redbrick that he very much wants to visit his family as he does annually. ‘I am currently considering how this could happen,’ he told Redbrick. ‘The law which was applied was only passed in March and to my knowledge I am one of only three people who it has affected, though Israel regularly denies entry to visitors often not giving any reason’.
Professor Hawwash told Redbrick that although the British Consul did not offer to take up his case with the Israeli authorities, his local MP, Richard Burden, will be raising his case with the Foreign Office.