Most Americans are unaware that the over 5 million inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza (the Occupied Palestinian Territories) are living in virtual prisons. They are prohibited from leaving until and unless Israel gives them permission. Israel often refuses.
Jamal Niser, an American senior citizen who has lived in Ohio for 40 years, is one example. He has been held by Israel since 2021 and not allowed to return to Ohio. This includes two stints in Israeli prisons, both times without charge or trial
Even after Israel authorities promised then-Congressman Tim Ryan that his constituent would be allowed out of the West Bank, Israel continued to block him from returning to Ohio, even though the US expends $20 million per day on behalf of Israel…
Below are two reports on Nisir’s situation:
April 4, 2023
Jamal Niser, a U.S. citizen, was 74 years old the first time the Israeli military detained him. The Israeli army, which rules over the occupied Palestinian territories, where Niser lives in retirement with his wife, threw him in prison in 2021 for four months without charge or trial—a practice it refers to as “administrative detention.” The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that Jamal’s detention was “arbitrary,” citing among other reasons that Israel denied him due process or any way to defend himself through the Israeli army’s reliance on secret evidence to detain him.
When Jamal got out of prison in October 2021, days before his 75th birthday, he attempted to return to the United States to be with his children, but the Israeli army denied him permission to leave the occupied territory without giving any reason. With the intervention of then-Congressman Tim Ryan of Jamal’s home state of Ohio, Israeli authorities gave the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem written assurances that they would allow him to depart for the U.S. Even with that letter in hand, however, the Israeli military denied him permission to leave a second time in October 2021.
Less than a year later, on August 24, 2022, the Israeli military again raided Jamal’s home in the Ramallah-area city of al-Bireh in the middle of the night, this time with an embedded television news crew, breaking down the front door of his home and detaining him. Four days later, an Israeli military intelligence officer, Brig.-Gen. Naama Rosen-Grimberg (a colonel at the time), signed another four-month administrative detention order against him, which an Israeli military court judge, Maj. (Res) Maor Even-Khen, reviewed and approved three days later. Neither Jamal nor his attorney were allowed to view the alleged evidence against him, including a summary of his interrogation—an absurdity considering it is ostensibly a document outlining what Jamal himself told an Israeli intelligence officer.
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Court documents support Niser’s family’s belief that his detention is related to his support for a slate of independent candidates in scheduled Palestinian elections that never took place, although other documentation from Israeli military courts allege an unspecified financial element to his persecution in addition to unspecified alleged ties to an “illegal organization.”
Niser’s current administrative detention order is set to expire on April 22, 2023. It is not known whether Israeli military authorities intend to extend his detention by another four months, nor is it known whether they will allow him to return to his family in the United States if and when he is released. On March 30, 2023, American consular officials visited Niser in Israel’s Ofer Military Prison in the occupied West Bank, and communicated to his family that he is in need of ocular surgery that he would prefer to undergo in Ohio, where he lived for 40 years and where his family remains.
Niser’s continued detention is a violation of international human rights laws prohibiting arbitrary, indefinite imprisonment without charge, and could amount to a war crime under Article 8(2)(a)(vi) of the Rome Statute, which prohibits “[w]ilfully depriving a prisoner of war or other protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial.” Furthermore, the Secretary of State should designate Niser as wrongfully detained under the “Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act,” demand that Israel immediately release Niser or charge him with a crime in a criminal proceeding. The President should also order sanctions against the Israeli officials responsible for his continued detention, as permitted by the law.
DAWN researchers interviewed sources close to Jamal Niser, including family members and legal representatives, reviewed court transcripts and rulings, Israeli military orders relating to the case, correspondence with American and Israeli authorities, and other documents and information from published and unpublished sources that we have determined to be credible and reliable. Interviews include the following:
- Source A: DAWN researchers interviewed Sam Bahour, Niser’s cousin, on February 24, 2023, via an online application.
- Source B: DAWN researchers interviewed Lameese Aghbar, Niser’s daughter, on March 17, 2023, via an online application.
- Source C: DAWN researchers interviewed Source C, a person familiar with al- Niser’s legal proceedings, on February 7, 2023, via an online application.
Documentation: DAWN reviewed the two administrative detention orders issued against Mr. Niser, court documents from five hearings and rulings in Israeli military courts, video documentation of Niser’s detention, civil society submissions to and a published opinion of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, correspondence with Congressional offices, correspondence with the Israeli embassy in Washington and the U.S. embassy in Israel, and data and information obtained by Israeli newspaper Haaretz and human rights organizations Addameer and HaMoked.
Personal & Professional Background
Jamal Afif Suleiman Niser was born in British Mandate Palestine in 1946. In 1967, he emigrated to the United States to join his brothers in Youngstown, Ohio, where he began studying for his Bachelor’s degree in political science. Niser returned to Palestine, at that point militarily occupied by Israel, after he graduated from Youngstown State University in 1971. After marrying his now-wife, Niser returned to Ohio in 1972 to start a family.
In Ohio, where his brothers had already established themselves, Niser had three children and became a successful businessman, owning several grocery stores and gas stations, as well as investing in and developing real estate. In 1995, at the height of the Oslo Accords when Israel allowed the Palestinian Liberation Organization and many other exiled Palestinians to return, Niser attempted to travel to the occupied West Bank for the first time in nearly a quarter century. The Israeli military did not allow him to enter the occupied territory but eventually gave him permission the following year in 1996, when it granted him residency status. He traveled back and forth between Ohio and his home in Al Bireh, near the West Bank city of Ramallah for 15 years without any trouble.
In 2011, however, Niser and his wife were on their way to join their children for a vacation in Italy when the Israeli military denied him permission to leave the occupied Palestinian territory. The Israeli military placed a five-year travel ban on Niser, without providing him any reason or evidence he could refute. Once the travel ban expired, he returned to his home and children in Ohio. “He came out to Ohio, did his taxes, hung out with the family, and then he went back to the West Bank,” Niser’s daughter, Lameese told DAWN in an interview. “This time we were going to Spain, and he was not allowed out and has not been allowed out for seven some years.”
Four years later, in June 2021, Israeli troops raided the then-74-year-old Niser’s home in Al Bireh and placed him in administrative detention for four months. They did not charge him with a crime or give him an opportunity to defend himself. The only evidence his attorney was allowed to see was a summary of an intelligence report containing only three sentences vaguely accusing him of membership in an organization outlawed under Israeli law. When they released him in October 2021, Niser and his family sought the help of their congressperson, at the time Tim Ryan, who, through the State Department, received assurances from the Israeli government that they would allow him to return to the United States. Despite those assurances, the Israeli military would not let him return to Ohio. Later that year, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention published an opinion that Niser’s arrest and imprisonment constituted “arbitrary detention.”
In August 2022, Israeli troops again raided the Niser home in the middle of the night, breaking down the front door to detain the then-75 year old. They did not present him with an arrest warrant or detention order or charge him with a crime. Several days later, an Israeli intelligence officer signed yet another four-month administrative detention order with the same uncorroborated accusations, no evidence, and no opportunity to defend himself. Citing his “advanced age,” a military court judge, Maj. (Res) Maor Even Khen, reduced the length of the detention order to two months but an appeals court judge, Lt.-Col. (Res.) Eyal Nun, reversed that decision and reinstated the full four month order. In December 2022, the Israeli military commander, Maj.-Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, issued a third administrative detention order, extending Niser’s detention by another four months, which is set to expire on April 22, 2023.
Niser has offered to leave the West Bank in lieu of detention, but Israeli authorities have refused to allow him to travel on numerous occasions. According to his daughter Lameese, during his first detention in 2021, Israeli officials told Niser he could leave for the United States only if he gave up his West Bank residency, which would mean he could never return. He refused.
Time & Circumstance of Arrest
June 9, 2021
Dozens of Israeli soldiers raided the Niser home in Al Bireh, a municipality abutting Ramalah, in an area of the occupied West Bank that is supposed to be under full Palestinian control. The soldiers arrived at 4 a.m. on June 9, 2021, took Niser away, but did not search his home. They did not tell his family where they were taking him and did not provide any information about his whereabouts for two days. Four days after his detention, an Israeli military intelligence officer, Brig.-Gen. Naama Rosen-Grimberg (a colonel at the time), signed a four-month administrative detention order.
August 24, 2022
Dozens of Israeli soldiers from the 101st Paratroopers Battalion raided the Niser family home in Al Bireh at 4 a.m. The soldiers, who were accompanied by an embedded reporter and camera crew from Israel’s Channel 12 News, broke down the front door of the house and arrested al- Niser—again, not conducting even a basic search of the home. The soldiers, with assault rifles raised, allowed al- Niser to dress himself and bring his medication before taking him away.
“There were about 25 soldiers who arrived to arrest a 75-year-old man sleeping upstairs with his wife. They go upstairs, they break down the door. My mom comes downstairs. They tell her to keep the lights off. She said, ‘we can’t see because we have like 13 stairs. We need to go up.’ They go up. My dad gets to put his clothes on and take his medication again,” Lameese, Niser’s daughter recalled in an interview with DAWN. “I have a video of him and his blue shirt and black pants. He’s always dressed up.”
Video of the arrest raid, including footage of soldiers leading Niser out of his home, was broadcast on primetime news in Israel on the evening of August 24, 2022, in which the reporter, Channel 12 News’ Nir Dvori, makes unsourced and unsubstantiated claims that the raid is targeting senior PFLP leaders.
Niser’s wife noticed earlier in the night that all the lights had been turned off in the Palestinian police station next door to their home, which she said never happens, and which made them think something was wrong. In the Channel 12 News segment documenting Niser’s arrest, the commanding officer of the 101st Battalion, Lt.-Col. Yoav Spector, explains how they had coordinated the raid with the Palestinian police, and had instructed them to stay out of sight in order to prevent any friction with the invading Israeli army unit.
Four days after Niser’s arrest, on August 28, 2022, an Israeli intelligence officer, Col. Nathaniel Kola, signed a new, four-month administrative detention order.
The Israeli military, which occupies the Palestinian territories and subjects Palestinian civilians to a separate penal code based on military orders, has never charged Jamal Niser with a crime. Under the practice of administrative detention, it can imprison Palestinians without charge or trial indefinitely, with orders that the military commander can renew every four to six months. The judge must review and authorize the orders, but generally do not tell the detainee or their attorney of any specific allegations against them nor do they give them access to any evidence which they might be able to use to to refute or to launch even the most basic legal defense.
The Israeli military prosecution revealed the unsubstantiated allegations against Jamal Niser in the vaguest and often contradictory terms, ranging from participation in Palestinian elections to financial misconduct to membership in an illegal organization. The military prosecution and court did not give Mr. Niser or his attorneys access to any evidence, any information he would need to defend himself against the vague allegations, or any specifics about any crimes of which he is accused, according to court documents reviewed by DAWN.
Article 285 of Israel Defense Forces Military Order 1651 allows for the administrative detention of Palestinians in the occupied territories. The military commander, in the case of the West Bank the OC Central Command (military commander of the occupied West Bank), is authorized to sign administrative detention orders but often delegates that authority to an intelligence officer under their command. An administrative detainee must be brought before a military court within eight days for judicial review and approval. According to data the Israeli military provided to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, military judges approved 99 percent of administrative detention orders in 2022.
Administrative detention is permitted under the Fourth Geneva Convention (articles 42, 78) only as an exceptional measure when an individual is deemed to present a real security threat in the present or future, and even then only when “absolutely necessary” and criminal charges are not possible. The political nature of administrative detention suggests it is used beyond absolute necessity, as admitted by Israeli officials in the past and evidenced by the fact that the number of Palestinians in administrative detention reached a 20-year high in 2022.
In addition, as numerous human rights organizations and UN bodies have concluded, it is no longer appropriate for Israel to rely on the provisions of the Geneva Conventions to justify its administrative detention policy. The Geneva Conventions govern what are meant to be temporary military occupations but the Israeli occupation has become a permanent situation, and its exceptional emergency provisions are no longer appropriate for the situation in the OPT. International human rights law strictly prohibits indefinite administrative detention and arbitrary detention without charge based on secret evidence. The denial of due process and a fair trial is also a war crime in the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute. Read more
Israel: Allow U.S. Citizen Jamal Niser to Leave West Bank Following Release from Arbitrary Detention
April 20, 2023
DAWN calls for Israel to Allow U.S. citizen Jamal Niser to leave West Bank following release from imprisonment
(Washington, D.C., April 20, 2023) – Israel has released Jamal Niser, the 76-year old Palestinian-American, from administrative detention today, following Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)’s documentation of his wrongful, arbitrary, and political detention and call for sanctions, including a visa ban, against Israeli military judge Maj. (Res) Maor Even-Khen, one of the military officers who authorized Niser’s imprisonment.
DAWN demanded Israeli authorities to allow Niser to leave the West Bank without conditions and travel safely back to the United States, which they have previously prevented him from doing, and to compensate him for his unjust imprisonment.
“Today is a day of relief for the Niser family, but the American people should take no satisfaction in a close partner of the U.S. imprisoning a 76-year old American citizen for eight months without charge or trial,” said Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man, Director of Research, Israel-Palestine at DAWN. “If there is no accountability in Niser’s case – as in actual punishment for the Israeli officials responsible for so grievously abusing Niser – Israeli judges will continue arbitrarily imprisoning Palestinians—including U.S. citizens—with impunity.”
As documented in DAWN’s detailed investigation, the Israeli military had held Niser detained without charge or trial based on alleged secret evidence for the past eight months, following a previous four-month stint in administrative detention in 2021, which the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined to be arbitrary and unjust. Niser needs urgent medical care in the United States. The Biden Administration should ensure that the Israeli military allows Niser, whose family lives in the United States, to leave the occupied West Bank and return home, unimpeded without additional harassment.
The Israeli military detained Niser during a pre-dawn raid of his home near Ramallah on August 24, 2022. Israeli authorities have never charged him with a crime, denying him the most basic right of due process and a fair trial. Israeli military officers renewed his detention, again without charge or trial, in December 2022, which was set to expire on April 22, 2023. Prison authorities do not release detainees over the weekend, so they released him today, April 20, 2023.
“We are satisfied that the Israeli government has released Niser following DAWN’s extensive advocacy on his case, but maintain our demand that the US government should sanction the Israeli officials responsible for his abuse,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of DAWN. “The Israeli government is obligated to pay Niser compensation for his unjust imprisonment and all the abuse they’ve heaped on him, for absolutely no reason at all other than to punish him for his political participation.”
Human rights treaties (including Article 14(6) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Article 3 of the Protocol No. 7 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms; and Article 10 of the American Convention on Human Rights explicitly protect the right to compensation for wrongful conviction or miscarriage of justice.
For further reading:
- Jamal Niser: Israel Imprisoning Elderly US Citizen Without Charge or Trial
- US: Sanction Israeli Judge for Wrongful Detention of US Citizen in West Bank Prison
- Israeli Military Court Judge Maj. (Res) Maor Even-Khen Arbitrarily Detained an Elderly US Citizen in West Bank Prison