Yesterday's lively Amnesty "Justice for clowns" demo near the Israeli Embassy in London banged the drum for jailed Palestinian circus trainer Mohammad Abu Sakha who's been held by Israel without charge or trial for three months.
As with around 600 hundred other Palestinians, a six-month "administrative detention" order has been served on Abu Sakha by the Israeli military. With these scandalously unjust orders, no reason needs to be given and lawyers for those held have no real means of contesting the rulings which can be based on secret evidence. In Abu Sakha's case, the Israeli military have been quoted as saying the circus trainer poses a "danger ... to the security of the region". So that's supposed to be that.
It seems like some kind of bad joke. A young circus trainer who specialises in teaching circus skills to children with learning difficulties. Of all people, this man is deemed a threat to the security of the region. (Writers in the nineteenth century used to say of the famous British clown Joseph Grimaldi that his finely-crafted comic acting was an "acute observation upon the foibles and absurdities of society". Perhaps the Israeli military is now practising a cruel piece of political satire with Abu Sakha's incarceration ...).
But is there, after all, a good reason for locking him up? Well, how can anyone know? The Israeli military won't allow the evidence they say they have to be examined and tested. They say he's a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a political party with an armed wing, but nothing to show Abu Sakha has committed a criminal offence has been forthcoming. What we have, then, is a form of legal trickery as the Israeli authorities quite blatantly juggle with due process. It's now common practice. Every time they issue an "administrative detention" order, Israeli military judges make a complete nonsense of basic fair trial standards. They might as well wear clown suits when they hand down their rulings ...
The Palestinian Circus School which employs Abu Sakha insists that his only crime is to "make children happy". Unless and until Israel produces evidence against Abu Sakha, that's a not unreasonable statement.
Abu Sakha was also previously arrested by the Israeli military six years ago, accused of throwing stones at a military jeep. On this occasion he was released after a month, but during his detention a military judge reportedly issued the bizarre threat that he would "never go back to the circus". What an odd thing to say.
People traditionally "run away to join the circus" as if to escape humdrum life. In Mira Nair's excellent film Salaam Bombay! about poor street children in India, it's the other way round: the circus actually packs up and leaves the central character Krishna behind. He's stranded and left to fend for himself on the hostile streets of Bombay.
Compared to the violence and political turmoil of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank (involving the collective punishment of all Palestinians living there), the world of the Palestine Circus School must seem to those involved in it a sort of magical escape. It's a bit like some of those circus tricks (glass ball rolling, juggling, fire-eating etc) that still amaze us, transporting us from the everyday back into a childlike state of wonder and awe. I'm hoping for a similar bit of clown magic, perhaps with the spirit of Joseph Grimaldi paying a visit to the military judges of Israel's securitised state to remind them of their own unjust foolishness. Failing that, I suggest you lean in to my fake flower, receive a refreshing squirt of water in the eyeball ... and then support the Amnesty campaign for justice for Mohammad Abu Sakha.
Abu Sakha has an appeal against his detention on 21 March. Will a judge again say that there is to be no return to the circus?