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In Unprecedented Asylum Case, UK Recognizes Israel’s Persecution of Palestinians

In a precedent-setting case, a Palestinian citizen of Israel won asylum in the UK, citing apartheid and persecution.

Palestinian solidarity murals can be seen on the International Wall on the Falls Road on March 18, 2024, in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Hasan*, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, has spent all but one of his 24 years of life in the United Kingdom. He does not speak Hebrew or Arabic fluently, and depends on British medical care. In 2019, Hasan was informed that he was to be deported to Israel, separating him from his family in the U.K., so he filed an asylum claim. In 2022, that claim was denied, forcing him to appeal. In the years since then — and in recent months, as Israel’s post-October 7 incursion into Gaza has brought Palestinians’ human rights into the international spotlight — Hasan has waited. His appeal hearing was scheduled for March 12 of this year.

If Hasan were to be returned to Israel, his lawyers wrote that he’d face “likely persecution” because he is Palestinian, because he is Muslim, and because of “his anti-Zionist, anti-apartheid and pro-Palestinian political opinion.” But in a surprising reversal March 11, Hasan was told that he’d be allowed to stay — without having to go to court. His lawyers say this is a precedent-setting recognition by the British state of the Israeli government’s persecution of Palestinians.

“This is a victory not just for me but for all Palestinians living under the apartheid Israeli regime,” Hasan wrote in a statement. “Without even having to step into court, the U.K. government has now accepted that the Palestinian struggle for freedom should not just be limited to Gaza and the West Bank but to all parts of historic Palestine under Israeli rule.”

The impact of Hasan’s case, legal experts say, could reverberate beyond the U.K., impacting Palestinian refugees claiming asylum in places like the United States, too.

Hasan’s barrister, Franck Magennis, called the decision “completely unprecedented,” and said that it amounted to an acknowledgment that even Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are likely to experience violence and harm at the hands of the Israeli state. “It amounts to admission by the British state that there’s a real risk that Israel persecutes at least some of its own Palestinian citizens, whether because they’re anti-Zionist or simply because they’re Palestinian.”

This may be the first case in which a Palestinian citizen of Israel has successfully won asylum in the U.K. on the argument that an apartheid system of racial domination systematically oppresses Palestinian citizens. On a page set up to crowdfund his legal support, Hasan stated that he particularly wanted to underscore apartheid in his case. “My previous solicitors dropped my case because they were nervous that I wanted to put the spotlight on Israeli apartheid as part of my asylum case,” he wrote. His new lawyers built his case around the 1951 Refugee Convention, and highlighted several nongovernmental organization- and United Nations-affiliated reports demonstrating that Palestinians, even those who are not among the million actively under starvation and bombardment in Gaza, are being prohibited from leading a full and equitable life within the Israeli state.

“Zionists would say, ‘[Hasan has] a passport. He’s a citizen of the state, he can appear in front of his state’s courts. What’s the problem?’ The obvious answer to which is that the U.K. Home Office accepted that the fact of his citizenship was insufficient to eliminate the real risk that he’d still be persecuted,” Magennis said.

As referenced in Hasan’s case, 65 laws in the Israeli constitution explicitly discriminate against the country’s Arab population and classify them as second-class citizens. And after October 7, that condition has rapidly deteriorated. Israeli Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has ordered police to prohibit even the waving of the Palestinian flag in public places, and the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has stated that Arab citizens of Israel are experiencing a “systemic witch hunt,” at constant risk of job loss, arrest and jail time. In Israel, a country where a person can be locked in jail for making Facebook posts expressing grief for the people of Gaza, Hasan’s claim that he would face persecution for his history of public pro-Palestinian political work in the U.K. was also bolstered by the International Court of Justice’s recent interim judgement in South Africa v. Israel, in which the court described the rhetoric of senior Israeli government officials as “discernably genocidal and dehumanizing.”

“Really, it’s a factual argument, right?” Magennis told Truthout. “We’re saying there is this pervasive system of racial discrimination which touches on every aspect of Palestinian life.” Today, the 1.6 million Palestinian citizens comprise about 20 percent of Israel’s population, but they aren’t accorded equal rights under Israeli law: They’re restricted in where they can live and who they can marry, and regularly face discrimination in schooling and employment.

Taher Gulamhussein, one of Hasan’s solicitors, told Truthout that, “While the world is rightfully focused on the Israeli genocide in Gaza, it is critical to understand that by virtue of its being an apartheid state, Israel’s oppression extends to any Palestinians under its control and authority.”

The case is not entirely without precedent: In the U.K., an Israeli anti-Zionist rabbinical student won asylum on similar claims of probable persecution in 2022. And in the U.S., all the way back in 2003, a man with a Palestinian father and a Jewish Israeli mother was able to claim asylum using a similar argument, detailing his repeated, violent encounters with Israeli marines, and how his status as someone of Palestinian heritage made it near-impossible for him to find work despite his citizenship.

Magennis hopes this case will be useful outside the U.K., too. “The global significance of this decision is that a Palestinian, or indeed an anti-Zionist Jewish-Israeli, finding themselves in the United States could, in principle, claim asylum and use the Refugee Convention to advance a very similar argument about Israeli apartheid,” he said.

The U.S. is not known for its respect of international law. But U.K. cases can be referenced in U.S. courts, experts say. Patrick Taurel, a U.S. immigration lawyer with a history of representing Palestinian refugee clients, told Truthout that U.K. cases like this one “can be cited as persuasive authority. But they’re never going to be binding on any kind of adjudicator in the United States.”

The U.S., like the U.K., is home to a community of a few thousand Palestinian refugees. And the U.S. government, too, has recently produced a ruling granting protection to some Palestinians seeking asylum.

In the U.S. case, that protection comes in the form of a Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) ruling from President Joe Biden last month. Similar to the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) rulings issued for asylum seekers from countries like Venezuela or Haiti, a DED ruling means that “certain Palestinians” currently in the U.S. will be protected from deportation — and be able to access work permits — for the next 18 months. (The memorandum does exclude certain categories of Palestinian immigrants, and the boundaries of some of those categories are vague: For example, anyone whose presence in the U.S. “the Secretary of Homeland Security has determined is not in the interest of the United States” will not be protected.)

That choice of DED over TPS could have been made out of a desire to avoid alienating the Israeli government, said University of California, College of the Law, San Francisco Professor Karen Musalo. A DED ruling only requires the president’s approval, while TPS requires the cooperation of several government agencies, and the release of a more detailed report on the reasons for granting special status to people fleeing a given country.

“Politically, it is much easier and more expedient for the administration to issue deferred enforced departure, because it just involves the president,” Musalo told Truthout. “He can issue this memo that basically talks about difficult humanitarian conditions in Gaza and does not say more.” In order to issue a deferred enforced departure ruling, the president does not have to produce a statement on, for example, the causes behind those difficult humanitarian conditions.

Much like Hasan’s case, the U.S. DED ruling is a tacit admission by a government staunchly allied with Israel that the Israeli government persecutes Palestinians. “The relationship of the U.S. and many other countries with Israel has resulted in reluctance to be critical when the human rights conditions would legitimately call for criticism,” Musalo said. These sorts of legal maneuvers point to a contradiction in the law of both the U.K. and the U.S. The U.S. is the largest provider of foreign military aid to Israel, to the tune of billions of dollars this year alone, while the U.K. has sold about half a billion dollars’ worth of weaponry to Israel in the past decade. Historically, both countries have backed Israel staunchly, but, in aspects of their immigration policy, they acknowledge that the regime they support also persecutes its own citizens.

As far as Hasan goes, he will now be allowed to remain with his family in the U.K., the country where he has spent nearly all his life. That means he’ll be able to continue his medical treatments, live and work in a country where he speaks the language, and express his political opinions in relative safety — things that would’ve been out of reach had he been returned to Israel, where he stated in documents submitted to the U.K. Home Office that he would be forced to conceal his identity and beliefs, and as he put it, “mute myself.”

“I wish to extend a huge thank you to all those who have supported my case,” he said in a statement released by his lawyers. “Without your help, I could not have reached this point.”

*A U.K. tribunal has ordered that Hasan’s real identity cannot be disclosed for his own protection.

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