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LONDON: The lawyers for a Palestinian legal scholar arrested on April 17 have said her detention was “political” and could set a “precedent” for the treatment of academics and free speech in Israel.

Prof. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, a leading feminist academic with roles at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Queen Mary, University of London, was arrested after appearing on a podcast in March in which she discussed her work on state crimes, genocide, violence and surveillance in the context of the war in Gaza.

She was strip-searched by police, interrogated and denied access to food, water and medication for several hours, and held in a cold cell overnight before being bailed the next day. A number of her personal items, including posters and books, were also confiscated.

Hassan Jabareen, her lawyer and director of human rights organization Adalah, said: “This is not only about one professor, it could be a (precedent) for any academic who goes against the consensus in wartime.”

Israeli police claimed that she was being investigated on suspicion of incitement to terrorism, violence and racism, but a magistrate deemed she did not pose a threat after she was arrested, leading to her release. 

Hundreds of Palestinian citizens of Israel have been arrested since the outbreak of hostilities after Oct. 7, with many detained for criticism of Israel.

All arrests in relation to freedom of speech issues must be signed off by Israel’s attorney general, and Shalhoub-Kevorkian has been ordered to return to face further questioning at the weekend.

Jabareen said: “They could have asked her to come to the police station for two or three hours to discuss, investigate.

“To carry out the arrest like that, as if she was a dangerous person, shows the main purpose was to humiliate her.

“It was illegal, that’s why the magistrates court accepted my argument that she should be released and the district court confirmed it.”

She added: “If they indict her, this might have a deeply chilling effect. It’s very difficult to prosecute a person for academic work … but the political situation in Israel is starting to not really be based on the rule of law.”

International academics have condemned Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s arrest and treatment, with over 100 colleagues from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem publishing a letter in support of her.

In addition, 250 academics at Queen Mary have signed a separate letter saying: “Academic freedom (in Israel) has come under sustained attack.”

In the Hebrew University academics’ letter, published by Israeli newspaper Haaretz, her colleagues said: “Regardless of the content of Nadera’s words, their interpretation and the opinions she expressed, it is clear to everyone that this is a political arrest, the whole purpose of which is to gag mouths and limit freedom of expression. Today it is Nadera who stands on the bench, and tomorrow it is each and every one of us.”

The Hebrew University also issued a short statement of support, despite the fact that in 2023 she was briefly suspended and asked to resign by the university’s rector after she called for a ceasefire in Gaza and suggested Israel could be guilty of genocide.

“We strongly object to many of the things that Prof. Shalhoub-Kevorkian said. Nonetheless, as a democratic country, there is no place to arrest a person for such remarks, however infuriating they may be,” it said.

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