Mohammad Abu Sakha: in prison for making children happy

***UPDATE Amnesty International briefing:
“…Amnesty International fears that the Israeli authorities – as they have done in many other such cases – are using administrative detention as a method of punishing Mohammad Faisal Abu Sakha without prosecuting him, which would amount to arbitrary detention. Israel’s use of administrative detention itself may amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, given the detainee’s inability to know why they are being detained or when they will be released.” 14.12.2016

On December 12th, at a hearing that he was not permitted to attend , the Administrative detention of 24 year-old Palestinian circus trainer and performer Mohammad Abu Sakha (pictured, on  left) was renewed for an additional 6 months. Abu Sakha has been imprisonment in Israeli jails without charge or trial for a year. The following article first appeared in Open Democracy on December 9th 2016, a few days before the court hearing.


One year after he was arrested by Israeli forces, Palestinian circus teacher Mohammad Abu Sakha  is still behind bars, and without charges.

I have a sense of deja-vu. One year ago, when I spent the Christmas period desperately contacting news agencies, begging them to publish a story about a friend of mine, Mohammad Abu Sakha, who had been arrested without charge, I didn’t expect that come December 2016, I would be sitting here in the same place, doing it all over again. I guess I was naïve then. I thought that others, if only they knew, would share my outrage at this injustice. And collective outrage would spark change. So all I needed to do was tell people, shine a light on the situation and it would change. A year on, I’ve learned a lot about the way in which power, politics and the personal psyche work together to facilitate and maintain social injustice.

Abu Sakha taught at the Palestinian circus school, bringing joy to hundreds of children across the West Bank.

I became friends with Abu Sakha in 2014 when I spent a year and a half living in Palestine. As with so many Palestinians, I was enamoured by his spirit of positivity, joy and kindness, despite the daily brutality and hardship that he faced under Israeli occupation. But for me, there was something special about Abu Sakha. He taught at the Palestinian circus school, bringing joy to hundreds of children across the West Bank. In addition to this, he had spent the past year volunteering on his day off at a charity for children with physical and learning disabilities and through this, had set up special classes within the circus school for children with disabilities. I remember watching the parents of a young girl cry with pride as their daughter, paralysed from the legs down used her superior upper-body strength to outperform many of her class-mates on the trapeze; beaming as she did so. Abu Sakha went about this work with a quiet and humble integrity that I can only ever aspire to.

On the 14th December 2015, Abu Sakha was arrested. He has been held since then in administrative detention, a process whereby Israel can hold people indefinitely without ever charging them. In the year since his arrest, neither Abu Sakha nor his lawyer have ever been given the opportunity to review the ‘evidence’ allegedly held against him, which violates article 9(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stating that an individual who is arrested has the right to “be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.” According to Amnesty international who have been campaigning for Abu Sakha’s rights since January 2015, Israel’s use of administrative detention amount to “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, and violates the central tenets of a fair trial”.


Since Abu Sakha’s arrest, a massive international campaign has been launched. Artists have held street protests in 15 countries across 4 continents. Well-known musicians have endorsed the campaign by wearing T-shirts and talking about the campaign on stage. Over 50 articles have been published on Abu Sakha, including inTimeHuffington Post and al Jazeera. Full page Amnesty ads were published in the Guardian and Metro. Amnesty International have recently selected Abu Sakha’s case as one of their ‘write for rights’ cases and War on Want have selected Abu Sakha’s story as one of five cases to illustrate the plight of administrative detainees in their new online resource.

I never expected that the campaign would get so big. I guess in this respect we can only thank Abu Sakha. Clearly his loveable personality captured the hearts of people across the world. However, it’s important to remember that Abu Sakha’s situation is representative of a much larger issue. There are currently 720 Palestinians being held without charge by the Israeli authorities. West Bank detainees are often deported from the occupied territory and interned inside Israel, in direct violation of Fourth Geneva Convention prohibitions (Articles 49 and 76).

This means that the Israeli authorities have the power to restrict family visits by denying family members the permits required to enter Israel. Although administrative detention is technically legal under international law, it should only be used in ‘extreme measures’ and ‘emergency situations’ (fourth Geneva Convention, Art.78) and is not allowed to be used in a sweeping manner. However, the current number of administrative detainees shows that the occupation is using this policy as a form of collective punishment.


On Monday 12th December, Abu Sakha’s second 6-month detention order will end. Following a court hearing on Monday 5th December, which Abu Sakha was denied from entering, it is looking likely that his detention will be renewed. My first reaction is despair. What more can we possibly do? But the people in power depend on despair so, as a society, we have a collective responsibility to fight this feeling. We can do things and we can promote change. Although nothing justifies Abu Sakha’s detention, I hope that at least, by using his story to raise global awareness about the situation faced by Palestinian detainees, we’re making him proud.

If you are in the UK, please write to Tobias Elwood (, FOA British ambassador to Israel, David Quarrey, to demand justice for Abu Sakha. If you are are based in another country, please contact your Ministry of Foreign affairs and diplomatic representatives to Israel. An email can go a long way!

About the author: Hannah Prytherch has a degree in psychology and a post graduate diploma in mental health studies. She worked for two years in the NHS helping people deal with the psychological consequences of complex trauma. She then spent two years living in Palestine and Jordan, working with children and youth affected by war and conflict. She is currently training as a clinical psychologist.

3 thoughts on “Mohammad Abu Sakha: in prison for making children happy

  1. Falk-Uncensored says:

    Of course you have to paint Israel in the negative by only telling 1/2 truths.
    Why didn’t you say this:

    “According to the Shin Bet security service, Abu Sakha was arrested for “renewed activity” with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an extremist Palestinian faction that opposes peace with Israel. The group, which was involved in hijackings and other attacks in the 1970s, has scaled back its terror activities in recent years, though Israel still considers it a terror group.”

    Therefore, he was arrested for his terrorist connections, not for making children happy!!


    • pledgeforpalestine says:

      Please cite your sources when quoting, Falk-Uncensored. No charges, no trial, no evidence against this young man – regardless of how the Israel secret service choses to brief The Times of Israel. The policy of arbitrary detentions constitutes collective punishment of an occupied people by a militarised, colonising power. For more information about Administrative Detention I refer readers to Addameer.


  2. janpudding says:

    So Falk-Uncensored thinks imprisoning people without testing the evidence in court is OK – would this be just in Israel or everywhere?



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