A peace activist from Gaza who has been denied entry to Britain plans to address a London audience next month —by internet.
Former Palestinian militant Mohammed Abu Muailek used to fire rockets at Israel but renounced violence, leading to his arrest and imprisonment by Hamas.
Now he wants to speak at the showing of a film about his experience, Friends Under Fire, at the Phoenix Cinema, in East Finchley, on Sunday week.
The film was made by Paul Martin, a London-based journalist who specialises in documentaries on the Middle East.
Four years ago, Mr Martin shot footage of Mr Abu Muailek preparing a rocket attack against Israel as a member of the Abu Rish Brigade.
A year later, when Mr Martin went back to Gaza to cover the aftermath of Israel’s assault on Hamas, he was sitting in a café when, “I was tapped on the shoulder,” he recalled. “It was Mohammed. I said I’d like to go back to his unit. He said he was not involved. He’d changed his mind and thought firing rockets was counterproductive and wrong.
“He added: ‘I want you to make a film about why it was wrong.’ I asked, wouldn’t that get him into trouble. ‘I’m already in trouble,’ he said.
Mr Abu Muailek’s change of heart came about through his work solving computer problems for an international company. One of his fellow-workers happened to be based in Tel Aviv and, as they corresponded, he began to revise his views.
But it was a dangerous move: in April 2009, he was seized by Hamas and charged with spying — an offence carrying the death sentence.
When Mr Martin heard of his plight, he decided to go back to Gaza to help the young Palestinian. “I was advised by his family that it could save his life,” he said.
But when the British film-maker went to court in February 2010 to give evidence on Mr Abu Muailek’s behalf, he himself was arrested by Hamas and accused of being a spymaster. Thrown into jail, he wondered if he would get out alive. “They used every technique of pressure short of actual physical violence,” he said, “except on one occasion where they slammed my knee with a Kalashnikov.
“Once I was taken across the yard with a hood over my head. I thought I was being taken to the torture cells — I could hear the screams.”
After 26 days and international pressure, Mr Martin was released. Mr Abu Muailek, 27, was freed last October, after two-and-a-half years in prison.
“He considers his life is still at risk in Gaza from people who disagree with the decision to let him out of jail and he can’t find any employment there,” Mr Martin said.
Mr Abu Muailek had been invited to speak in Britain last month by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Conflict Issues, but Britain has so far refused him a visa, claiming that he might refuse to leave Britain after his visit to Parliament.
Mr Martin said: “That is either foolish or some form of paranoia. He would gain nothing by staying in the UK. He has been offered a financially worthwhile fellowship with a prestigious foundation in South Africa —and the British government was sent that invitation letter too.”
But he still hopes that a visa may come at the last minute and that Mr Abu Muailek is permitted to attend the screening in person.