Mohammed “Habshe” Yossef. Photo: Decolonize This Place.

Artist Mohammed “Habshe” Yossef Released by Israeli Authorities

Palestinian artist Mohammed “Habshe” Yossef, a member of the art collectives Decolonize This Place and MTL+, was arrested and detained for more than a week by the Israeli military, Andrew Ross and Yates McKee of Hyperallergic report. He was taken from his apartment—located in Bethlehem’s Aida refugee camp, where he’s a community organizer—on the morning of January 9 at 2 AM. His partner, Randa Shaheen, said, “The whole thing took fifteen minutes. They surrounded him in the living room so that I could not see him, and they started photographing the entire apartment. There was no explanation, no documents, nothing. To my every question they responded shakeit [“shut up” in Hebrew]. They told me to bring his socks and boots, and then they took him. That was it.”

“The arrest of Habshe is an assault on the transformative potential and role of art as a practice of freedom,” said MTL+. “Israel understands that engaged artists and their ideas are more dangerous than bullets because they penetrate the soft core of its propaganda machine while bypassing state institutions, and they make new social relations on the pathway to liberation.”

Habshe’s arrest has been judged by some to be part of a larger plan by Israeli authorities to capture important members of “popular committees,” which orchestrate regular protests and community care in Palestinian neighborhoods that are frequently attacked by Israeli military. Habshe is just one among many people throughout the West Bank who have been detained: for instance, sixteen-year-old Ahed Tamini, a well-known community organizer in the village of Nabi Saleh, outside Ramallah, was arrested for allegedly slapping an Israel Defense Forces soldier. Her associate at the Aida Youth Center (and chair of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee), Munther Amira, was captured toward the end of last year. Raids by the military on camps and villages have left numerous people injured or dead (Aida’s and Nabi Saleh’s committees have been specially targeted because they operate separately from the Palestinian Authority, which is not trusted by the populations it claims to stand up for.) The youth center’s Mohammed Abu Srour says the “preemptive attacks” are part of a larger plan by the Israeli government to destroy on-the-ground Palestinian resistance in the wake of President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Habeshe, along with Amira and Abu Srour, have been in charge of cultural programming at various social institutions, such as the Aida Youth Center, for the past ten years. Habeshe was released on January 14, and all charges against him were dropped.

Decolonize This Place caused a stir in New York in 2016 for their protest of a prominent Israeli art organization during their residency at Artists Space, and the group has also been a visible supporter of Palestinian prisoners’ rights.