Mohammad Abu Sakha Palestinian clown
Source: Amnesty

He went from brightening up the days of children with special needs to being held captive in an Israeli prison for almost two years without trial.  

But as of this August, 26-year-old Palestinian trainer and circus performer, Mohammed Abu Sakha, is finally out of prison and back to circus school.

We talked to Abu Sakha about his time in Israeli detention, how he maintained hope whilst being uncertain of his fate, and his role in the longest Palestinian prisoners hunger strike in history. 

"He has been denied even the slightest semblance of justice" - Amnesty International

Abu Sakha was working as a circus performer and teacher at the Palestinian Circus School in Birzeit, the occupied West Bank, where he taught kids with learning difficulties, before being detained in December 2015.

He was arrested while crossing a military checkpoint near Nablus and placed in administrative detention - an administrative order through which Israel imprisons Palestinians without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence.

At the time, Israel's Shin Bet security agency accused him of being affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which the Jewish state considers a terrorist group. But, Abu Sakha denied all allegations.

His arrest triggered widespread outrage and drew regional and international support, with many activists and human rights groups demanding his release.

Source: Facebook

"The arbitrary detention of Mohammad Abu Sakha is yet another shameful example of the Israeli authorities’ abusive use of administrative detention," said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International, after Abu Sakha's detention was extended in June 2016.

"He has been denied even the slightest semblance of justice," Luther added.

Abu Sakha told StepFeed that his family and members of the circus school were his biggest supporters during his arrest, as they spread the news of his detention and helped shed light on his case.

Thanks to their efforts, a large-scale Facebook campaign was launched, drawing supporters from social media, international circuses, and activists.  

Abu Sakha took part in the biggest Palestinian prisoners hunger strike in history

Source: Facebook

Describing his time in captivity, Abu Sakha said that he spent his time talking to other prisoners, reading, and exploring his interests.

"I maintained hope because all the prisoners are in the same situation and there were even worse cases [than mine], so we were all in it together," he said.

Abu Sakha explained that all prisoners are united by their common thoughts when it comes to freedom and liberating Palestine from the Israeli occupation.

He took part in the Freedom and Dignity hunger strike earlier this year - the largest Palestinian prisoners strike in history - consuming only water and salt for 41 days.

"[We wanted to] achieve a prisoner's simplest goals.

Like [being treated with] humanity, treatment for patients, allowing parents to hug their kids, and ending the painful way of transporting prisoners to courts in small iron cages," Abu Sakha said. 

Two years into his detention, Abu Sakha was released this August and was met by groups of friends at a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank, before going back to his home in Jenin.

Following his release, Abu Sakha told Middle East Eye that he had mixed feelings about being liberated: "I’m happy to be released … but I know that there are many people in the same position as me still inside, so I’m sad at the same time."

"I haven’t witnessed any changes in the country since it has not been a long time, in contrast with some prisoners who have been in prison for over ten or twenty years.

But still I have seen a change in the Palestinian Circus School where I work - the management, trainers, and students have made really obvious developments," Abu Sakha told StepFeed. 

Abu Sakha is back at the circus school helping kids

Source: Facebook

Now, Abu Sakha is back at the circus school, where he plans to continue educating kids.

"It’s a place to spread awareness on what is happening," he said, adding that he aims to "protect the kids from occupation and not [let] them drown in this whole [political] game."

He explains that through his work, he attempts to give kids hope for the future to reduce the possibility of them partaking in violence.

"People are less likely to go and attack soldiers and die if they have some hope for their life.

We also now have a war of ideas in our society. Extremist ideas are easily accessed on the internet, [but] if the kid is with us, then we can work with them, and prevent them from falling for their ideas," he previously explained to Middle East Eye.  

Mohammed Abu Sakha
Source: Facebook

When asked about the message he would send to the thousands of Palestinians still detained without trial:

"Prisoners who are still detained without trial, or even the ones who have trials, are all in the same [situation].

They are all in prisons as a result of occupation, which pushed them to defend their rights and their lives."

According to Israeli organization B'Tselem6,020 Palestinian security detainees and prisoners were held in Israeli prisons by the end of May 2017.

As of September 2017, Israel holds 449 administrative detainees without trial, Israeli human rights group Hamoked reports.

"I would love to tell all the Palestinians and prisoners to maintain hope and to stand up for their rights until the day all of us are free from occupation," Abu Sakha said.

This profile is part of StepFeed's Featured Arabs series, featuring Arabs you should know about. Read previous profile's here.