How It Was Done

The start of a successful campaign to save a life.

From the Hampstead and Highgate Express, 2010:

 Film-maker and broadcaster PAUL MARTIN, who lives in Highgate, was threatened with death and spent 26 days in a Hamas jail when he filmed a dissident, then tried to give evidence in a Gaza military court.  Now released, he is launching a campaign to “SAVE MOHAMED” from the likelihood of execution.  On Monday 17 May at 8.15pm he is answering questions and showing the Rough-Cut Premiere of his short film ‘DISSIDENT UNDER FIRE’ at the Everyman Cinema in Belsize Park (bookings at, or phone 0870 066 4777 ).

 By Paul Martin

 The Hamas intelligence officer pulled out a pair of handcuffs. “You are an accused,” he yelled, pointing at me.  “Lock him up.”

 I was shoved into a darkened cell – the beginning of twenty six days within a Gaza Gulag. I was held in solitary confinement (except for much-valued trips to the neighbouring cell’s toilet) and guards removed all reading and writing material, and even my toothbrush and comb.

 I had come to Gaza in February intending to give evidence in favour of Mohamed Abu Muailek, a brave Palestinian falsely accused of collaborating with Israel and now awaiting a likely death sentence. His real ‘crime’ was that he had rejected his militant group and was talking about why he no longer felt firing rockets into civilian areas was wrong and counter-productive. Filming his story, I too became the victim of a bizarre outbreak of extreme paranoia.

 Hamas had plenty of good reasons to feel paranoid.  One of its top officials had just been assassinated in a hotel bedroom in Dubai while allegedly negotiating arms transfers from Iran. And foreign passports, mainly British, had been used by the killers.

 So Hamas security leaders were desperate for a triumph of their own – and detaining, then perhaps executing, a British journalist who had come to defend a person they already considered to be a traitor was like a gift from Allah!

 Trying to extract a false confession they used relentless psychological and physical pressure, blackmail and even threats to kidnap my family or lure them over to Gaza by feigning, or creating, a serious injury or illness for me.

 I had previously filmed Mohamed, as part of a rocket-firing brigade, using Google Earth to find targets inside Israel.  I was convinced that Mohamed was not a spy: which spy would agree to be filmed by a Western film-maker talking about why he now strongly opposed a key plank of the local regime’s platform: firing rockets into Israel?

 In early 2009, as we began filming him in his new role as a man of peace, he said he knew and accepted the risks.  Sure enough he ended up being arrested, disappearing for sixty days, and then being put on trial.

 One reason he had changed his mind was an email friendship he established with a fellow-computer-geek, who it emerged lived in Tel Aviv. We filmed them chatting by internet.  The Hamas authorities decided this computer friend must be a Mossad spymaster.

 The ludicrous nature of the allegations against me – filming Mohamed showed I was his supposed MI6 or Mossad spymaster – was irrelevant: a secret trial could be arranged in front of a military court, and, after denying access to the media, they could declare a false list of ‘proven’ crimes.  My execution would play well with Hamas’s radical Arab and Islamic backers, while provoking only a minor outcry in the West.

 The prison environment was volatile. A prison guard and two prisoners from Al Qaeda at different stages drew their index fingers across their throats threatening to kill me. Inbetween-times, we had some pleasant chats.

 But on Day 23 of my captivity the Hamas authorities sent a top official to see me.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and visiting British MPs, had urged my release.

 Even before I was driven out of Gaza three days later with gunmen on either side, I decided I would campaign to save Mohamed from the firing squad.

 My film of him will help show he was not a spy, just a dissident. Publicity and Western pressure may provide his only chance for survival.


And here’s a follow-up on what happened:

Peace activist who rejected Hamas denied entry to UK

JUNE 28, 2012 09:49

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.