Palestinian convert to Judaism freed after detainment, beatings in PA jail

A paramedic examines David Ben Avraham (c) after his release from Palestinian prison, as behind him friend Haim Pereg looks on (United Hatzalah)

David Ben Avraham recounts two months of imprisonment, including efforts to make him recant; though Israel made no comment, officials reportedly worked quietly for his release.

By TOI STAFF Today, 7:00 pm 

A Palestinian man who converted to Judaism, jailed by the Palestinian Authority and reportedly beaten and pressured to recant over a two-month period, was finally released last week.

Following his release on Thursday, David Ben Avraham, formerly Sameh Zeitoun, is staying in the Jerusalem home of an Israeli, Haim Parag, who helped him through the conversion process.

Ben Avraham converted through the Bnei Brak Rabbinical Court of Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, who died in October. Ben Avraham was arrested in early October by armed men while visiting his son in the West Bank.

“They handcuffed me and took me to jail,” he told the Ynet news site on Friday. “I took a lot of beatings there.”

Ben Avraham was held in a Hebron facility, where “the guards told everyone I had converted and I was Jewish. Prisoners would gang up on me, choke me and beat me badly.”

David Ben Avraham, formerly Sameh Zeitoun (YouTube screenshot)

He said he was later held in solitary confinement. Palestinian officials initially claimed the reason was a violent altercation with his brother, but when his bail was met and a Palestinian court ordered his release, the Hebron governor prevented it.

Ben Avraham said clerics were sent to try to convince him to return to Islam. “I refused outright,” he said. “I decided to become a part of the Jewish people and I have no intention of going back.”

He said he was fed meager rations that “wouldn’t satisfy a mouse. I was denied water. I fainted three times and they took me to a hospital.”

According to Ynet, several Israelis made efforts to secure Ben Avraham’s release throughout his detainment: Pereg appealed to the defense and interior ministers to give Ben Avraham Israeli citizenship and pressure the PA to free him; Rabbi Shlomo Glick, secretary at Karelitz’s court, made efforts through ultra-Orthodox channels to influence Interior Minister Aryeh Deri; and several nonprofit organizations campaigned for Israeli judicial officials to intervene.

Official Israel treats the rare cases of Palestinian conversions warily. The government’s Conversion Authority regularly rejects Palestinian applicants without review. Some turn to private institutions, as in the case of Ben Avraham.

Ynet reported that the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration, which handles day-to-day relations with Palestinian authorities, officially said it regarded the matter as an internal Palestinian one. However, behind the scenes, senior officials pressured the PA to free Ben Avraham.

The Civil Administration has also granted Ben Avraham a permit to remain in Israel, though it was not immediately clear whether the authorization was temporary or permanent.

Parag said Ben Avraham was family to him.

“Thirty years ago I lost my brother in a terror attack… but I didn’t lose my faith in people,” he told Ynet. “We hope Israel will recognize his conversion and grant him citizenship. He’s a true hero, like his grandfather Said Zeitoun who saved dozens of Jews during the 1929 massacre in Hebron.”

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