English – Interview death penalty 2005

World Coalition against the death penalty



French version in: http://www.worldcoalition.org/coaljm10.html


Sami Aldeeb A boy who isn’t quite normal ?


Sami Aldeeb is a Palestinian, a christian and a specialist in Islamic law. He likes to go against the tide. He fights against the death sentence « so that Arab society may progress. »

The site of his association :



Sami Aldeeb doesn’t like the words « death sentence ». He doesn’t use them often. He prefers to say « off with their heads ». A harsh, way-out expression which resembles the way he speaks of the death sentence. He is a christian Palestinian, and since 1980, he has been in charge of Arabic law at the Swiss Institute for comparative law. His language is as colorful as that of eastern storyteller. He weaves together childhood memories, quotations from the Bible, from myths, and often bursts into laughter that sounds as if it would go on for ever – and all this with a lilting accent that is a mixture of sleepy swiss and rugged arabic. Sami Aldeeb fights several battles : circumcision, religious cemeteries, ritual butchering. If he has allowed us to « paint his portrait » here, it is « for the cause ». The cause of abolition.

When he speaks of capital punishment, Sami Aldeeb rolls his « r »s even more that usual. «It’s obvious. Life doesn’t belong to us and what you have not given, you cannot take away. But this is not just an ethical or humanitarian problem. I fight against the death penalty to help my Arab society progress. In Arab countries, if someone says something wrong, he is threatened to have his head cut off. With that kind of a sword of Damocles hanging over your head, there can be no democracy. The death sentence in the Arab world is the most drastic way of avoiding any change in society’s outlook. It deprives people of religious freedom, freedom of speech and of the press. It leads to complete paralysis. I cannot imagine that the Middle-East could move forward without its abolition.»

Sami Aldeeb was born in a family of small farmers, in the village of Zabadeh, near Jenin on the East Bank. Very early, he witnessed the tragic feud between his village, where the majority was Christian, and the surrounding Muslim villages. Because of the blood shed and the summary executions he had seen, he determined to go to the Bet-Jala seminary to become a priest. The religious authorities nipped his vocation fin the bud or they found him unruly : «This boy isn’t normal ; keep him at home», the superiors of the seminary wrote to his parish priest. So when he was 15, he signed up for the tailoring school of the Salesian fathers in Bethlehem. He earned a degree in 1968 and worked as a tailor for a year before becoming an interpreter for the International Red Cross in the occupied territories. Thanks to his degrees, he was admitted to pass the « maturité », the school-leaving certificate and did it in three months, studying on his own. A Swiss priest asked him to come to Fribourg where he passed a BA and an MA in law before getting a degree in political sciences.

This eventful adolescence gave him a taste for paradox ; he became a Swiss citizen in 1984 but still declares himself an Arab. He is christian and a specialist in Islamic law. He never shrinks from writing and saying all he thinks, but thinks twice, indeed a thousand times before he speaks when he goes home to his parents, following the wisdom of the Arab proverb : « Be careful your tongue doesn’t cut off your head. » « My father won’t allow me to talk about certain things for fear of my being arrested », he says, and explains how difficult it is to speak up against the death sentence in the Arab countries. « Abolition actually raises the problem of the possibility of setting aside a rule which is explicitly mentioned in the Koran. That is why the Arab countries find abolition so difficult. This is also why the islamization of society is so dangerous. The rise of religious fanaticism in the region has led to an increase in the number of death sentences. »

Sami Aldeeb criticizes the Palestinian Authority, that has included the death sentence in its laws and has applied it, as well as the state of Israel. « Israel is the only country in the Middle-East that does not officially acknowledge the death sentence but inflicts it unofficially every day. It’s just as horrible. » His belief led him to organize the Association for a single democratic State in Israel/Palestine on April 2003. The state would include Jews, Christians and Muslims. « One of the principles we stand for is the abolition of the death sentence and of torture, whatever the crime. Society always bears a share of responsibility and we have no right to despair of human beings. Even the worst criminal was not born a criminal, but became one. It is the situation that made him so. » Though his ideas may disturb some, Sami Aldeeb continues to preach abolition during his many trips throughout Europe and the Arab world.

Olivia Marsaud


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