More than seven months after his arrest, an Israeli military court has sentenced Palestinian human rights defender Murad Shtaiwi to nine and a half months imprisonment and a fine of ten thousand shekels ($2,550).
As coordinator of the Kufr Qaddoum Popular Committee, Shtaiwi was involved in weekly peaceful demonstrations against the Israeli occupation. The military court — a system in which Palestinians have few rights and no due process — convicted Shtaiwi over his role in the demonstrations.
Shtaiwi’s trial lasted five only five days but was stretched out over five months, during which he was denied bail during the prolonged adjournments. The serious delay of his trial can be regarded as yet another form of punishment.
Shtaiwi was charged under Israeli “Military Order 101“ of 1967 for organizing and participating in the weekly protests. The military order criminalizes many Palestinian civic activities and violates the right to peaceful protest enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Israel ratified in 1991.
Addameer, a Palestinian organization providing support to political prisoners, and the London-based Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights have advocated for the protection of Shtaiwi’s rights since his arrest on 29 April. In a joint press statement the organizations say they are “appalled” by the judgment.
After Shtaiwi’s conviction, the EU missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah also issued a public statement expressing their concern that Shtaiwi’s imprisonment “is intended to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest.”
However, there is no indication that the EU will do more than offer words, as it has for decades been EU practice to refrain from any meaningful action to hold Israel accountable for such violations.
Since 2011, Shtaiwi and residents of Kufr Qaddoum in the northern occupied West Bank have staged weekly protests against the expansion of the Israeli settlement of Kedumim which is built on land stolen from their village.
In 2003, Israeli forces closed the main road linking Kufr Qaddoum to the city of Nablus, which passed through Kedumim. Residents have to take a detour of about three times the distance. The weekly protests also call for the reopening of the main road.
The situation in Kufr Quddoum and the weekly protests is highlighted in this new video by Addameer. In it, Murad Shtaiwi calls on participants to be disciplined to keep the protests peaceful and to ignore the provocations of the Israeli forces.
In the video, Salima Shtaiwi, an elderly farmer whose land has been put off limits by Israeli forces, explains the purpose of the weekly demonstrations: “We demand the reopening of the road, because we want to reach our lands. We want to reach our olive trees.”
She also speaks of the relentless Israeli violence: “They show up at night, they fire sound bombs and tear gas, they knock on the doors and break them down. They shoot at our houses and treat us in a very incorrect manner.”
“But whatever happens, we will never stop demanding our road, our land and our rights,” she adds.
The villagers have paid a high price for their protests against the theft of their land, for their rightful demand for freedom of movement and the reopening of the main road. Since 2011, 175 Palestinians have been arrested by Israeli occupation forces during the protests, including twenty children.
Murad Shtaiwi is one of the seven residents who are currently held in Israeli jails. Around three thousand people were injured while participating in the protests, 24 with live ammunition and 150 with rubber-coated bullets fired by Israeli occupation forces.
The military court system denies Palestinians the right to a fair trial. Shtaiwi is one of the thousands of detainees who have been subjected to this unjust kangaroo court system.
In an interview conducted after his conviction, Shtaiwi told his lawyer that the conditions in prison are bad for all detainees in terms of the food, hygiene, poor treatment, location and that no special consideration is given for the ages of prisoners.
He affirms that freedom of movement is a legitimate right guaranteed in international law and “peaceful protests are a right as well, to demand your rights.”
Despite Shtaiwi’s prolonged detention and conviction, his morale is high “because I feel that I am fighting a case of national, humanitarian resistance. I have not committed any criminal crime. I am in prison for a nationalistic and humanitarian cause so that we can open the street, which is a humanitarian demand for all the residents of Kufr Qaddoum.”
Villagers would continue to hold peaceful demonstrations until the road is opened, he added. “I ask the world to increase their solidarity in support of the Palestinian cause to end the occupation and to shed light on Israeli state terror imposed on children, elderly and women, and the land.”