Now Israel indefinitely detains Palestinian activist whose siblings it killed

Update appended

A leading Palestinian activist from Bil’in has become the village’s latest political prisoner. Ashraf Abu Rahmeh was kidnapped by Israeli occupation soldiers last week, and has now been indefinitely detained on the orders of an Israeli captain at Ofer prison.

For the last six years, the Palestinian village of Bil’in has struggled against the theft of their land by the Israeli occupation forces, and their attempts to build the apartheid wall and Jews-only colonies on their land. The village’s long campaign of peaceful popular resistance has become famous around the world.

Ashraf Abu Rahmeh is one the village’s most energetic activists. Ashraf’s brother Bassam, and sister Jawaher were both killed by Israeli soldiers violently attacking the village’s demonstrations. Jawaher was killed by massive clouds of tear gas in January and Bassam was shot at close range by a high-velocity tear-gas canister in 2009.

At a 2008 demonstration in the nearby village of Na’lin, Ashraf was deliberately shot in the leg with a rubber-coated bullet by Israeli soldiers who had bound and blindfolded him. The video clip caused outrage around the world, but a prosecution in an Israeli military court last year merely resulted in the officer responsible for this torture being transferred to another part of the army.

Ashraf was arrested last week, on Friday 21 October, during the village’s weekly demonstration against the apartheid wall. A partial victory was won after a legal challenge altered the route of the wall, eventually resulting in a section of its route being moved in June.

But large parts of the village’s land are still occupied by illegal Israeli colonies, de-facto annexed to Israel behind the wall.

Reports and video from on the ground show the demonstration was over, and the people were heading back into the village when the arrest happened. Ashraf was walking on his own with a Palestinian flag when the soldiers grabbed and cuffed him, stuffing him into a military jeep. Israeli soldiers promised to release him if the demonstration dispersed – which was of course a lie.

But now, another one of Israel’s kangaroo courts decided to detain Ashraf indefinitely, a press release from the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC) said Thursday. An Israeli army captain, acting as a “judge” ordered Ashraf be held on remand. He is charged with “participating in an unauthorized procession” and throwing stones, reports said. The press release continues:

The judge ordered the extension of Abu Rahmah’s arrest despite extensive evidence brought up by the defense to dispute the charges. The court was presented with two affidavits, by a B’Tselem employee and a lawyer who were present at the scene. The depositions stated that Abu Rahmah did not, at any stage, partake in the stone-throwing. Video footage supporting the affidavits was also filed, showing Abu Rahmah’s arrest. The video clearly depicts him walking peacefully towards the jeeps holding a flag, and the soldiers initially ignoring him.

This is yet another example of the apartheid nature of Israel’s two-tier legal regime in the West Bank. There is one law for Palestinians and anther for Jewish settlers. This is not rhetoric: there are literally two different sets of laws (you can read more about that in the recent book Threat: Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israel).

Ashraf is yet another victim of Israeli apartheid. During this month’s prisoner exchange deal, Israeli propaganda portrayed the released Palestinians as some sort of monsters “with blood on their hands”. But the reality is that Israel treats resistance of any sort with similar oppression. Hence, leaders of peaceful popular resistance like Ashraf are thrown into Israeli dungeons with barely a pretense of due legal process, in exactly the same way as Palestinians who engage in armed resistance against the occupation (as is their right under international law).

I have witnessed many demonstrations in Bil’in, and Ashraf is always there, running out to the front, flying Palestinian and leftist flags. Ashraf is a communist, and supporter of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He’s such a kind and friendly person. Bil’in gets many visitors, including journalists and Western solidarity activists. Ashraf speaks some English, but always insists to speak only Arabic with us. Speaking to me one time, my minimal Arabic failed me, so I asked someone to translate – but Ashraf insisted on continuing to try and get the message through in Arabic. Somehow, he managed it, and I learned some more words along the way.

In 2008 Ashraf scaled a huge crane Israeli settlers were using to expand their colony on the stolen village land. Ashraf is well known to the Israeli occupation forces. Seemingly, it was not enough for them to kill his brother and sister, and torture Ashraf himself. They have now incarcerated him for his peaceful resistance to occupation.

Ashraf is a Palestinian political prisoner, and there are thousands more like him.

Update

1 November: The PSCC has a list of actions you can take to help free Ashraf.

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Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada. He first visited Palestine in 2004.