Israeli soldiers raided the family home of Ayman Nasser, legal coordinator of the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, in the middle of the night last Thursday. He is the latest human rights defender in the occupied West Bank to be targeted and detained by the Israeli army.
Nasser’s wife told Addameer that a group of soldiers came to their home in Saffa, near Ramallah, at 1:30am on 18 September. After the soldiers ransacked their home for thirty minutes, Nasser was taken away.
“Fifteen soldiers raided the house and started shouting at me and my children to get out of the rooms, so we stayed in the living room with six soldiers pointing their guns at us,” his wife said in a statement to Addameer.
Nasser, 44, is a longtime human rights activist. In addition to his work with Ramallah-based Addameer, Nasser is the co-founder of the Handala Educational Center in Saffa, which focuses on arts, athletics and education. He has worked with Addameer since 2008.
Nasser was previously arrested in October 2012 and held for 93 days before being sentenced for 13 months; he was released in October 2013. Before his sentencing, Nasser endured weeks of interrogation while blindfolded and shackled. Before that he had spent six years, from 1992 to 1997, in an Israeli prison.
Nasser appeared in an Israeli military court on Sunday, 21 September, where the judge did not bring formal charges against him. Addameer researcher Murad Jadallah told The Electronic Intifada that he expects Nasser will be placed under administrative detention — Israel’s widespread practice of holding Palestinians without charge or trial, justifying detention on the basis of secret evidence.
Under Israel’s military court regime Palestinians can be held without charge or access to a lawyer for up to ninety days, and detention can be extended for another ninety days on request without any limit on the number of times an order can be renewed. However, even when a detainee is charged, the military court process is slow and arbitrary.
Human rights activist Murad Shtaiwi was arrested on 29 April and charged under Israel’s “protest law” for organizing demonstrations in Kufr Qaddum, a village in the northern West Bank whose land has been expropriated for Israeli settlements. His trial has been repeatedly delayed. If found guilty, Shtaiwi faces a maximum sentence of ten years of imprisonment.
“The practice of arbitrarily prolonging the trial process is not atypical for Palestinians within the Israeli military court system and is incompatible with the fair trial requirement under international human rights law that a defendant should be tried without undue delay,” Addameer stated in a press release on Shtaiwi.
Targeting rights defenders
When Ayman Nasser appeared in an Israeli military court two years ago, Nasser stated that his harsh interrogation sessions lasted up to ten hours and that he was denied the necessary medical treatment he had been receiving prior to detention. The charges brought against Nasser were primarily related to his activism — alleging that he was an activist with the leftist party the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and assisted in the 2012 prisoners’ hunger strike.
Addameer condemns the re-arrest of their colleague, placing it in Israel’s pattern of targeting Palestinian human rights organizations with an “aim to criminalize their work, silence their voices and prevent them from carrying out their work in supporting all Palestinian political prisoners and detainees.”
“Just look at the last three months to see an increase in arresting human rights defenders — whether journalists, PLC [Palestinian Legislative Council] members, writers —we are talking about Palestinian activists in Jerusalem, Hebron, Ramallah and everywhere in the West Bank getting arrested,” Jadallah told The Electronic Intifada.
Meanwhile, the number of Palestinian prisoners as a whole has swelled as well.
Before three Israeli teens went missing in the West Bank last June, giving Israel a pretext to conduct sweeping arrest raids, more than 175 Palestinians were being held under administrative detention; now it’s closer to 500, according to Jadallah. Last May, Addameer reported that more than 5,200 Palestinian poliltial prisoners were being held in Israeli jails.
Arrest and detention is not the only way that Israel violates the rights of Palestinian rights defenders.
Palestinian legislator Khalida Jarrar was issued a military order instructing her to transfer from her home in Ramallah to Jericho, where she would reside under special surveillance for six months. Such forcible transfers are illegal under international law and Jarrar, who serves on Addameer’s board and is a senior member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, is currently resisting the forcible transfer and has set up a protest camp outside the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in Ramallah.
There are currently 36 PLC members being held in Israeli prisons; 28 are being held under administrative detention.
Addameer defines Nasser, Shtaiwi and Jarrar as human rights defenders, a status enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
Addameer published a report earlier this year examining Israel’s systematic arrest of Palestinians organizing against Israel’s wall in the West Bank, arguing that since 2009 there has been a clear shift in tactics by the Israeli military to target and arrest human rights activists “in the context of increasing recognition of the legitimacy of the actions by the Palestinian human rights activists.”
Another detained human rights defender who has yet to stand trial is Shireen Issawi, a lawyer from East Jerusalem who was arrested on 6 March 2014 and is being held in pre-trial detention on charges related to cooperating with parties working against the State of Israel.
Twenty-one-year-old Bushra al-Taweel, a student and journalist who has worked for multiple human rights projects, was arrested on 2 July this year and held in military detention on the basis of secret evidence. She is still awaiting a date for a court hearing.
The Palestinian Prisoners Society warned last May that Israeli authorities appear to be cracking down on Palestinian lawyers and charging them with relaying information from their clients, alleged Hamas members, to people outside of the prisons. In a spate of arrests, approximately ten Palestinian lawyers, including Issawi, were detained earlier this year.
Al Jazeera English reported that Jawad Boulos of the Palestinian Prisoners Society accused the Israeli authorities of illegally taping and mistranslating conversations between lawyers and their clients in an attempt to “re-draw the map that identifies the interaction between lawyers and detainees.”
Amjad Safadi, who was detained for twenty days in April, committed suicide five days after his release. The Palestinian Prisoners Society claims the suicide was a result of being beaten throughout his detention, and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel demanded at the time that an investigation be conducted into the circumstances of Safadi’s death and interrogation.