Activism roundup: Abu Rahme sentence extended, students stage mock checkpoint

Abdallah Abu Rahme in court, September 2010. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)


This week an Israeli military judge extended the jail term for Abdallah Abu Rahme, a well-known Palestinian activist who was due to be released on 18 November. This ruling follows a year-long sentence and lengthy court trials that found him guilty of incitement and coordinating “illegal” demonstrations against Israel’s wall in his village of Bilin in the occupied West Bank. Acting in favor of a last-minute petition by the prosecution for an extension of Abu Rahme’s imprisonment, the military judge ordered that he be kept in jail as the state attorneys attempt to appeal the sentence.

Abu Rahme, who is a coordinator with Bilin’s Popular Committee, was arrested and imprisoned in December 2009. The Israeli government originally charged Abu Rahme with stone throwing and arms possession after he collected used tear gas canisters fired by the Israeli army against protesters and displayed them at his house, but the latter charges were dropped. Convicted of incitement, the prosecution demanded that Abu Rahme be sentenced to up to two years in jail, in an attempt to deter fellow activists from organizing protests and actions against Israel’s policies in Bilin and elsewhere in the West Bank.

In October 2010, the military court ruled that Abu Rahme would spend a year in prison, with credit for time served — bringing his release date to 18 November.

Yonatan Pollack of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC) attended the military court hearings and told The Electronic Intifada that Abu Rahme’s imprisonment has been extended indefinitely, with the prosecution demanding he spend up to another 18 months to two years in prison. “Even though he served his sentence, the judge overruled the court order,” Pollack said. “It’s obviously frustrating. We all knew in advance that [the military court] doesn’t even pretend that it’s a court of justice. It’s a court of occupation. The whole legal front has a political bias to begin with — there’s no surprise there. They’re threatened by the popular resistance, and they will do everything in their power to try and stop it.”

In a press release, the PSCC said that Abu Rahme’s arrest and imprisonment has been subjected to wide-spread international condemnation (“Military Judge Orders to Keep Bil’in Organizer Jailed Even After He Has Finished Serving His Sentence in Full,” 22 November 2010).

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and the Spanish Parliament have publicly denounced Abu Rahme’s persecution and imprisonment. Renowned South African anti-apartheid activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu has also called on Israel to overturn the conviction, speaking on behalf of the Elders — a group of international public figures noted as elder statesmen, peace activists and human rights advocates brought together by former South African political prisoner and president Nelson Mandela.

PSCC added that both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also denounced the conviction of Abdallah Abu Rahme.

Meanwhile, in the United States, South Africa, Scotland and England, solidarity activists continue to put pressure on the Israeli government while calling attention to the ongoing struggle for justice on the ground in Palestine.

New York

In New York City, students created a mock Israeli checkpoint in the middle of campus at Columbia University on 18 November. The students aimed to highlight the daily abuses that occur at Israeli military checkpoints across the occupied West Bank. The action was organized during a week of events centered around the international Right to Education Campaign which focuses on the restrictions on Palestinian students’ access to education under Israeli military occupation.

Columbia’s Students for Justice in Palestine (CSJP) group said they intended to show “that the term ‘checkpoint’ euphemizes the living conditions of occupation,” according to an article authored by CSJP activists. “Checkpoints are sites of violence. And although blindfolding is not an everyday occurrence, our point was to draw our community’s attention and to alert our peers to the humiliation that Palestinian students constantly endure” (“Perspectives on checkpoints: Students for Justice in Palestine,” Columbia Spectator, 21 November 2010).

During the action, three students dressed up as Israeli soldiers — outfitted with cardboard machine guns — lined up dozens of volunteer students for two hours. The volunteers were blindfolded, forced to sit on their knees as “soldiers” harassed and humiliated them, and had tape over their mouths to reflect the ways in which Israel silences Palestinian voices by withholding their right to education. Students produced a video documenting the action (Mock checkpoint at Columbia University).

Michael Kennedy, a PhD student in anthropology at Columbia and a member of CSJP told The Electronic Intifada that Zionist counter-protesters were disruptive during the action, but passersby were generally curious to learn more about the situation for Palestinians under Israeli occupation. “There were a lot of people walking by and talking about what was going on,” Kennedy said. “It was a striking sight to see all these people blindfolded. We tried to capture a little slice of the reality for Palestinians; we wanted to illustrate what happens to them on a daily basis. The action was a huge success, and we’ll keep trying to do these kinds of events in the future.”

Across town on 16 November, activists with Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel organized a protest against the Hebron Fund’s cruise to raise money for illegal settlement colonies in the West Bank. The Hebron Fund in a major nonprofit organization that helps fund Israeli settlement activity and construction, one of 28 US-based “charitable groups” that have made “a total of $33.4 million in tax-exempt contributions to settlements and related organizations between 2004 and 2007,” according to The Washington Post (“How a US Tax Deduction Aids Israeli Settlements,” 26 March 2009).

Adalah-NY stated in its press release that “in 2007, Hebron Fund Executive Director Yossi Baumol told The American Prospect that ‘[d]emocracy is poison to Arabs,’ ‘Israel must not give Arabs a say in how the country is run,’ and ‘[y]ou’ll never get the truth out of an Arab.’ Noam Arnon, a 2009 Hebron Fund fundraiser honoree, called Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein ‘an extraordinary person’ in 1995, according to the Associated Press. In 1994 Goldstein massacred 29 unarmed Palestinians who were praying in a Hebron mosque, and wounded over 100 more” (“New Yorkers protest fundraising cruise for illegal Hebron settlements,” 16 November 2010).

Riham Barghouti of Adalah-NY stated in the press release: “On top of the US government’s $3 billion in annual aid to the Israeli government, the Hebron Fund is in New York City raising tax-free money to support some of the most violent and racist Israeli settlers. All Israeli settlements violate international law. We need to end the use of US tax dollars to support Israeli human rights abuses, and stop groups like the Hebron Fund.”

Chicago

Aiming to reach out to the general public in the Chicagoland area, the Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine (CJPIP) recently launched an advertising campaign inside Chicago Transit Authority subway trains with several simple messages and images of Palestinian and Israeli people, urging commuters to “Be on our side” and “End US military aid to Israel.”

The ads direct people to a website (http://twopeoplesonefuture.org), which contains information and an overview of US taxpayer-funded aid to the Israeli government and military.

South Africa

Student activists with the Johannesburg Student Solidarity Group held events as part of the 8th Global Week Against the Apartheid Wall, an international mobilization of coordinated protests and creative actions in Palestine, Argentina, Brazil, England, Ireland, the Netherlands, South Africa and Australia.

According to the Stop the Wall Campaign in the West Bank, students at the University of Johannesburg and the University of the Witwatersrand screened documentary films, passed out information packets with facts on Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank, held discussions with prominent anti-apartheid activists on campus, and set up graffiti areas on student center walls, where students could write messages of solidarity with the Palestinian people (“South African students action for the Week Against the Apartheid Wall,” 24 November 2010).

Scotland

Edinburgh-based activists with the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) worked with one of the country’s top law firms to advise the Edinburgh city council not to contract with Veolia, a French urban contracting corporation involved in the development of a tramway linking West Jerusalem with illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Veolia’s project in Palestine has been met with opposition by Palestinians from the beginning, as The Electronic Intifada has previously reported, and has been under legal scrutiny because of its contract with the Israeli government.

In a press release, SPSC said that Edinburgh’s council leader Jenny Dawe had previously rejected calls from the organization to exclude Veolia from the bidding process in deciding which corporation could take over public services across the city, including garbage collection (“Top law firm advises council to dump Israel occupation firm,” 16 November 2010). Dawe said that the council would need to see “very clear and robust evidence that the company had relevant criminal convictions or has behaved in a way that constitutes ‘grave misconduct,’” according to the SPSC.

The responding law firm, Hickman & Rose, warned the council that contracting with Veolia could expose Edinburgh’s local authority to “legal action for failing to take on board their obligation to recognize and comply with their duties and responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions and international law,” as stated in the press release.

According to the firm, “Veolia’s activities clearly constitute misconduct sufficiently grave to warrant the exclusion of Veolia Environmental Services from bidding for (or being awarded) any new contract. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine what ‘misconduct’ could be more ‘grave’ than the aiding, abetting, facilitation or exacerbation of war crimes, human rights violations and discrimination.”

The Edinburgh council is set to vote on the awarding of the urban planning contract in December. Local activist groups are holding a public meeting, entitled “Keep Edinburgh Clean, Say No to Veolia,” on 1 December.

England

At the same time, international civil society activists converged in London last weekend at the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. The tribunal examined the roles of third parties in Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinians’ human rights. The Electronic Intifada contributor and Dutch consultant Adri Nieuwhof presented a lecture on the Veolia corporation and its involvement in “racist” transportation projects in the West Bank.

Nieuwhof testified that Veolia is currently being employed by local councils in the United Kingdom for waste management operations, and urged these councils to “lawfully exclude” the company from public bidding contracts.