Israeli security first summoned Juma’ for interrogation at midnight on 15 December. Hours later, they brought him back to his home. Juma’ was handcuffed while soldiers searched his house for two hours as his wife and three young children looked on helplessly. The parting words of the soldiers were directed at his wife: she would only see her husband again through a prisoner exchange. Since then, Juma’ has been detained, and banned from speaking to a lawyer or his family, with no explanation for his arrest.
Juma’, 47 years old, was born in Jerusalem and has dedicated his life to the defense of Palestinian human rights. The main focus of his work is on empowering local communities to defend their human rights in the face of violations brought about by the occupation. He is a founding member of a number of Palestinian nongovernmental organizations and civil society networks. Juma’ has been the coordinator of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign since 2002. He is widely respected for his work and has been invited to address numerous civil society and UN conferences. His articles and interviews are widely published and his work has been translated into several languages. As a highly visible figure, Juma’ has never attempted to hide or disguise his activities.
Jamal Juma’s is the most high profile arrest within an intensifying campaign of repression of grassroots mobilization against the wall and the settlements. Initially only arresting local activists from the villages affected by the wall, the Israeli authorities have recently begun to shift their attention to the detention of internationally-known human rights defenders such as Mohammad Othman and Abdallah Abu Rahmeh. Othman, another member of the Stop the Wall Campaign, was arrested nearly three months ago when returning from a speaking tour in Norway. After two months of interrogation, the Israeli authorities were still unable to find charges to level against Othman and therefore issued an administrative detention order so as to prevent his release. Abdallah Abu Rahmeh, a leading figure in the nonviolent struggle against the wall in Bilin, was taken from his home by masked soldiers in the middle of the night a week before Jamal was jailed.
With these arrests, Israel aims to weaken Palestinian civil society and its influence on political decision making at national and international levels. This process clearly criminalizes the work of Palestinian human rights defenders and Palestinian civil disobedience.
It is crucial that the international community combat Israeli attempts to criminalize human rights defenders struggling against the wall. The Israeli policy of targeting organizers calling for Israeli accountability is a direct challenge to the decisions of governments and global bodies such as the International Court of Justice to hold Israel to account for its violations of international law. This challenge shall not go unmet.