Israel steps up arrests of grassroots activists

The following press release was issued by Adalah-NY, CodePink: Women for Peace, Jewish Voice for Peace and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation on 19 January 2010:

Israel must end a wave of arrests of Palestinian civil society members who are organizing protests and boycotts opposing Israeli rights violations, Adalah-NY, CodePink: Women for Peace, Jewish Voice for Peace and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation said today. While prominent protest and boycott organizers from the Palestinian organization Stop the Wall Jamal Juma’ and Mohammad Othman were released last week after nearly one and four months of detention respectively, nightly arrests continue in the West Bank, with eight more arrests on 18 January in the village of Nilin.

“International campaigns forced Israel to release Jamal Juma’ and Mohammad Othman,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson, National Director of Jewish Voice for Peace, “and civil society and governments need to continue to pressure Israel to end its effort to crush civilian protests and boycotts targeting Israeli human rights abuses.”

Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land violate international law. Israel’s wall, where built inside the West Bank, was ruled a violation of international law by the International Court of Justice in 2004. Eighty-seven percent of the wall has been built on Palestinian land in the West Bank, separating villages from their farmland and facilitating settlement expansion.

Thirty-four residents from the village of Bilin, which has conducted a five-year protest, boycott and legal campaign against the wall, have been arrested since 23 June 2009. Abdallah Abu Rahmah, the Coordinator of Bilin’s Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements, was arrested on 10 December. Despite his outspoken advocacy of peaceful protest, Abu Rahmah has been charged by Israeli authorities with “incitement” for organizing protests that include stone-throwing, with throwing stones, and with the Orwellian charge of “weapons possession” for building a peace sign out of spent Israeli tear-gas canisters and bullet casings fired by soldiers at Bilin protesters.

Another leader of Bilin’s Popular Committee and advocate of nonviolent protest, Mohammad Khatib, was arrested on charges of stone throwing and incitement on 3 August 2009. Khatib was released on bail while his case is tried after proving that a photograph purporting to show him throwing stones was taken when Khatib was in another country. At a hearing, Khatib’s teenage nephew stated that Israeli interrogators coerced him into signing a statement incriminating Khatib by threatening him with assault. As a bail condition, Khatib must report to a police station at the time of Bilin protests.

Mohammed Khatib and Abdallah Abu Rahmah are among the founders of the new Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC) which aims to coordinate actions of a number of West Bank towns in demonstrations, as well as supporting boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Israeli soldiers arrested Adeeb Abu Rahmah, a taxi driver from Bilin, on 10 July on charges of incitement, disturbing public order and entering a closed military zone, though fellow protesters say they have never seen him engage in violence or urge anyone else to do so. “Incitement” is defined under Israel military law as “attempting, whether verbally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the area in a way that may disturb the public peace or public order.”

Nancy Kricorian from CodePink explained, “Israeli settlements and Israel’s wall violate international law. The route of Israel’s wall has even been ruled illegal by Israel’s supreme court in places like Bilin. Therefore, it’s absurd to charge protest organizers with incitement for attempting to organize peaceful protests to save their land from illegal Israeli actions.”

Since the start of regular civilian protests by the village of Nilin in May 2008, five residents have been killed by the Israeli military and 106 arrested. On 12 January, Israeli soldiers arrested Ibrahim Amirah and Hassan Mousa, respectively the Coordinator and a member of Nilin’s Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, and Nilin activist Zaydoun Srour. On 15 January, Israeli soldiers invaded the village of al-Maasara, a site of weekly peaceful demonstrations for over three years, surrounded the houses of Popular Committee members Mohammed Barjiya and Mahmoud Zwahre, and threatened them with repercussions if they did not stop the village’s protests.

On the night of 9 December 2009, Israeli soldiers arrested Wael al-Faqeeh, a nonviolent organizer from Nablus. Those who know al-Faqeeh say that he has worked tirelessly in defense of human rights and to promote the strategy of Palestinian nonviolent resistance. Al-Faqeeh has been detained without charge, and will be tried in a military court on 28 January.

The newly released Stop the Wall detainees Othman and Juma’ were held without charges, based on secret evidence they were unable to view. Juma’, the Coordinator of Stop the Wall, and Othman, an employee there, have both organized protests in the West Bank against Israel’s wall, and advocated for local and international campaigns for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel and businesses supporting Israeli human rights abuses. Othman is from Jayyous, a West Bank village which has been protesting since 2002, when Israel’s wall cut off 75 percent of the village’s farmland in order to facilitate the planned expansion of the Zufim settlement owned by Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev.

According to Amnesty International, the conditions Israel imposed for Othman’s release “appear intended to prevent or deter him from continuing to campaign” against Israel’s wall. Othman has been forbidden from traveling abroad, and must report to police immediately when summoned. Othman was arrested in September on his return from Norway, where he had been speaking against Israel’s wall and calling for BDS against Israel. The Norwegian government had just announced that it had divested from the company Elbit Systems, which provided surveillance systems for Israel’s wall.

Palestinian civilian protests are typically met with rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas, clubs and sometimes live ammunition by Israeli soldiers, resulting in injuries and even deaths. Despite protest organizers’ admonitions, some protesters sometimes throw stones at Israeli soldiers, and some soldiers have been injured. Many of the arrested Palestinian protesters have been charged by Israel with stone-throwing.

“Israel breaks international law by building settlements and the wall on occupied Palestinian land. Israeli soldiers use lethal violence against unarmed demonstrators,” explained Riham Barghouti of Adalah-NY. “It is these soldiers who should be arrested for their human rights violations and not Palestinian youth who throw stones to protest the theft of their land.”