Israel’s Criminalization of Nonviolent Protest

Two men form Biddu village walk through village lands destroyed for the Apartheid Wall, while a demonstration takes place below them, on April 30th, 2004. (Photo: PENGON/Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign)

14 February 2005 — According to Israeli authorities, one reason for my arrest two weeks ago in Biddu and my denial of entry into Israel in 2003 is that I “organized and participated in illegal demonstrations.” Israeli authorities frequently use the term “illegal demonstrations” to describe peaceful protests against Israeli government violations of international law. This twisted reasoning needs to be exposed and rejected. What is legal often does not completely correspond to what is moral. However, when what is moral is described as illegal, there is a major problem.

Why is it “illegal” for hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children to march peacefully to assert their right to their land in the face of Israeli soldiers, who are defending the construction of a wall that has been declared illegal by the world’s highest legal body, the International Court of Justice? Why is it “illegal” for communities to try and implement the ICJ decision by walking together to their farmland to try peacefully to block Israeli contractors from bulldozing their land, from building a wall to cut them off from their land and from imprisoning them in their villages?

Apparently, it is forbidden for Palestinians to use the tactics of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. to try to save their land and their communities from destruction. Apparently, Israeli authorities believe that it is legal for Israeli soldiers to club Palestinian men, women and children, to use tear gas on them, shoot rubber bullets and live ammunition at them and arrest them for peacefully protesting. This use of violence against peaceful protesters is “legal” even though the ICJ declared the construction of the wall on Palestinian land illegal. The Israeli government explains the soldiers’ violence as “Palestinian clashes with security forces,” even though the Israeli military invariably initiates the violence and young Palestinian men only occasionally respond with rocks.

According to this perspective, Israelis and internationals like me who support Palestinians in peaceful protest for legitimate rights, are acting illegally. Therefore, we must be stopped, arrested and deported at all costs. The International Solidarity Movement documents that 68 international activists have been deported, and more than 100 have been denied entry to the country, many for protesting the wall. For this reason I have been held at Ma’asiyahu Prison for more than two weeks and am awaiting deportation. I was arrested leaving the village of Biddu after planting olive tree seedlings with Palestinians, Israelis and internationals along the path that is being bulldozed for the construction of the wall through Biddu’s olive groves. Nonetheless, I am proud to have nonviolently protested against the wall in Jayyous, Tul Karm, Al-Zawiya, Budrus and Biddu.

In reality nonviolent protest has been declared illegal because it is threatening for Palestinian civilians to face Israeli soldiers with a stark and public moral choice - to allow protest for legitimate rights or to crush it with military force. Unfortunately, the Israeli military and government have repeatedly failed that moral test.

Hundreds of peaceful protests against the wall have been met by Israeli military force; six protesters have been killed. Thousands have been wounded - some seriously, including Israelis Gil Na’amati and Itai Levinsky. Hundreds of Palestinians, Israeli and international protesters have been arrested, including Palestinian protest leaders Ayed Morar, Naim Morar and Ahmed Awad of Budrus, and Mohammed Mansur of Biddu.

Foreigners and Israelis continually lecture Palestinians that they must use nonviolent means to gain their freedom from Israeli’s military occupation. However, these same people have done nothing to oppose the criminalization of these nonviolent means. These people now have a responsibility to demand that Israel respect peaceful protests. The Israeli government’s criminalization of legitimate protest suggests that its goal is not simply to stop terrorism, but is rather to crush all forms of Palestinian resistance. The Israeli government seems to be seeking submission, surrender and the abandonment of Palestinian rights. Thus the Israeli government puts itself in the category of repressive regimes throughout history that have attempted unsuccessfully to stop legitimate protest.

Israelis should carefully consider if they can accept laws that contradict morality, and if they endorse their government’s efforts to criminalize nonviolent protest against the wall.

Related Links

  • Letter from Prison: My Interview with Israel’s Shin Bet Intelligence Agency, Pat O’Connor writing from Maasiyahu prison, Ramle (1 February 2005)
  • Renewed Destruction for the Apartheid Wall in Biddu, Video Footage, PENGON/Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (April 7th, 2004)
  • BY TOPIC: Israel’s Apartheid Wall

    Pat O’Connor is an Irish American volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement. He managed humanitarian aid programs for 11 years in Africa and the Middle East, including three years in the Gaza Strip. This article was first published in Ha’aretz on 14 February 2005 under the title “Israel is failing the moral test” and is reprinted with the author’s permission.