US Groups Demand that Israel End Crackdown on Palestinian Protesters
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“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 Bil’in, which has conducted a five-year protest, boycott and legal campaign against the Wall, have been arrested since June 23, 2009. Abdallah Abu Rahmah, the Coordinator of Bil’in’s Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements, was arrested on December 10th. Despite his outspoken advocacy of peaceful protest, Abu Rahmah has been charged by Israeli authorities with “incitement” for organizing protests that include stonethrowing, 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 Bil’in protesters.
Another leader of Bil’in’s Popular Committee and advocate of nonviolent protest, Mohammad Khatib, was arrested on charges of stone throwing and incitement on August 3, 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 Bil’in 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 Bil’in, on July 10 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 Bil’in. 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 Ni’lin in May 2008, five residents have been killed by the Israeli military and 106 arrested. On January 12th, Israeli soldiers arrested Ibrahim Amirah and Hassan Mousa, respectively the Coordinator and a member of Ni’lin’s Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, and Ni’lin activist Zaydoun Srour. On January 15th, Israeli soldiers invaded the village of Al Ma’asara, 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 December 9, 2009, Israeli soldiers arrested Wa’el 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 non-violent resistance. Al Faqeeh has been detained without charge, and will be tried in a military court on January 28th.
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% 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 stonethrowing.
"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."
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