Local activists targeted in occupied Palestinian territories

December 23, 2009

Abdallah Abu Rahme is affable and articulate.  Last July, when I called to set up a time to talk before one of the weekly protests in his village, Bi’lin in the occupied West Bank, he made jokes and explained exactly the best way to get there from Jerusalem through all the checkpoints and roadblocks.

Abdallah’s vocation is teaching, but what takes up a good portion of his time is his involvement with the village’s non-violent popular committee which protests the wall/fence built by Israel that snakes through the occupied West Bank (WB).  Israel says the wall is being built for security reasons; others that the wall is simply strangling villages’ economies by cutting them off from their agricultural lands and water sources.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that the wall is illegal where it sits on Palestinian territory and should be removed.  Eighty percent of the wall is built on Palestinian territory, but five plus years later, most of the wall continues to sit  and be built on Palestinian land.  Popular committees have sprung up across the WB to protest the wall and over the past 18 months, there appears to be an increase in the harassment and prosecution of activists involved in this and other non-violent actions.

Scores of activists, (Israeli, Palestinian and international) involved in peaceful protests have been picked up by Israeli authorities in the past several months.  Many are held at length with no charge being made while still being interrogated, others have been put under administrative detention and others are brought up on charges.

Just to name a few:  Muhammad Srour was detained when crossing the Allenby Bridge from Jordan after testifying before Goldstone’s UN mandated fact finding mission in Geneva.  He stated,

“I know full well that I will pay the price for this testimony when I return at Israeli crossing points in my journey of return after this hearing.”

Mohammad Othman,  known for his vocal support of the growing Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign, was held and interrogated for two months before being put under administrative detention.  Dozens of protesters, including drummers, clowns, diplomats and rabbis, have been picked up and released in east Jerusalem, where Palestinians have been evicted from their homes or have had their homes demolished in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood.  Most recently, Jamal Juma’, vocal and active coordinator of the Stop the Wall campaign, was detained.

Abdallah’s case highlights how ridiculous some of the charges by the Israeli army can be.  On December 10th, exactly one year after receiving the International League for Human Rights’ Carl Von Ossietzky medal Abdallah was arrested – like many others, including children, during a nighttime raid.  An indictment was filed in a West Bank military court yesterday for arms possession, incitement and stone throwing.  The arms possession charge is based on his collection of spent tear gas canisters and cartridges shot at the demonstrators by Israeli forces that he showcases in his home for visitors.

Advocate Gaby Lasky, Abu Rahme’s lawyer said,

“The army shoots at unarmed demonstrators and when they try to show the world the violence used against them by collecting the remnants – they are persecuted and prosecuted.  What’s next?  Charging protesters money for the bullets shot at them?”

UPDATE:  Jan. 8, 2010 AI statement:  http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/israeli-detention-palestinian-activists-must-end-20100108

UPDATE:  Jan. 13, 2010:  Jamal Juma’ is released, after nearly one month in Israeli detention. Abdallah Abu Rahma and Mohammed Othman, the two other detained campaigners against the fence/wall, continue to be held without charge or trial.  Please continue to work on their release at http://amnesty.org/en/appeals-for-action/call-on-israel-to-release-detained-activists

An exhibition of spent tear gas grenades and projectiles in the village of Bil'in for which Abu Rahmeh was indicted on. Photo: Oren Ziv ActiveStills
An exhibition of spent tear gas grenades and projectiles in the village of Bil'in for which Abu Rahmeh was indicted on. Photo: Oren Ziv ActiveStills