Palestinian Human Rights Defender Facing Trial in Israeli Military Court

From the November/December 2016 PNL #853

by Ariel Gold

Human rights activists are under attack in Israel/Palestine. On October 21, 2016, Israeli Knesset member David Bitan called for Hagai El-Ad, executive director of the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, to have his citizenship revoked after his testimony before the United Nations Security Council criticizing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. In March, 2016 Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon accused Breaking the Silence, an Israeli veteran’s organization that collects and publishes testimony from Israeli soldiers, of treason. The latest attack is against internationally renowned Palestinian human rights defender Issa Amro of the heavily occupied West Bank city of Hebron. Issa is in a far more vulnerable position than members of B’tselem and Breaking the Silence. As a West Bank Palestinian he has almost no rights or protection and is subject to Israeli military, rather than civil, law.

In September 2016, following a successful nonviolent action in partnership with US and Israeli Jewish allies, Israel revived 18 military court charges against Issa dating back to 2010. The charges, which include such things as organizing illegal demonstrations (it is illegal for Palestinians to organize demonstrations with more than 10 people) and incitement (speaking out against the occupation), put Issa at risk of serving around 1-3 years in prison. The Israeli military court has an over 99% conviction rate.

Issa got his first taste of nonviolent activism as a university student during the second intifada. When his school was closed by the Israeli government, he began to study Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Mandela. He led his fellow students in protests to reopen their university. Upon their success, Issa found himself addicted to the nonviolent struggle for freedom and equality.

Hebron settlers are of the most violent and ideologically extreme of the settler movement. They carry machine guns through the streets of the divided city. In 1994 a Brooklyn-born Israeli settler named Baruch Goldstein opened fire in the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron, killing 29 Palestinians in worship. Since then, Shuhada Street, once the main marketplace and thoroughfare in the city, has remained almost entirely closed to Palestinians. Shops are boarded up and Palestinian families are forced to use alleyways, rooftops, and backdoors to enter their homes.

Issa leads the group Youth Against Settlements (YAS) which helps the Palestinian community in Hebron to remain resilient despite the violence and restrictions from Israeli settlers and soldiers. In 2014 YAS created the first new infrastructure in Hebron, a kindergarten serving Palestinian families who previously had to send their children through checkpoints to reach early childhood education. Issa and YAS are the main source of information for international media in Hebron. They regularly receive diplomats, officials, and delegations of human rights activists.

Issa has received international recognition for his human rights work. He has testified before the United Nations on numerous occasions. In 2009 he won the One World media award for his involvement in B’Tselem’s “Shooting Back” video documentation project. In 2010 the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) declared Issa the human rights defender of the year for Palestine. In 2013 he was declared a Human Right Defender by the European Union. Finally, in 2016 he was honored by the Institute for Middle East Understanding.

The charges Issa is currently facing come on the heels of an influential action this past summer with the Center for Jewish Nonviolence (CJN). Issa and the CJN organized efforts to clean an abandoned Palestinian factory and transform it into a movie theatre. Hundreds of Israeli and American Jewish activists traveled to Hebron for the action. Many of the activists were arrested and the event received international media attention. Issa and his attorney believe the charges he is facing are politically motivated as reprisal for his work for Palestinian human rights.

Issa’s trial in military court is scheduled to start on November 23. His trial was originally scheduled to start on September 25 but was delayed due to the prosecution not turning over their evidence on time. He just returned from two weeks in the US where he spoke at the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights conference (formerly the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation) and met with Human Rights Watch and the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights. Although Issa is receiving support from these and other institutions, he is still at grave risk. CODEPINK and Jewish Voice for Peace are hosting parallel petitions asking Secretary of State John Kerry to call on Israel to drop the charges against Issa. You can sign CODEPINK’s petitions at www.codepink.org/stand_with_issa_amro and follow updates on Issa’s case through the YAS website, hyas.ps.

 

 

Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro.  Photo: electronicintifada.net
Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro. Photo: electronicintifada.net

 

Ariel Gold is the Palestine campaigner for CODEPINK.  She runs the Remodel RE/MAX campaign to get them to stop selling homes in Israeli settlements.  Ariel spent fall 2015 with YAS in Hebron.

Close