[Ppnews] Israel convicts grassroots activist to two years' imprisonment

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jul 1 10:36:06 EDT 2010


Israel convicts grassroots activist to two years' imprisonment

Amy Darwish, The Electronic Intifada, 1 July 2010

http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article11365.shtml

On 30 June grassroots activist Adeeb Abu Rahmah was sentenced by 
Israel to two years imprisonment at a military court hearing at the 
Ofer Military Complex in the occupied West Bank. Abu Rahmah already 
spent 11 months behind bars and his arrest and detention is part of 
Israel's repressive efforts to criminalize the grassroots popular 
resistance to the Israeli occupation.

Adeeb Abu Rahmah is known for his vibrant presence at the occupied 
West Bank village of Bilin's weekly demonstrations against Israel's 
wall and for his commitment to popular nonviolent resistance. A 
founding member of the Bilin Popular Committee Against the Wall and 
Settlements, Abu Rahmah was arrested at a nonviolent demonstration on 
10 July 2009 and later indicted by the military prosecution on 
grounds of "incitement," "activity against public order," and "being 
present in a closed military zone."

Abu Rahmah has repeatedly affirmed his commitment to nonviolent 
resistance. He has also denied all charges, aside from acknowledging 
his participation in the weekly demonstrations. Although his release 
was initially ordered on 16 July 2009, the prosecution later appealed 
the decision and Abu Rahmah was remanded into custody for the 
duration of his legal proceedings.

Many contend that Israel's investigation of Abu Rahmeh was flawed 
from the very beginning, and the Israeli military court system is 
notorious for its lack of respect for international standards of fair 
trial and detention. A 5 March 2010 Human Rights Watch report 
particularly highlighted many due process concerns where 
investigations regarding Palestinian anti-wall demonstrators are 
concerned, citing charges based on "questionable evidence and 
allegedly coerced confessions."

According to Iyad Burnat, Head of the Bilin Popular Committee, the 
Israeli military in Abu Rahmah's case "relied on the forced 
confessions of four Bilin youth -- one 14, one 15 and two 16 years of 
age -- to convict Adeeb for having told them to throw stones."

Burnat added: "This problem is not confined to Bilin and has also 
emerged in other villages."

Attorney Gaby Lasky, who is representing Abu Rahmah, noted that the 
testimony from the minors in question was provided under considerable 
duress. "They were arrested at 3:30am, they were handcuffed and 
blindfolded," she said. "They were then interrogated at 2pm the next 
day, without having eaten or having had a chance to use the washroom."

Israeli military authorities claim that they questioned the youths to 
determine who threw the stones, and the youths identified Abu Rahmah 
as having done so.

"Yet, several times, the demonstrators had thrown leaflets and other 
innocuous objects at the soldiers. We are arguing that the police 
investigation was so lacking that they didn't even ask the youth what 
Adeeb had specifically said," Lasky explained.

Lasky also noted that the youth were questioned by an interrogator 
who was not a specialist in questioning children, and the 
interrogation was carried out without the presence of a lawyer or the 
children's parents. Human Rights Watch states that such practices 
directly contravene provisions under Israeli Military Orders that 
allow detainees to contact lawyers and grant child detainees the 
right to have a parent present during their interrogations.

The credibility of the investigation was also challenged when Lasky 
learned that a special army unit was filming the demonstrations and 
that the footage was being submitted as evidence against Abu Rahmah. 
When Lasky subsequently attempted to get ahold of the footage, 
however, she was told that all the cassettes had been erased.

"Under different circumstances, this might have been enough to acquit 
him," Lasky said. "There have been many problems with the 
investigation and we had hoped that the court would take this into 
consideration."

Ultimately, Abu Rahmah's trial may portend broader implications where 
the popular resistance is concerned. "Adeeb's indictment and 
conviction raise much bigger questions," Lasky explained. "The trial 
is really against the demonstrations as a whole." Indeed, Abu 
Rahmah's indictment may signal an escalation in the use of legal 
strategies as a means of quelling the popular resistance.

For the past five years, the people of Bilin have waged an ongoing 
struggle against the construction of Israel's wall, which has annexed 
large portions of their agricultural lands and threatens the economy 
of the village. Since the first bulldozers began to uproot olive 
trees in February 2005, the villagers have staged weekly 
demonstrations every Friday. Joining villages such as Budrus, Jayyus, 
Nilin and al-Masara, their creative tactics have captured the 
imaginations of many people around the world and inspired other 
Palestinian communities across the West Bank to take up the struggle.

Villagers in Bilin have also launched a precedent-setting legal 
challenge alongside its popular campaign. On 22 June 2009, court 
proceedings unfolded in the Quebec Superior Court, where the village 
filed their lawsuit against Green Mount and Green Park International, 
two Quebec-based companies involved in the construction of condos and 
the expansion of settlements at the village's expense. Citing the 
Fourth Article of the Geneva Convention and the Canadian Law on 
Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes, the complaint accuses both 
companies of complicity in war crimes.

Coinciding with the legal challenge, three members of the Bilin 
Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements also visited 11 
Canadian cities for a nation-wide speaking tour.

While the case was later rejected by the Quebec Superior Court in the 
fall of 2009, the village later appealed the decision at the Quebec 
Court of Appeals. During hearings that unfolded earlier this month, 
judges fielded arguments from the village's legal team regarding the 
"justiceability" of the village's claim. Lawyers for the village 
maintain that the Fourth Geneva Convention is not incorporated into 
Israeli law, thereby precluding the possibility that the case can be 
heard in the Israeli high court. At present, the Canadian court has 
taken the case under advisement and a decision is anticipated in the 
months to come.

While Bilin's three-pronged strategy of direct action, court cases 
and international solidarity have kept it in the headlines, the 
Israeli military continues to repress it. Indeed, Abu Rahmah's 
conviction represents the most recent development in a broader 
campaign to quell the popular struggle.

In a recent report, prisoner rights group Addameer and the Stop the 
Wall campaign have noted that violence has been systematically used 
by Israeli forces to suppress the popular resistance. It is estimated 
that more than 1,566 Palestinians have been injured and 16 have been 
killed between 2005 and 2009. In Bilin alone, approximately 1,300 
protestors have been wounded during weekly demonstrations over the 
past five years. Israel's directed policy of misusing disbursement 
tactics also claimed the life of Bilin's Bassem Abu Rahmah, who was 
killed on 17 April 2009, when he was shot in the chest with a tear 
gas canister.

The Israeli military has also instituted a policy of targeted arrests 
and detention. According to Sahar Francis, director of Addameer, 
"this policy is very much part of a broader campaign of repression 
against any form of activism." The use of detentions and arrests has 
also escalated considerably in recent years. "Within the past one or 
two years, it has increased considerably as momentum in the campaign 
against the wall builds."

Since 2002, Addameer and Stop the Wall have documented the arrests of 
176 Palestinian grassroots activists in five villages, namely Bilin, 
Nilin, al-Masara, Jayyus and Budrus. According to Bilin's internal 
village statistics, 85 residents have been arrested since June 2009, 
many during the Israeli military's frequent night raids into the 
village The recent wave of political arrests has targeted key 
community activists; five of those arrested are active with the Bilin 
Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, and all were 
charged with "incitement."

Defined as "any act of attempting, whether verbally or otherwise, to 
influence public opinion in the Area in a way that may disturb the 
public peace or public order" under Article 7(a) of Military Order 
101, the use of incitement as a blanket charge is controversial.

Attorney Lasky explained that "Until recently, people had not been 
charged with this particular offense for a very long time and it is 
now being interpreted very broadly." In a recent press release, 
Amnesty International also cautioned that "the broad scope of Israeli 
military orders mean that Abu Rahmah could be imprisoned solely for 
legitimately exercising his right to freedom of expression in 
opposing Israeli policies in the West Bank."

 From Sahar Francis' perspective, the use of vague language and 
nebulous parameters is no coincidence. "The first thing we should 
remember is that all forms of activism are deemed illegal," she 
explained. "Participating in demonstrations, holding forums -- all 
these things are considered to be incitement. You find very vague 
language and definitions so broad that any action can fit inside. 
This was written into the Military Orders in 1967 to permit them to 
adapt to evolving forms of resistance."

Abu Rahmah's case could also have far-reaching implications for other 
anti-wall activists currently awaiting trial. As Amnesty 
International explained, he could be "the first activist against the 
fence/wall to be brought to a full evidential trial in a case of this 
kind." Abu Rahmah's conviction could potentially set troubling new 
precedents for further criminalizing the popular resistance.

Abu Rahmah's sentence has also come as a tremendous shock and 
disappointment to his family, and his ongoing imprisonment continues 
to weigh heavily upon them. Left without a financial provider, the 
family of ten has struggled to make ends meet for the past 11 months.

"I am a medical student at Abu Dis University, while my sister is 
also studying management at al-Quds Open University," daughter Rajaa 
Abu Rahmah explained. "We also have to cover the costs of books and 
tuition, in addition to meeting basic needs. It has been really hard 
to get by."

In addition to financial pressures, Abu Rahmah's absence has also 
exacted a heavy emotional toll on the family. "This is the first time 
my father has been away from us, even for a short period of time," 
stated Rajaa. "We feel angry all the time, for no reason. It has been 
a sad, lonely time for us all."

Despite the challenges faced during his absence, the Abu Rahmah 
family remains steadfast. "We are not alone," Rajaa said. "Many 
villages also have prisoners and people who have suffered injuries. 
It has been difficult, but we have to come out of this stronger."

As the Abu Rahmah family has been resilient, so too has the popular 
struggle. The weekly demonstrations have continued unabated and 
resistance remains ongoing, even in the face of intense repression 
and legal persecution.

"Certain people may be more cautious in their participation," Francis 
explained. "Still, the resistance is continuing and even expanding to 
new villages, such as Nabi Saleh. They are not succeeding in breaking 
the will of the people."

Iyad Burnat said that the latest round of repression leaves the 
movement even more determined to sustain the popular struggle. 
"Israel will not break us on their anvil -- they will only make us 
stronger with their repression and hammer blows."

Burnat added, "After five years of struggle in the village, one 
murder and many disabling injuries we still strive with the words of 
Terence McSwiney -- the Irish nationalist who fought the British 
occupation of Ireland and died on hunger strike in protest -- in 
mind: 'it is not those who can inflict the most, but those that can 
endure the most who will prevail.'"

Amy Darwish is a writer and community organizer active in the 
Tadamon! network in Montreal.



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