There have been so many politically motivated arrests of Palestinian activists and politicians over the past month it can be difficult to keep up with developments. Last week, Khalida Jarrar, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), was again taken into administrative detention (arrest without indictment or trial) by Israeli forces in an overnight raid on her home. On June 10, 2017, a military court extended her detention for an additional forty-eight hours.
On July 9, 2017, Israeli forces apprehended Khitam Saafin, chairperson of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and civil society activist. She was sentenced to three months administrative detention based on undisclosed evidence. Nablus-area lawyer and activist Muhammad Allan was also taken into custody in June 2017 on “incitement” charges, which are commonly used by Israeli authorities to silence dissent in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). Allan has since been on hunger strike.
According to the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, Samidoun, there are currently 500 Palestinians (including twelve legislators) being held without charge or trial by occupation forces. This is in addition to some 6,200 political prisoners. While Palestinian political prisoners do not typically receive solidarity (let alone acknowledgement) from the international community, one case of politically-motivated detention has managed to gain sustained global attention.
On Sunday July 9, 2017, Issa Amro, a thirty-seven-year-old Palestinian human rights activist and founder/coordinator of Hebron-based Youth Against Settlements (YAS), was tried in an Israeli military court (Ofer) in the West Bank. Amro faces eighteen different charges, which stretch back to 2010 and range from “participating in a march without a permit” (illegal protest) to “insulting a soldier.”
According to the Times of Israel, Amro’s trial was adjourned until October 22, 2017, after two Israeli soldiers provided testimony against him. If convicted, Amro faces prison. Without international action, he is likely to be convicted, since Israel’s military courts (which are only used to try Palestinians) have a nearly 100% conviction rate.
Amro has been involved in multiple non-violent/civil disobedience movements in the oPt. He is, however, perhaps best known for the “Open Shuhada Street” campaign. al-Shuhada street is part of occupied Hebron’s commercial center. Since 1994, Israeli occupation forces have closed the street to Palestinian commerce and traffic, to protect a few hundred Jewish settlers living in the heart of the city. The severity of the street closure increased in 2000 with the second Palestinian intifada.
Every year since 2010, Amro and YAS have organized a week of activities to demonstrate against the closure and demand that Israel re-open al-Shuhada Street to Palestinians. Like other Palestinians involved in non-violent protest in the oPt, Amro has been detained dozens of times by occupation forces, as part of their effects to curb civil disobedience activities. As a result of his current detention, human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, have declared Amro a “prisoner of conscience” facing baseless charges, some of which “are not [even] internationally recognizable criminal offenses.”
Legal experts affiliated with the UN, as well as members of the U.S. Congress, have also taken up Amro’s cause. In an unprecedented move, on June 28, 2017, some Democratic lawmakers circulated a congressional letter, urging U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, to “pursue all diplomatic tools” in order to encourage Israel to drop its political campaign against Amro. Citing freedom of expression and the importance of non-violent protest, thirty-two members of Congress signed the letter as a result of an organized grassroots campaign.
The momentum created by this letter needs to continue, if there is to be any hope of Amro’s release. Those in the United States should email their representatives urging them to sign the congressional letter. Activists can also petition UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Secretary General to call on Israel to drop charges against Amro here