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For Palestinians, possession of used IDF arms is now a crime

Amira Hass | Haaretz

24 December 2009

The Israel Defense Forces consider it a crime punishable by imprisonment for a Palestinian to possess used IDF weapons, according to an indictment filed by the military prosecutor against Abdullah Abu Rahma of the West Bank town of Bil’in.

Abu Rahma, 39, is coordinator of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall, which has been holding demonstrations against construction of the separation fence on the village’s land. A teacher by profession, he was arrested by IDF troops on December 10 and indicted in a military court last Tuesday.

In addition to charges of incitement and throwing stones, Abu Rahma was charged with illegal weapons possession due to his alleged possession of M16 rifle bullets and gas and concussion grenades – which, the indictment said, “the accused and his associates used for an exhibition that showed people the means used by the security forces.”

Abu Rahma’s associates confirmed that empty concussion and gas grenades used by the IDF to disperse demonstrators were exhibited in Bil’in, adding that no one tried to conceal the nature of the exhibition. However, they said, M16 bullets were not part of the exhibit, nor were they found in a search of Abu Rahma’s home.

Activists in Bil’in speculated that the M16 allegation stemmed from misinformation given to the army by one of the many young people the army has arrested in recent months. They charge that these arrests are made in an effort to obtain incriminating material against the protest organizers.

In the case of another local protest organizer, Mohammed Khatib, a military court concluded that evidence that he had thrown stones was fabricated, after it turned out that at the time of the alleged infraction, he was abroad.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who met with Abu Rahma and Khatib last summer during a visit to Israel, condemned Abu Rahma’s arrest and indictment on Wednesday and urged the Israeli authorities to release him immediately. Tutu’s summer visit to the region was under the auspices of The Elders, a group of global leaders formed by former South African president Nelson Mandela.

In his statement on Wednesday, Tutu said that he and his fellow delegation members – who included former American president Jimmy Carter, former Irish president Mary Robinson and former Norwegian prime minister Gro Brundtland – were “impressed by [Abu Rahma and Khatib’s] commitment to peaceful political action, and their success in challenging the wall that unjustly separates the people of Bil’in from their land and their olive trees.” He called Abu Rahma’s arrest and indictment “part of an escalation by the Israeli military to try to break the spirit of the people of Bil’in.”