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An unacceptable fight against protest


12 February 2010

Israeli security forces have recently intensified their fight against peace activists from here and abroad who seek to protest against the occupation and identify with the Palestinian inhabitants. This week, Israeli soldiers raided the Ramallah offices of the International Solidarity Movement a number of times. They arrested two activists – one a Spanish citizen and the other an Australian. They confiscated office equipment, T-shirts and bracelets bearing the word “Palestine.” They also raided the offices of Stop the Wall and the Palestinian Communist Party in Ramallah.

According to data provided by the activists, since December, Israeli forces have undertaken more than 20 nighttime raids on the villages of Na’alin and Bil’in and have arrested more than 30 people. They are all suspected of taking part in protests against the separation fence, which invades these villages and very severely harms the inhabitants’ welfare. None of them were charged with involvement in terror operations or criminal activities to justify persecuting, arresting and deporting them.

At the same time, the Israel Police used force to suppress protests identifying with the Palestinians in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood; these Palestinians had been forced to vacate their homes. Dozens of protesters are arrested every week and brought to court. All these steps were taken to deter human rights activists from implementing their right to free speech – the life’s breath of a democratic society.

Out of a passion to root out protest, the Israel Defense Forces was sent into parts of Area A, which is under full control of the Palestinian Authority. Entering these areas breaches the Oslo Accords and damages the prestige of the moderate Palestinian leadership, that same leadership that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continually offers “good neighborliness.”

More serious is that members of the Interior Ministry’s Oz unit joined the “assault” on Ramallah. Oz repeated the trick of arresting foreign activists on the pretext that they were illegal labor immigrants. Although a Jerusalem court ordered them freed, we needed a ruling by the High Court of Justice and the intervention of the governments of the two detained activists to redress the distortion and release them.

It could be expected that a country that has ruled another nation for many years would show tolerance toward manifestations of unarmed protest against the occupation and its ills. The state should also respect the right of other countries’ citizens to show solidarity with the local people and join protests alongside Israeli and Palestinian activists.

The harassment of individuals who do not toe the line and posters in the streets that incite against human rights groups should arouse concern in the heart of every Israeli. The suppression of public protest under the transparent guise of protecting state security does not augment Israel’s international standing. Such a policy gives a bad name to “the only democracy in the Middle East.”

Officials at the top of government must instruct the security forces and the Interior Ministry to immediately stop these heavy-handed attacks on nonviolent protest.