27 August 2010
The West Bank village of Bil’in has become a symbol of the wider popular resistance movement in Palestine. Abdallah Abu Rahmah, head of Bi’in’s Popular Committee, is one of many key organizers of peaceful resistance that Israel has used legal means to persecute. He was convicted on Tuesday of two out of four charges in an Israeli military court and faces up to ten years in jail. The facts of his case – and what you can do to help put pressure on Israel – are set out below.
Name: Abdallah Abu Rahma
Age: 39 years old
Incarcerated: Ofer military prison
Job: Abdallah worked as a high school teacher at the Latin Patriarchate school in Birzeit near Ramallah until he was jailed. He also owned a chicken farm.
Family: Abdallah is married to Majida and they have three children — seven year-old Luma, five year-old Lian and eight month-old baby Laith.
Why is he imprisoned?
As coordinator of Bili’in’s Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, Abdallah is seen as a threat by Israel because of his prominent role in the nonviolent struggle which has attracted international support. He is being legally persecuted because of the successes of the grassroots nonviolent resistance movement which has been growing steadily for the last 5 years.
EU representatives attended all court hearings over the last 8 months and they did not fail to notice the politically motivated nature of the prosecution. Catherine Ashton, European Union High Representative, said yesterday that the EU views Abdallah as “a human rights defender committed to non-violent protest” and that the EU was “deeply concerned that the possible imprisonment of Mr Abu Rahmah is intended to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest”.
How and when was he arrested?
At 2am on Thursday 10th December 2009 (International Human Rights Day and exactly one year after receiving the Carl Von Ossietzky Medal from the International League for Human Rights) Abdallah was arrested by Israeli forces.
Several military jeeps surrounded his home the West Bank city of Ramallah. Israeli soldiers broke the door down, extracted Abdallah from his bed, blindfolded him and took him away.
What crime does Israel say he has committed?
Abdallah faced 4 charges. He was kept in prison for 8 months during the trial. On August 24th he was found not guilty of stone-throwing and possession of arms (the latter absurd charge brought by the military prosecution, was based on a collection of spent munitions fired at peaceful protesters by the Israeli army, and displaying by Abdallah to demonstrate the disproportionate violence used to disperse demonstrations in Bil’in.).
But he was convicted of organizing “illegal” demonstrations and of “incitement”.
Abdallah was convicted based only on the forced testimonies of minors who were arrested from their beds at the middle of the night and denied their right to legal counsel – not a single piece of material evidence was presented during the entire trial, despite the fact that the military film every demonstration.
Under military law, incitement is defined as “The attempt, verbally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the Area in a way that may disturb the public peace or public order” (section 7(a) of the Order Concerning Prohibition of Activities of Incitement and Hostile Propaganda (no.101), 1967), and carries a 10 years maximal sentence.
Abu Rahmah’s case was the first time the prosecution had used the organizing and participating in illegal demonstrations since the first Intifada. Military law defines illegal assembly in a much stricter way than Israeli law does, and in practice forbids any assembly of more than 10 people without receiving a permit from the military commander.
Diplomats from France, Malta, Germany, Spain and the UK, as well as a representative of the European Union were in attendance to observe the trial. The EU have criticized the conviction. The complete verdict of the Israeli military court can be read online. Click here to read it in Hebrew. It is currently being translated into English and will be available online soon.
Abdallah is likely to be sentenced in the next few weeks – he faces up to ten years in jail. The prosecution is expected to call for a jail term exceeding two years.
ACT NOW FOR ABDALLAH
Abdallah’s outrageous conviction will be followed by a sentence in the coming weeks. The amount of pressure we will be able to generate in this time could influence Abdallah’s sentence, but will also make clear to Israeli authorities that the repression of the popular struggle does have a political price.
Please use the below template letters prepared by the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee to ask your Minister of Foreign Affairs to send an official inquiry to the Israeli government about Abdallah. Demand that your country apply pressure on Israeli officials to release Abdallah Abu Rahmah and stop targeting popular struggle.
Abdallah’s history of organizing
Abdallah has been a member of the Bil’in Popular Committee since its conception in 2004. As coordinator, Abu Rahmah not only regularly organized and attended the weekly Friday demonstrations but also did the media work for the Bil’in struggle.
Abdallah represented the village in engagements around the world to further Bil’in’s cause. He traveled to Montreal in June 2009 to participate in a speaking tour and for the village’s legal case against two Canadian companies building settlements on Bil’in’s land. In December 2008, he participated in a speaking tour in France and traveled to Germany to accept the the Carl von Ossietzky Medal for outstanding service in the realization of basic and human rights, awarded by the board of trustees of the International League for Human Rights on behalf of Bil’in.
In August 2009 he met with internationally renowned human rights defenders like Nobel Peace prize winner Desmond Tutu and former US President Jimmy Carter, as part of a visit by The Elders to Bil’in village.
Treatment in prison
A previous raid targeting Abu Rahmah, on 15th September 2009, was executed with such exceptional violence that a soldier was subsequently indicted for assault.
Abdallah has written that the Ofer prison consists of a collection of tents enclosed by razor wire and an electrical fence, with 22 prisoners in each tent. In winter, he says, wind and rain comes in through cracks in the tent and prisoners are not provided with sufficient blankets, clothes, or other basic necessities. They are also not given enough food, he states.
Abdallah was arrested in his slippers in the middle of the night on 10th December 2009, and wrote on 17th February 2010 that he had still not been provided with proper shoes, nor were his family given permission to supply him with shoes. After repeated requests, he writes, his watch was returned.
The Israeli authorities allow family visits extremely infrequently. The families of prisoners are viewed as security threats. For more on the treatment of prisoners see Adameer, Prisoners’ Support and Human Rights Association.
The afternoon before his arrest on 10th December 2009, Abdallah prepared a speech to be delivered on his behalf at the World Association for Human Rights awards ceremony in Berlin. In his speech, Abdallah wrote:
“Unlike Israel, we have no nuclear weapons, and no army, but we do not want or need those things, because of the justice of our cause, we have your support and with it we know that ultimately we will bring down Israel’s Apartheid Wall.”
On 6th January 2010 Abdallah wrote:
“The price I and many others pay in freedom does not deter us. I wish that my two young daughters and baby son would not have to pay this price together with me. But for my son and daughters, for their future, we must continue our struggle for freedom…”
Also, read “A Letter from My Holding Cell”, written by Abdallah from Ofer Military Detention Camp and detailing the conditions in prison and stating:
“From the confines of my imprisonment it becomes so clear that our struggle is far bigger than justice for only Bil’in or even Palestine. We are engaged in an international fight against oppression. I know this to be true when I remember all of you from around the world who have joined the movement to stop the wall and settlements. Ordinary people enraged by the occupation have made our struggle their own, and joined us in solidarity. We will surely join together to struggle for justice in other places when Palestine is finally free.”
Perhaps the greatest irony of Abdallah’s case is that he has been found guilty of organizing supposedly “illegal” protests against Israel’s separation wall which itself has been declared illegal by the International Court of Justice and even by Israel’s own High Court in the case of the route it takes through the village of Bil’in.
- The West Bank village of Bil’in is located 12 kilometers west of Ramallah and 4 km east of the Green Line. It is an agricultural village, around 4,000 dunams (988 acres) in size, and populated by approximately 1,800 residents.
- Starting in the early 1980’s, and more significantly in 1991, approximately 56% of Bil’in’s agricultural land was declared ‘State Land’ for the construction of the settlement bloc, Modi’in Illit.
- In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the Wall in its entirety is illegal under international law, particularly under International Humanitarian Law. The Court went on to rule that Israel’s settlements are illegal under the same laws, noting that the Wall’s route is intimately connected to the settlements adjacent to the Green Line, further annexing 16% of the West Bank to Israel.
- Despite the advisory opinion, early in 2005, Israel began constructing the separation Wall on Bil’in’s land, cutting the village in half in order to place Modi’in Illit and its future growth on the “Israeli side” of the Wall.
- In March 2005, Bil’in residents began to organize almost daily direct actions and demonstrations against the theft of their lands. Gaining the attention of the international community with their creativity and perseverance, Bil’in has become a symbol for popular resistance. Almost five years later, Bil’in continues to have weekly Friday protests.
- Bil’in has held annual conferences on popular resistance since 2006, providing a forum for activists, intellectuals, and leaders to discuss strategies for the non-violent struggle against the Occupation.
- Israeli forces have used sound and shock grenades, water cannons, rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas grenades, tear gas canisters and 0.22 caliber live ammunition against protesters.
- On 17 April 2009, Bassem Abu Rahma was shot with a high-velocity tear gas projectile in the chest by Israeli forces and subsequently died from his wounds at a Ramallah hospital.
- Out of the 75 residents who have been arrested in connection to demonstrations against the Wall, 27 were arrested since the beginning of a night raid campaign on 23 June 2009. Israeli armed forces have been regularly invading homes and forcefully searching for demonstration participants, targeting the leaders of the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements.