For decades, Israel has met peaceful Palestinian protesters disruptively with violence, arrests and at times unprovoked killings. It's no surprise that targeting them and their leaders is now common practice in cities and villages like Jayyous and Bil'in.
On August 3, 200 Israeli soldiers raided five Bel'in homes at 3AM arresting eight Palestinians, including Mohammad Khatib, a leader of the Bel'in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements. It's part of Israel's repressive routine - late night arrests and imprisonment without charges for indefinite periods. Khatib faces trial, but was released on August 17 on condition he report to a police station with a monitor each Friday until 5PM for its duration. He told supporters:
"The Israeli authorities are worried that the model of popular nonviolent resistance is spreading. They are targeting the popular committees to try to crush (them) but they cannot destroy the spirit of the demonstrations in Bil'in with the arrests of individuals. The whole village is part of the nonviolent resistance and the military would have to arrest (everyone) to stop us from protesting against the Occupation and the theft of our land. Even then, when we all come out of jail, we would continue our struggle."
On September 22, Jayyous resident Mohammad Othman was arrested because of his "Stop the Wall Campaign" activism and efforts on behalf of dispossessed farmers. He's now administratively detained without charge after a military court rejected the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association's appeal on his behalf, citing "secret evidence" that he's a "security threat in the area."
On December 10, Abdallah Abu Rahmah, coordinator of Bil'in's Popular Committee Against the Wall, was arrested after nine military vehicles surrounded his home, broke down his door at 2AM, then blindfolded and seized him from bed in the presence of his wife and children as part of the effort to break the spirit of Bil'in's residents and their popular struggle against the Wall. Since June, Abu Rahmah is the thirty-first Bil'in activist arrested.
On December 22, an Ofer Prison Military Court indicted him on "incitement, stone-throwing, and possession of arms," pertaining to tear gas canisters fired at demonstrators that he collected to display in his home.
His lawyer, Gaby Lasky said:
"The army shoots at unarmed demonstrators, and when they try to show the world the violence used against them by collecting (and) presenting the remnants, they are persecuted and prosecuted. What's next? Charging protesters money for the bullets shot at them?"
On December 24, Archbishop Desmond Tutu called for his unconditional release, saying he met with him and Mohammad Khatib in August in Bil'in.
"We were impressed by their commitment to peaceful political action, and their success in challenging the wall that unjustly separates the people of Bel'in from their land and the olive trees. I call on Israeli officials to release Abu Rahmah immediately and unconditionally."
He's been a member of Bel'in's Popular Committee since its 2004 inception, and after Wall construction began there in March 2005, participated in organizing regular actions and demonstrations to stop it. He also represented Bel'in around the world, and in June 2009 was in Montreal for its precedent-setting legal case against two Canadian companies illegally building settlements on its land.
In addition, he participated in a speaking tour, including in Germany to accept the Carl Von Ossietzky Medal for outstanding service toward the realization of human rights, awarded by the International League for Human Rights.
On December 16, Jamal Juma' was arrested with no explanation. He was denied contact with a lawyer or his family, and is now imprisoned for his activism against the Wall and settlements. He's a founding member of several Palestinian NGOs and civil society networks, and has been the coordinator for the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign since 2002. He's also the highest profile arrest of leadership figures like himself. So far, he's uncharged, yet may be held indefinitely along with hundreds of others.
According to B'Tselem, administrative detention is "without charge or trial, authorized by administrative order rather than by judicial decree." Under international law, it's legal only under rigid conditions, given how grievously it can harm due process and the way Israel uses it.
It's purpose is to "prevent the danger posed to state security by a particular individual." Yet Israel never defined it and blatantly abuses the process. At any time, hundreds of Palestinians are held in prolonged detention without charges or trial based on secret evidence unavailable to themselves or their counsel.
"Israel has therefore made a charade out of the entire system of procedural safeguards in both domestic and international law regarding the right to liberty and due process."
On December 23, a Palestinian Centre for Human Rights press release condemned the above arrests and others like them. According to military order 1591, each one can last up to six months, then be indefinitely extended, often resulting in years imprisonment without charges or trial - a gross violation of fundamental international law.
"By detaining human rights activists for their nonviolent work in legal organizations, Israel is illegally widening the definition of state security in order to fit its motives, while infringing on fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of expression, which are protected under international law."
Despite thirty-one arrests, Bil'in protests continue, and according to some it's the Soweto, Derry, and Chiapas of Palestinian resistance, a model now spreading throughout the West Bank. On December 11, dozens withstood a hail of tear gas canisters to pull down a yellow gate regularly used by the IDF to harass and intimidate.
The web site bilin-village.org explains their struggle.
"Bil'in is a Palestinian village that is....fighting to safeguard its land, its olive trees, its resources....its liberty (and existence). By annexing close to 60% of (its) land for Israeli settlements and the (Separation Wall, Israel) is strangling the village. Every day it destroys a bit more, creating an open air prison for (its) inhabitants," who refuse to stand by and let it happen.
Every Friday, along with Israeli and international activists, they demonstrate peacefully in front of the "work-site of shame," despite IDF physical and psychological harassment, intimidation, violence, and arrests. Bil'in symbolizes Palestinian popular resistance against occupation, repression, harassment, mass arrests, imprisonment, torture, targeted killings, land seizures, and more.
It's located several kilometers northeast of Ramallah. In 2004, its population numbered 1,800 on four square km of land, mostly suitable for agriculture, especially olive tree cultivation, but for how long its residents ask.
Bil'in and Saffa are boxed in on the west by eight Israeli settlements, comprising the Modi'in Illit block in the Ramallah Governship, occupying 10.6 square km that are expanding and seizing village lands. The Separation Wall takes more - about half of Bil'in's four square km for two km of Wall with more planned for a new settlement, expansion of existing ones, and virtual imprisonment of Bil'in and Saffa residents by the Wall's route when it's completed. Thus, residents continue weekly protests to save their land, village, and futures.
Since 2006, they've also done grassroots organizing and held annual conferences on popular resistance for villagers, activists and academics to discuss effective tactics. In addition, legal actions were taken beginning in the winter of 2004. Three years later, the Israeli High Court ruled part of Modi'in illit's construction illegal. It affected unfinished housing that couldn't be completed until the Wall's route was moved several hundred meters west. It meant returning 25% of Bel'in's land to the village that never happened because the ruling wasn't implemented, building continues, and so does do protests against it.
On Christmas day, villagers attempted to march to their stolen land dressed as Santa Claus carrying a Christmas tree decorated with tear gas canisters and percussion grenades regularly used against them. Assaulted by Israeli soldiers, they again suffered tear gas attacks, but planned further actions, including one held on December 29 supporting Abu Rahmad near Ofer Prison where he's held.
On December 28, Stop the Wall "held its first West Bank-wide youth conference this month," the result of two years of planning and organizing. Despite the above arrests and continued Israeli repression, two days of "fruitful discussions (were held) on grassroots resistance, boycott and the role of the youth in the national struggle" that won't end until it succeeds."
Commentaries in the Israeli Press
On December 23, Haaretz writer Amira Hass headlined, "Danger: Popular Struggle" saying Israel "found the true enemy who refused to whither away: The popular struggle against the occupation."
As a result, in recent months, efforts to suppress it have increased against:
"Palestinians and Jewish Israelis unwilling to give up their right to resist....demographic separation and Jewish supremacy." In turn, demonstrators have faced "live ammunition, late-night army raids and mass arrests," mostly in Bil'in and Na'alin whose lands have been systematically stolen and their residents abused.
Yet resistance continues. Palestinians learned from past mistakes, including armed struggle, and are using more effective tactics to their advantage. As a result, Shin Bet and Military Intelligence are concerned. At a recent cabinet briefing, their leaders, Yuval Diskin (Shin Bet) and Amost Yadlin (Military Intelligence) said:
"The Palestinians want to continue and build a state from the bottom up....and force an agreement on Israel from above....The quiet security (situation) in the West Bank and the fact that the (Palestinian Authority) is acting against terror in an efficient manner has caused the international community to turn to Israel and demand progress."
Its leaders also fear editorials like Haaretz's December 25 one headlined, "War on Protest," saying IDF tactics against protesters damage "Israel's image as a free and democratic country, one that accords equal and tolerant treatment to all its citizens and residents."
The commentary cites:
-- "violent and disproportionate police" actions;
-- IDF "insufferable harshness" in Bel'in and Na'alin;
-- soldiers "firing live rounds at unarmed protesters who do not endanger the soldiers' lives, in violation of the military advocate general's orders;"
-- "major arrest sweeps" targeting peaceful protesters; and
-- "all this is happening at a time when the same law enforcement agencies are showing much more leniency and consideration to right-wingers protesting against the construction freeze in the settlements. There, no massive arrests have been made, and there has been less police violence."
Haaretz called targeting Palestinian protesters reminiscent of "the darkest regimes.....(so much so that it) should disturb every Israeli, whether right-wing or left-wing - because this is about the very nature of the regime of the country in which we live."
The paper stopped just short of calling Israel a nation where only Jews have rights. Yet Israeli Arabs have none, and Occupied Palestinians have been ruthlessly oppressed for decades. Yet when they resist, they're called terrorists, charged with crimes they didn't commit, or arrested and held administratively for months or even years under horrific conditions, including:
-- solitary confinement in tiny windowless cells or in tents in extreme desert heat that becomes freezing cold in winter;
-- no access to family members, proper food, or needed medical treatment, including for injuries, chronic illnesses, and essential life-saving cancer and other surgeries; nor are family or Red Cross medications allowed;
-- torture and abuse against 85% of them according to B'Tselem;
-- since 1967, over 700,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned, mostly men, amounting to about 40% of the male population, according to the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association; and
-- hundreds of children (some as young as 12) and dozens of women as well, including in at least one secret interrogation facility; during the period September 2000 - August 2008, an estimated 6,700 children were incarcerated (and treated the same as adults), according to the Ministry of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs; since 1967, over 10,000 women were imprisoned; pregnant ones are forced to give birth in their cells and have their babies incarcerated with them for up to years.
Most Palestinians are political prisoners charged with offenses under Israeli military orders. About 1,500 of them govern the West Bank, 1,400 are for Gaza, and all broadly define "security" to include almost anything such as political expression. For example:
-- under Military Order 101, it's "forbidden to conduct a protest or march or meeting (involving 10 or more participants for political reasons) without permission of the Military Commander;"
-- the same order prohibits the distribution of political articles, pictures, or other materials;
-- under Military Order 938, "supporting a hostile organization (meaning any Israel so designates) by holding a flag or listening to a nationalist song (is considered) a hostile action;" and
-- like America, Israel enacted a new "unlawful combatant" status that legalizes Arab detentions even without cause to hold them.
As a result, anyone may be arrested any time, anywhere, for any reason, without cause, and held indefinitely for years with no charges or trial. Although Israel is a signatory to the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions and numerous other international laws and covenants, it systematically breaches its responsibility and was found to have violated nearly every article covering the arrest, treatment, detention process, and even locations where detainees are held.
International humanitarian rights laws are clear and unequivocal. For Israeli officials, however, they apply to others, not themselves, so for decades Palestinians have been viciously oppressed, yet continue their heroic struggle against a rogue state run by savages, not responsible human beings.
Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to the Lendman News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Monday - Friday at 10AM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national issues. All programs are archived for easy listening.