Heads held high – three activists

UPDATE: Jonathan Pollack was released one month early (even more than one month early, actually), for good behavior, on Thursday 24 February…

(1) Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak, convicted for protesting the Israeli-military-administered sanctions against 1.5 million people in Gaza, reported to jail at Hermon Prison this morning to start serving a three-month prison sentence, apparently for “illegal assembly”. He previously told the court, in a statement he made at his sentencing on 27 December, that he had no regrets and would go to jail “head held high” for opposing Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and lives. A Haaretz editorial today here, entitled “Shameful Imprisonment”, denounced Pollak’s jail term.

The Haaretz editorial said that “His arrest should trouble every citizen who cares about human rights in Israel. Pollak had participated in a peaceful, non-violent demonstration, which is not merely the right of every citizen, but also the duty of everyone who wishes to fight against wrong. In similar demonstrations that took place on highways, such as that of the motorcyclists against raising insurance rates or the demonstration by firefighters, no one was arrested. The fact that Pollak was the only one arrested in the cyclists’ demonstration raises serious suspicions that he was being singled out by police and the courts because of his long struggle against the occupation … Pollak’s incarceration is a dark day: not only for Pollak but for all those who fear for democracy in Israel”.

UPDATE on Wednesday: To mark the start of Pollak’s jail sentence, a “critical mass” bicycle protest — in reference to the January 2008 event at which Pollak was arrested and for which he was sentenced to jail (this arrest activated a previous suspended sentence for a previous anti-occupation protest, and he received a separate sentence for the January 2008 event) — was held in Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening. A video was posted on Youtube here.

(2) Abdallah Abu Rahmah, who was not released from prison some weeks ago when he finished serving a one-year prison sentence at the end of November for “incitement” due to his role in leading weekly protests from his West Bank village, Bil’in, against The Wall (which has cut off about half of the village’s agricultural land), was sentenced by today to an additional three months at the request of the Israeli military prosecutor. Amnesty International has now declared him a “prisoner of conscience”. Late last year, the European Union’s Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said Abu Rahmah was a “human rights defender” — therefore, an activist that is supposed to receive support and protection from the UN human rights bodies and from the international community.

More than three years ago, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the Israeli military to re-route The Wall in the Bil’in area to release back to the village some portion (but not all) of its confiscated land, which has been used an extended security zone to protect Israeli settlements in that area of the West Bank (Modi’in Illit + Matityahu East). The Israeli military began “work” last February, nearly a year ago, to carry out the Supreme Court order, and have just said it will take at least another three months.

(3) And Silwan activist Adnan Gheith is due to leave his home in Jerusalem tomorrow for four months according to an order issued under military emergency regulations dating back to the British mandate. Whatever this is called, this is deportation — and as such it is an Israeli violation of the Road Map (Phase One) which the U.S. + EU developed and then promoted within the Quartet (along with Russia + the UN)… Gheith, upon advice, withdrew his appeal against the order to leave Jerusalem — because of “lack of confidence in the Israeli justice system”, as reported here.
“I was a bit surprised”, commented one Israeli lawyer who has been active in supporting rights for East Jerusalem Palestinians in the city, “because I thought he had a decent chance” of winning the appeal.

Mairav Zonstein, who follows Silwan developments, wrote in +972 Magazine, here, that “The decision, according to his lawyer [Rami Othman, apparently], stems from the fact that Adnan was convinced he would lose the appeal, among other things, because Israel’s General Security Service was expected to submit classified documents that he would not be able to view and therefore not be able to refute – effectively barring him from due process in making a case in his defense. Furthermore, he argued, the legal proceedings would constitute recognition of the court’s authority and would set a legal precedent for more Palestinians like him to be expelled on the same grounds. Rumors have been going around that the GSS has composed a list of a few hundred Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem to be targeted for similar expulsion orders.”

East Jerusalem Palestinians have what they believe is a very fragile permanent residency status (but not citizenship), in Israel since 1967. As non-citizens, the East Jerusalem Palestinians do not have the right to participate in Israeli national elections, for the Knesset, whose winners form the next governments. But, East Jerusalem Palestinians do — in theory — have the right to participate in Jerusalem municipal elections. Since the start of the occupation in 1967, the vast majority has decided to boycott these Jerusalem municipal elections — and there is considerable social and political pressure to maintain this line, though the net result has been a loss of any political influence in decisions that affect their daily lives as residents of a Jerusalem which the Israeli government unilaterally expanded after its victory in the 1967 war…

[The Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territory have the theoretical right to participate in two elections: Under an interpretation of the Oslo Accords urged by the American government (among other powers), the Israeli government has in principle agreed to allow East Jerusalem Palestinians to participate in Palestinian “national” elections held since 1996, both for the currently-dormant Palestine Legislative Council and for the Palestinian Authority [PA] President. However, Israeli authorities have put substantial roadblocks in the way of the participation of East Jerusalem Palestinians in the PA elections.]

UPDATE on Wednesday: Gheith, who is a member of Fatah as well as an activist in his own Silwan neighborhood, reportedly arrived
in Ramallah by 11:00 am “in compliance with the Israeli military 4-month deportation order from Jerusalem”, according to the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center in Ramallah. Ma’an News Agency later reported, after speaking briefly with Gheith in Ramallah, that he said “his move comes as an implementation of the Israeli decision … [and that] immediately before his deportation he was in the Al-Bustan sit-in tent holding a meeting when the Israeli police arrived to drive him out. He said the officers chased him in the streets of the village. His lawyers decided that he should move to Ramallah immediately. He also said that the Israeli prosecution decided to expel five more young men from Silwan including his brother Hani Ghaith”. This Ma’an News report is posted here.

Palestinian West Bank human rights defender sentenced to one year in jail

An Israeli military court in Ofer Prison has today sentenced Palestinian West Bank organizer of protests against The Wall in Bil’in, Abdallah Abu Rahmah, to one year in prison, plus 6 months suspended sentence for 3 years, and a fine of 5,000 NIS (shekels) — which, at the current devalued rate of the dollar, is equivalent to $1388 U.S. dollars.

Israeli activist Jonathan Pollack, who was present, reports by email that “In the sentencing, the judge cited the non-implementation of an Israeli High Court ruling which declared the current route of the wall on Bil’in’s land illegal as a mitigating factor”.

Abu Rahmah, who is coordinator of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, was convicted of “organizing illegal demonstrations” and “incitement” — but cleared of other charges of stone-throwing and weapons possession.

The EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton called Abu Rahmeh a “Human Rights Defender”, in a statement after his conviction was tannounced in late August.

UPDATE: What is a Human Rights Defender? “Human rights defenders act to promote and protect the human rights of individuals or groups everywhere. They are often the targets of repression, restrictions and abuse in weak or emerging democracies as well as in States with long-established democratic traditions”, says a press release from the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. The statement added that “Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay reminded the assembly that States must protect human rights defenders in compliance with human rights standards and with the Human Rights Council resolution on cooperation with the UN, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights adopted in October 2009. ‘States also bear the primary responsibility to ensure that acts of intimidation and violence against human rights advocates and victims are punished. To that end, States must investigate violations and prosecute perpetrators irrespective of their affiliation. In order to do so States may need to carry out necessary reforms to improve access to justice for victims and their defenders, apply the rule of law and ensure the independence of judges and lawyers’, she said”. This is posted on the ohchr.org website here. In 1998, the UN adopted a Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders), which sets out the commitments of Member States. This Declaration is explained here, and posted in full here.  It was adopted in Geneva, then incorporated into a  UNGA resolution in New York, on the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. [The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is posted in full in a special page on this blog, here.]  Eleven years later, the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders stated (in a December 2009 report to the UN General Assembly), that “The growing characterization of human rights defenders as ‘terrorists’, ‘enemies of the State’ or ‘political opponents’ by State authorities and State-owned media is a particularly worrying trend, as it is regularly used to delegitimize the work of defenders and increase their vulnerability … States should refrain from portraying human rights defenders and their activities as dangerous, illegal or a threat to the security of the State. Their important role and efforts in the promotion, protection and the full enjoyment of human rights by all should instead be praised. The Special Rapporteur would like to recall the primary importance of acknowledging the work and role of groups, organs or individuals in the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. This is the first step towards a safe working environment for defenders. By adopting the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, States have committed themselves to recognizing their valuable role in the elimination of human rights violations and should therefore act accordingly at the national level”. The document in which this is stated is posted here.

As the UN Special Rapporteur’s report notes: “article 10 of the Declaration [on Human Rights Defenders] [says] that ‘no one shall participate, by act or by failure to act where required, in violating human rights and fundamental freedoms’.”

The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders also says that “Everyone has the right..to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights”, and that “Everyone is entitled..to be protected..in reacting to, or opposing, through peaceful means..acts..by States that result in HR violations”…

The Special Rapporteur also notes in her report that “Peaceful public demonstrations, rallies and strikes to denounce human rights violations continue to be moments of particular vulnerability. Defenders are increasingly targeted in the run-up to demonstrations and suffer from the use of excessive force by authorities during peaceful protests”.

[The IDF routinely and regularly states that the West Bank protests against The Wall are “violent” and “riots”.]

The EU statement stated that Abu Rahmah is “committed to non-violent protest against the route of the Israeli separation barrier through his West Bank village of Bil’in”, and added that it “considers the route of the barrier where it is built on Palestinian land to be illegal.  The High Representative is deeply concerned that the possible imprisonment of Mr Abu Rahma is intended to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest against the existence of the separation barriers in a non violent manner”.

Abu Rahmah has already been detained in prison for the past ten months, thoughout the trial process.

Abdallah Abu Rahmah at his sentencing hearing in Ofer on 11 October - via Desertpeace

Photo via DesertPeace blog

Amnesty International has already indicated that if Abu Rahmah were to be sentenced to a jail term, it would consider him a “prisoner of conscience”.