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.

Amira Hass interviews Jonathan Pollak

Jonathan Pollak, the Israeli anti-occupation activist who has just been sentenced to three months in jail for participating in a demonstration against tightened IDF-administered sanctions that affect over 1.5 million people in the closed Gaza Strip, has spoken to Haaretz’s Amira Hass about his conviction, and his convictions.

The interview is published today, here.

Pollak was told to report to jail on 11 January to begin the sentence. Like many people who imagine the possibility of going to jail, he thinks he will be able to pass the time usefully by reading. But, asked by Amira if he were afraid of prison, he replied “Yes. I’m not yet sure of what, but I am”.

He was given a suspended jail sentence earlier, stemming from a demonstration against the construction of The Wall in the West Bank (which the International Court of Justice said was illegal, in a ruling on 9 July 2004).

Now, he has been ordered to serve the two sentences, simultaneously.

It is not known yet if he will appeal…

Pollak told Amira Hass that he was arrested “in the middle of our cycling route, on Bograshov Street in Tel Aviv. I was in the midst of the crowd. Two plainclothes policemen who know me and I know them approached me and took me off my bike. They said something to me like: “We told you if you raised your head, we would cut it off,” and took me to a police van. The rest of the cyclists continued without any interference. No one else was arrested”.

The prosecutor apparently asked for a six-month jail term, plus a fine, arguing that the demonstration was “illegal”. Pollak commented: “I am not a jurist but to the best of my knowledge, the police orders demand a permit for a demonstration in which more than 50 people participate. The prosecutor, who is a policewoman, is supposed to know that. We were about 40 people”.

But, he told Amira Hass, he would, personally, not have asked for a permit even if more activists had gathered, “Because I don’t believe that when you are demonstrating against a regime, the regime is the one that has to approve the demonstration”.

The demonstration that is sending Pollak — and only Pollak — to jail took place in Tel Aviv on 31 January 2008 — just days after the Israeli Supreme Court decided on 28 January against a petition brought by GISHA and a group of nine Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations who asked the Court to stop IDF-administered deliberately tightened sanctions against the entire population of the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli government had issued a declaration on 19 September 2007 that the Gaza Strip — ruled solely by Hamas after its rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security Forces in mid-June 2007 — had become an “enemy entity”, or “hostile territory”.

The Israeli government gave the Israeli mililtary the sole and entire responsibility for deciding on and administering the regime of deliberate sanctions, which the military announced would be tightened on a regular basis. These sanctions went into effect at the end of October 2007, and the military said that fuel and electricity supplies would be reduced by an additional 15 percent each month. The Supreme Court allowed the fuel reductions to continue, but stopped the reductions in electricity until its decision on 28 January 2008, when they were allowed to go ahead. (However, after a brief trial, the Israeli military apparently realized that the electricity cuts could not be stopped so easily, and without greater damage).

For the final Supreme Court Hearing on the matter, on 28 January 2008, two Palestinians from Gaza who had agreed to testify to the Israeli Court and who had been issued permits to come to Jerusalem to testify, were held up that morning at Erez checkpoint until just before the Supreme Court hearing had adjourned. One of the men was from the Gaza Power Plant, the other was from the Coastal Municipalities Water Society. When they were finally allowed through, they jumped into a waiting taxi and raced to Jerusalem, but arrived after the hearing had completely ended…

The Israeli military was allowed to do whatever it decided in Gaza, without any independent governmental oversight or any other civilian supervision of the IDF-administered sanctions that were applied against 1.5 million people in Gaza.

The absurdity and cruelty of the situation was evident, but difficult to monitor precisely, as the military kept all details until very recently — after the Flotilla Fiasco on 31 May. when 8 Turkish men and one Turkish-American high school student were killed in the Israeli naval boarding at sea of the Mavi Marmara.

In any case, GISHA’s petition argued that such sanctions were collective punishment. But the Supreme Court allowed them to go ahead, on the sole condition that the Israeli military must take care to ensure that no “humanitarian crisis” should ensue.

There was no definition given by the Court of what constitutes a “humanitarian crisis”, but many people believe that one certainly exists in Gaza — one which was exacerbated by the massive IDF attack on the Gaza Strip from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009.

In his discussion with Amira Hass, Pollak explained: “I don’t know what other option there is in so extreme a situation, in which four million people are being kept under a military regime without democratic rights by a country that is interested in presenting a democratic image. In a situation where there is a blockade and collective punishment of 1.5 million people, can one hesitate at all whether to hold a very minimalist protest in Tel Aviv? It seems to me part of the duty of a human being, the least we can do. The question is not why I need all this mess but why so few people join in”.

Pollak, 28 years old, has been a member of the Israeli group, Anarchists against The Wall, and is now on the coordinating committee of the Palestinian-led Popular Struggle Coordination Committee.

Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak sentenced to two concurrent three-month prison terms for protesting Gaza sanctions + Palestinian occupation

Israeli activist Jonathan Pollack was sentenced today in a Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court to serve two, concurrent, three-month prison terms for protesting the Israeli military-administered sanctions against Gaza and the continuing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Pollak’s jail term is to start on 11 January.

An earlier three-month prison sentence was imposed on Pollak for protesting the construction of The Wall (or “separation barrier”) in the West Bank, was suspended.

Pollak second conviction was for his part in riding a bicycle in a “Critical Mass” protest in Tel Aviv on 31 January 2008 — just two days after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that it would allow a series of tightening Israeli military-administered sanctions against Gaza, imposed after the Israeli Government issued a declaration on 19 September 2007 [three months after the Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security in the Gaza Strip] that Gaza was “hostile territory” or an “enemy entity”. A coalition of Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups led by GISHA petitioned the Supreme Court against the imposition of the tightening sanctions. But, the Supreme Court ruled on 28 January 2008 that the military could go ahead with its plan, as long as it did not allow a “humanitarian crisis” to develop. [The concept of “humanitarian crisis” was not defined…]

Today, the Tel Aviv judge imposed a second three-month term and activated the first one, but ruled that Pollak would serve them simultaneously.

Pollak was the only one of thirty activists riding bicycles in the protest that day who was arrested — though his conviction was apparently on the grounds of “illegal assembly”.

A report sent by email said that “During the protest, Pollak was arrested by plain-clothes police who recognized him from previous protests and because, as claimed in court, they assumed he was the organizer and figurehead of the event. The protest was allowed to continue undisturbed after Pollak’s arrest and ended with no further incidents or detentions. The arrest and consequent indictment appears to be the result of police vindictiveness, rather than of Pollak’s behavior at the time of the event; Pollak was but one in a group of protesters who behaved exactly like him, yet he was the only one to be singled out. Moreover, environmental Critical Mass events take place in Tel Aviv on a regular basis, but have never been met with such a response. Other protests, which have caused far more sever obstruction of traffic (e.g. the motorcade protest of thousands of motorcycles) did not result in arrests, and surely did not lead to the filing of criminal charges and imprisonment”.

The email also reported that Attorney Gaby Lasky, Pollak’s lawyer, noted: “The police not only singled out Pollak from a crowd of people who all did exactly as he did, but also singled out the entire protest for no reason other than its political alignment. Similar events regularly take place in Tel Aviv without police intervention, let alone arrests and indictments.”

In a statement made to the court just prior to sentencing passed, Pollak said:

    “Your Honor, once found guilty, it is then customary for the accused to ask the court for leniency, and express remorse for having committed the offence. However, I find myself unable to do so. From its very beginning, this trial contained practically no disagreements over the facts. As the indictment states, I indeed rode my bicycle, alongside others, through the streets of Tel Aviv, to protest the siege on Gaza. And indeed, while riding our bicycles, which are legally vehicles belonging on the road, we may have slightly slowed down traffic. The sole and trivial disagreement in this entire case revolves around testimonies heard from police detectives, who claimed I played a leading role throughout the protest bicycle ride, something I, as well as the rest of the Defense witnesses, deny.

    As said earlier, it is customary at this point of the proceedings to sound remorseful, and I would indeed like to voice my regrets regarding one particular aspect of that day’s events: if there is remorse in my heart, it is that, just as I argued during the trial, I did not play a prominent role in the protest that day, and thus did not fulfill my duty to do everything within my power to change the unbearable situation of Gaza’s inhabitants, and bring to an end Israel’s control over the Palestinians.

    His Honor has stated during the court case, and will most likely state again in the future, that a trial is not a matter of politics, but of law. To this I reply that there is hardly anything to this trial except political disagreement. This Court may have impeded the mounting of an appropriate defense when it refused to hear arguments regarding political selectiveness in the Police’s conduct, but even from the testimonies which were admitted, it became clear such a selectiveness exists.

    The subject of my alleged offense, as well as the motivation behind it were political. This is something that cannot be sidestepped. The State of Israel maintains an illegitimate, inhuman and illegal siege on the Gaza Strip, which still is occupied territory according to international law. This siege, carried out in my name and in yours as well, sir, in fact in all of our names, is a cruel collective punishment inflicted on ordinary citizens, residents of the Gaza strip, subjects-without-rights under Israeli occupation.

    In the face of this reality, and as a stance against it, we chose on January 31st, 2008, to exercise the freedom of speech afforded to Jewish citizens of Israel. However, it appears that here in our one-of-many-faux-democracies in the Middle East, even this freedom is no longer freely granted, even to society’s privileged sons.

    I am not surprised by the Court’s decision to convict me despite having no doubt in my mind that our actions on that day correspond to the most basic, elementary definitions of a person’s right to protest.

    Indeed, as the Prosecution pointed out, a suspended prison sentence hung over my head at the time of the bicycle protest, having been convicted before under an identical article of law. And, although I still maintain I did not commit any offense whatsoever, I was aware of the possibility that under Israeli justice, my suspended sentence would be imposed.

    I must add that, if His Honor decides to go ahead and impose my suspended prison sentence, I will go to prison wholeheartedly and with my head held high. It will be the justice system itself, I believe, that ought to lower its eyes in the face of the suffering inflicted on Gaza’s inhabitants, just like it lowers its eyes and averts its vision each and every day when faced with the realities of the occupation”.

    Pollak, who has been active with Anarchists Against the Wall, is also a member of the Popular Struggle Coordinating Committee. Information about the sentencing, and Pollak’s statement, was sent via email by fellow activist Joseph Dana (Ibn Ezra).