WEST BANK: Israeli military court sentences Palestinian nonviolence activist to prison
An Israeli military court Monday sentenced Palestinian nonviolence activist Abdullah Abu Rahmeh to one year in prison and a $1,400 fine after it found him guilty of “incitement” and “organizing illegal demonstrations.”
Abu Rahmeh’s arrest had provoked strong international reaction, with some describing it as an attempt to silence freedom of expression.
The court gave the military prosecutor one month to appeal the decision and ask for a harsher sentence. The prosecutor had sought a sentence of more than two years to make an example of Abu Rahmeh.
Barring an appeal, Abu Rahmeh should be released in a couple of months because he has already served 10 months.
Abu Rahmeh is the coordinator of the Bilin Popular Resistance Committee against the Wall and Settlements, established in early 2005 to nonviolently resist Israeli annexation of Palestinian village land.
Bilin, a village northwest of Ramallah, is close to the “green line,” the 1967 de facto border between the West Bank and Israel. In the 1980s and '90s, Israel built settlements on land seized from the village and in 2004 seized more to build the separation barrier. Eventually, Bilin lost more than 60% of its farmland.
Abu Rahmeh and villagers, along with Israeli and international activists, began holding weekly protests in the village. Participants march to the area where Israeli bulldozers are working on the barrier, and as they get close, Israeli soldiers, on the other side of the barrier, shower them with tear gas.
Some of the protests have turned violent, and in some cases people have been killed. Palestinian teens throw stones at soldiers during the protests, and the Israeli military claimed that some of them said that Abu Rahmeh had told them to do so. Their testimony was used to convict Abu Rahmeh, who denied the accusation.
Before his arrest, Abu Rahmeh rejected Israeli claims that the protest organizers incited violence.
“We do not tell people to throw stones at soldiers,” he said. “Our protest is peaceful and nonviolent, and when kids throw stones, we tell them to stop, but we are not always successful.”
Several human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have condemned the arrest of Abu Rahmeh as an assault on the right of freedom of expression.
Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who visited Bilin to see the protests firsthand, called on Israel to release Abu Rahmeh. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a recent statement that the arrest of Abu Rahmeh intended “to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest.”
-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank
Photo: Abdullah Abu Rahmeh at the Israeli military court near Ramallah. Photo credit: Courtesy of the Popular Resistance Committee