Israel: End Crackdown on Anti-Wall Activists

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Israel: End Crackdown on Anti-Wall Activists

Peaceful Advocates Detained on Spurious Charges, Denied Due Process

JERUSALEM - Israel should immediately end its arbitrary detention of
Palestinians protesting the separation barrier, Human Rights Watch said
today. Israel is building most of the barrier inside the West Bank
rather than along the Green Line, in violation of international
humanitarian law. In recent months, Israeli military authorities have
arbitrarily arrested and denied due process rights to several dozen
Palestinian anti-wall protesters.

Israel has detained Palestinians who advocate non-violent protests
against the separation barrier and charged them based on questionable
evidence, including allegedly coerced confessions. Israeli authorities
have also denied detainees from villages that have staged protests
against the barrier, including children, access to lawyers and family
members. Many of the protests have been in villages that lost
substantial amounts of land when the barrier was built.

"Israel is arresting people for peacefully protesting a barrier
built illegally on their lands that harms their livelihoods," said
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The
Israeli authorities are effectively banning peaceful expression of
political speech by bringing spurious charges against demonstrators,
plus detaining children and adults without basic due process
protections."

Demonstrations against the separation barrier often turn violent,
with Palestinian youths throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers. Israeli
troops have regularly responded by using stun and tear gas grenades to
disperse protesters, and the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem has
documented the Israeli military's use of live and rubber-coated bullets
on several occasions. Violence at demonstrations may result in the
arrest of those who participate in or incite violence, but it does not
justify the arrest of activists who have simply called for or supported
peaceful protests against the wall, Human Rights Watch said.

In December 2009, military prosecutors charged Abdallah Abu Rahme, a
high-school teacher in the West Bank village of Bil'in who is a leading
advocate of non-violent resistance, with illegal possession of weapons
in connection with an art exhibit, in the shape of a peace sign, that
he built out of used Israeli army bullets and tear gas canisters. The
weapons charge states that Abu Rahme, a member of Bil'in's Popular
Committee against the Wall and Settlements, used "M16 bullets and gas
and stun grenades" for "an exhibition [that] showed people what means
the security forces employ."

A military court also charged him with throwing stones at soldiers
and incitement for organizing demonstrations that included stone
throwing. An Israeli protester, Jonathan Pollack, acknowledged
Palestinian youths often have thrown stones but told Human Rights Watch
that he had attended "dozens" of protests with Abu Rahme and had never
seen him throw stones. Abu Rahme remains in detention.

The Israeli military in August detained Mohammed Khatib, a leader of
the Bil'in Popular Committee and the Popular Struggle Coordination
Committee, which organize protests against the separation barrier, and
charged him with "stone throwing" at a Bil'in demonstration in November
2008. Khatib's passport shows that he was on New Caledonia, a Pacific
island, when the alleged incident occurred. He was released on August
9, 2009, on condition that he present himself at a police station at
the time of weekly anti-wall protests, effectively barring him from
participating, his lawyers said.

The military detained him again and charged Khatib with incitement
on January 28, 2010, a day after the Israeli news website Ynet quoted
him as saying: "We are on the eve of an intifada." His lawyer said that
security services justified the detention on the grounds of "incitement
materials" confiscated from his home, which proved to be records of his
trial. He was released on February 3. Khatib has published articles
calling for non-violent protests, including in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The Nation magazine.
Khatib has also been active in lobbying for divestment from companies
whose operations support violations of international law by Israel in
the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Military authorities also detained Zeydoun Srour, a member of the
Popular Committee against the Wall in Ni'lin, on January 12, charging
him with throwing stones during a demonstration, despite a letter from
his employer and stamped and dated forms signed by Srour showing that
he was working his normal shift at the time of the alleged incident.

"Israel's security concerns do not justify detaining or prosecuting
peaceful Palestinian activists," Whitson said. "The Israeli government
should immediately order an end to ongoing harassment of Palestinians
who peacefully protest the separation barrier."

Mohammad Srour, also a member of the Popular Committee in Ni'lin,
was arrested on July 20 by the Israeli army while returning from
Geneva, where he appeared before the United Nations Fact-Finding
Mission on the Gaza Conflict (the Goldstone Commission). Srour's
testimony to the UN mission described the fatal shooting by Israeli
forces of two Ni'lin residents on December 28, 2008, at a demonstration
against Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip. Srour was taken
to Ofer prison for interrogation and was released on bail three days
later without having been charged. In its report to the Human Rights
Council, the Goldstone Commission expressed its concern that Srour's
detention "may have been a consequence of his appearance before the
Mission."

Cases brought against Palestinians for throwing stones and cases
under the military's overbroad incitement law frequently raise serious
due process concerns, Human Rights Watch said. Prosecutions of
anti-wall activists have been based on testimony from witnesses who say
their statements were obtained under coercive threats. A16-year-old
witness against Mohammed Khatib testified on January 4 that he signed a
false statement claiming that Khatib was throwing stones at a
demonstration only after his interrogator "cursed me and told me that I
should either sign or he would beat me," according to a military-court
transcript.

Another 16-year-old from Bil'in said he signed a false statement
alleging that Bil'in's Popular Committee members incited others to
throw stones because his interrogator threatened to accuse him of "many
things that I did and they were not true, that I had gas grenades,
Molotovs, that I threw stones, and I was afraid of that."

Other Palestinians detained in anti-wall demonstrations have also
alleged coercion by Israeli interrogators. A man whom lawyers say is
mentally challenged testified on January 21 that he had falsely
confessed to throwing a Molotov bomb at an Israeli army jeep after
soldiers placed him inside a cockroach-infested cell, threatened to
throw boiling water on him, and burned him with lit cigarettes,
according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The Israeli military had no record of a jeep being attacked, Haaretz reported.

The detained activists are from Ni'lin, Bil'in, and several other
Palestinian villages inside the West Bank that have been directly
affected by Israel's separation barrier. The barrier - in some places a
fence, in others an eight-meter-high concrete wall with guard towers -
was ostensibly built to protect against suicide bombers. However,
unlike a similar barrier between Israel and Gaza, it does not follow
the 1967 border between Israel and the West Bank. Instead, 85 percent
of the barrier's route lies inside the West Bank, separating
Palestinian residents from their lands, restricting their movement, and
in some places effectively confiscating occupied territory, all
unlawful under international humanitarian law.  

Lawyers for detained activists also told Human Rights Watch of cases
in which Israeli security services raided several West Bank villages
that have been the site of anti-wall demonstrations and detained and
interrogated residents, including children, and denied them access to
lawyers and family members. Israeli military orders require allowing
detainees to contact lawyers before interrogation and allowing detained
children to have family members present.

Nery Ramati, a lawyer representing several detainees, told Human
Rights Watch of three cases in which Israeli authorities refused to
allow him to speak to boys in detention, all ages 14 and 15, from the
villages of Bil'in and Budrus, or to allow the boys' relatives to be
present, before their interrogation at the Shaar Benyamin police
station. Military courts authorized the detention of one boy for a
month for allegedly throwing stones at the separation barrier. The
court ruled that there was no alternative to detention, but ignored the
fact that Israeli movement restrictions had prevented the boy's father
and uncle from presenting evidence of an alternative to detention to
the court. The boy was held in jail for an entire month, until his
uncle was able to come from Ramallah.

In several cases, Israeli military authorities took children to a
building operated by the Israeli Shin Bet security agency in the Ofer
military camp to which lawyers and family members are denied access.
Under international treaties to which Israel is a party, children may
be detained only as a last resort and for the shortest possible period
of time.

Under laws applicable in Israel and to Israeli settlers in the West
Bank, a child is anyone under 18 years old, a standard consistent with
international law. Military laws applicable to Palestinians in the West
Bank, however, define anyone over 16 as an adult. Israeli law requires
the prosecution to justify that the detention of an Israeli child is
"necessary" to prevent the child from committing illegal acts until the
trial is over, requires the court to consider documentation from a
social worker about how detention will affect the child, and limits the
period of pre-sentence detention to nine months. Israeli military laws
provide none of these safeguards for Palestinian children and allow
pre-sentence detention of up to two years.

Israeli military authorities in recent months placed two anti-wall
activists in administrative detention, failing to charge them with any
crime and detaining them on the basis of secret evidence they were not
allowed to see or challenge in court. The military detained Mohammad Othman,
34, an activist with the "Stop the Wall" organization, on September 22,
2009 when he returned to the West Bank from a trip to Norway, where he
spoke about the separation barrier and urged boycotting companies that
support Israeli human rights violations. An Israeli military court
barred Othman from seeing his lawyer and family for two weeks during
his 113-day administrative detention, before his release on January 12.

The Israeli authorities also detained Jamal Juma'a, 47, the
coordinator of the "Stop the Wall" campaign, on December 16, 2009 and
denied him access to his lawyer for nine days, except for a brief visit
at a court hearing during which Juma'a was blindfolded. Israel barred
international observers from attending a court hearing before Juma'a's
release on January 12. Both men publicly advocated non-violent protest,
including an article Juma'a published on the Huffington Post website on October 28, 2009.

Israeli military authorities have also repeatedly raided the West
Bank offices of organizations involved in non-violent advocacy against
the separation barrier. In February, the military raided the offices of
Stop the Wall and the International Solidarity Movement, both located
in Ramallah. (Israel ostensibly ceded Ramallah and other areas of the
West Bank to the control of the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo
Agreements of 1995.)

Background

 

Israeli military authorities have detained scores of Palestinians,
including children, involved in protests against the wall. According to
the Palestinian prisoners' rights group Addameer, 35 residents of
Bil'in have been arrested since June 2009, most during nighttime raids;
113 have been arrested from the neighboring village of Ni'ilin in the
last 18 months.

Israel applies military orders, issued by the commander of the
occupied territory, as law in the West Bank. Article 7(a) of Military
Order 101 of 1967 criminalizes as "incitement" any act of "attempting,
whether verbally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the Area
in a way that may disturb the public peace or public order." Military
Order 378 of 1970 imposes sentences of up to 20 years for throwing
stones.

Both Israeli and international courts have found the route of the
separation barrier in the West Bank to be illegal. The International
Court of Justice ruled in a 2004 advisory opinion that the wall's route
was illegal because its construction inside the West Bank was not
justified by security concerns and contributed to violations of
international humanitarian law applicable to occupied territory by
impeding Palestinians' freedom of movement, destroying property, and
contributing to unlawful Israeli settlement practices. Israel's High
Court of Justice has ruled that the wall must be rerouted in several
places, including near Bil'in and Jayyous, because the harm caused to
Palestinians was disproportionate, although the rulings would allow the
barrier to remain inside the West Bank in these and other areas.

The activists whom Israel has arrested in recent months organized
protests in areas directly affected by Israel's separation barrier. In
Jayyous, home to Mohammad Othman. the wall cut the village off from 75
percent of its farmland, with the aim of facilitating the expansion of
a settlement, Zufim, on that land, the Israeli human rights
organization B'Tselem says. "Stop the Wall" supported marches by
civilian protesters against the separation barrier in Jayyous. In
response to a petition from the village, Israel's Supreme Court ordered
the Israel Defense Forces to re-route the wall around Jayyous on the
grounds that the prior route was due to Zufim's expansion plans. The
Israeli military rerouted the wall in one area around Zufim after a
court proceeding, but has not rerouted the barrier elsewhere.

Abdallah Abu Rahme is from Bil'in, a village where the wall cut off
50 percent of the land. The Israeli settlement of Mattityahu East is
being built on the land to which the village no longer has access. In
September 2007, after years of protests organized by Bil'in's Popular
Committee, Israel's Supreme Court ruled that the separation barrier in
Bil'in must be rerouted to allow access to more of Bil'in's land, and
the military recently began survey work preliminary to rerouting the
barrier.

 

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Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.

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