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Israelis Targeting Peaceful Anti-Occupation Grassroots Activists

by Mel Frykberg

EAST JERUSALEM - Israeli authorities are increasingly targeting and intimidating non-violent Palestinian grassroots activists involved in anti-occupation activities who are drawing increased support from the international community.

Several weeks ago masked Israeli soldiers stormed the home of Ehab Jallad from The Jerusalem Popular Committee for the Celebration of Jerusalem as the Capital of Arab Culture for 2009.

"Around 3am the soldiers started kicking and banging on the door and threatened to break it down if I didn't open immediately. My young daughters were terrified as they didn't know what was happening," recalls Jallad, a young Palestinian architect from Jerusalem.

"The soldiers then proceeded to ransack my home before confiscating my laptop, several computers, files with my contacts and my ipod. When I asked them why they were doing this and told them I wanted to call my lawyer, they told me to shut up and threatened to beat me up," Jallad told IPS.

This is just the latest incident in which the Israeli authorities have arrested and taken Jallad in for questioning over his organisation of cultural events marking East Jerusalem as the capital of Arab culture. Jallad has also been monitoring the protests outside Al-Aqsa Mosque during the last few weeks.

"The Israeli officer questioning me said he knew I was in contact with the media but stated this would not help. He further warned me that I was being monitored, and if I continued with my activities my family and I would be subjected to further raids and harassment," said Jallad.

The same morning that Jallad was arrested Israeli security forces raided a warehouse used by Jerusalem community groups and cultural events organisers.

"They vandalised material we use for cultural events and confiscated other material," Jallad told IPS.

To date Jallad has not been charged with anything. But a war between Palestinians and Israeli continues unabated over Israel's continued Judaisation of East Jerusalem.

This has involved the expulsion of Palestinian residents from their homes in the eastern sector of the city and the expropriation thereof to make way for Israeli settlers.

A number of Palestinian families continue to live in tents pitched on streets outside their former homes as they watch Israeli settlers go about their daily business in their former homes.

Periodic violence between the two groups has broken out during the last few weeks with the Israeli police selectively arresting only Palestinians.

The Jerusalem Municipality has deliberately limited building permits for East Jerusalemites despite a chronic housing shortage, while the settlement of Israeli settlers in the area has been actively encouraged. Palestinian homes built without permits are regularly destroyed.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) envisions East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Under international law East Jerusalem is part of the Palestinian occupied West Bank.

The PA has tried to counter Israel's Judaisation efforts by asserting its presence in the contested part of the city. Organising cultural events has been part of the effort.

Hatem Abdul Qader, a PA official for Jerusalem Affairs, has been arrested by Israeli security forces several times over the last few months. He has also been banned from the city for several weeks on a number of occasions.

Meanwhile, Muhammad Othman, 33, from the northern West Bank village Jayyous continues to languish in solitary confinement in a dirty Israel prison cell devoid of natural light or windows.

Othman has been labelled a "security threat" by the Israelis ever since his arrest on Sep. 22 as he crossed into the West Bank from Jordan. Othman had returned from a trip to Norway where he met with senior officials to discuss human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories. The Norwegian government has divested its funds from Elbit, an Israeli company which supplies drones and other military technology.

During his incarceration Othman has been subjected to hours of interrogation, handcuffed, seated in stress positions and denied sleep. Like Jallad he has had no involvement in military activities which could constitute a security threat to the Jewish state. He too, has not been charged with any infringement of the law.

But Othman, a political activist, has been joining the Stop the Wall Campaign against the illegal Zufim settlement built by Russian billionaire Lev Leviev. The Stop the Wall Campaign is fighting against Israel's construction of a separation barrier which separates Israel proper from the West Bank.

The wall cuts through swathes of Palestinian territory dividing Palestinians from their agricultural fields, and trapping some Palestinian communities in pockets of territory between Israel and the West Bank.

The wall was ruled illegal by the International Court at the Hague, and several years ago an Israeli high court ordered the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) to reroute parts of the wall, arguing that is compromised the livelihoods of Palestinian farmers.

Othman is also involved in the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign which has been drawing increased international support.

Othmans supporters believe his main "crimes" are his activities on behalf of the BDS which wants to see a boycott of Israel along the lines of the former boycott against apartheid South Africa.

"I think Israel is worried about its reputation amongst the international community now that more people are waking up to the human rights abuses and injustices being committed here," Jallad told IPS.

"I think in some ways we are perceived as more of a threat than an armed cell of Hamas fighters precisely because we are non-violent and what we are fighting for is reasonable."

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