Two prominent campaigners for the dismantlement of the fence/wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are currently held by the Israeli military.
Their arrests last year and continuing detention indicate a growing crackdown on the legitimate expression of opposition to the construction of the fence/wall through the occupied West Bank.
Abdallah Abu Rahma and Mohammed Othman are human rights activists who have been campaigning for years against the fence/wall by raising awareness about its negative impact on Palestinians, organizing grassroots opposition to it and peacefully demonstrating against it.
A third activist, Jamal Juma’ was also detained before being released on 12 January 2010.
Amnesty International said it is concerned that Abdallah Abu Rahma and Mohammed Othman have been detained solely on account of legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression in opposing the Israeli fence/wall.
The detainees have repeatedly expressed their commitment to the principle of non-violence and Amnesty International is unaware of any credible evidence that they have used or advocated violence.
If this is the case, Amnesty International considers the detainees to be prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release. Otherwise they should be brought to trial on recognizable criminal charges and in full conformity with international fair trial standards.
In June 2004 the International Court of Justice issued a unanimous advisory opinion which stated that the construction of the wall in the OPT is contrary to international law and that Israel was obliged to dismantled sections already built there and provide reparation to Palestinians affected by the construction. The Israeli government rejected these recommendations.
Furthermore, when Palestinians, together with Israeli and international supporters, have demonstrated against the fence/wall, Israeli forces have often used excessive force against them. Some demonstrations are conducted peacefully; in others, some protestors throw stones at the Israeli military or attempt to damage the fence/wall.
In the last 18 months, Israeli forces have killed six people, including a ten-year old boy, at the sites of such demonstrations and injured scores more, some very seriously. In no case have the Israeli authorities subsequently produced credible evidence that those killed posed a threat to the lives of the soldiers involved.
Many Palestinian participants in demonstrations are arrested and held briefly before being released, but a few are convicted or held in administrative detention and therefore without charge.
In September 2009, an Israeli activist, Kobi Snitz, was convicted of being present in a “closed military zone”, which the army had declared around the site of a demonstration, and, in a rare occurrence for a Jewish Israeli citizen, served a prison sentence, in this case of 20 days.
Abdallah Abu Rahma, head of the “Popular Committee Against the Wall” in the village of Bil’in, was arrested on 10 December 2009. He has subsequently been charged with three offences: incitement, stone-throwing, and possession of arms. Amnesty International understands that the last charge relates solely to his involvement in the collection of used M16 bullets and empty sound and gas grenades employed by Israeli forces to disperse demonstrators against the fence/wall and their exhibition in Bil’in museum.
Mohammed Othman, a volunteer with the “Stop the Wall” campaign, has been continuously detained without charge or trial since he was arrested by the Israeli authorities on 22 September 2009 when he returned from Norway, where he had met activist groups campaigning against the fence/wall. Amnesty International understands that he is currently held under an administrative detention order which is due to expire on 22 January 2010, but could be renewed indefinitely.
Please write to the Military Advocate General at the Israeli Defense Forces, Brigadier General Avihai Mendelblit, to ask for the immediate release of the detainees unless they are brought to trial promptly on recognizable criminal offences and in full conformity with international standards for fair trial.
Picture copyright: Neta E. / Machsom Watch