Amnesty International has condemned the conviction by an Israeli military court of a Palestinian non-violent political activist who has been detained since last December because of his involvement in protesting against the fence/wall which the Israeli authorities have been building largely on Palestinian land.
Abdallah Abu Rahma, head of the "Popular Committee Against the Wall" in the West Bank village of Bil'in, was found guilty of "organizing and participating in an illegal demonstration" and "incitement" by an Israeli military court on Tuesday.
He was acquitted of two other charges of "stone-throwing", and "possession of arms". He is expected to be sentenced within the next few weeks and could face up to 10 years in prison. He remains in custody awaiting sentence.
"In prosecuting Abdallah Abu Rahma, the Israeli authorities appear to be seeking to punish him and to deter others from participating in legitimate protests," said Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa programme.
"Abdallah Abu Rahma now faces imprisonment for exercising his right to freedom of expression in protesting against the construction of the fence/wall."
Abdallah Abu Rahma is a school teacher and well-known political activist who through peaceful means has sought to raise international awareness of the human rights violations suffered by Palestinians because of Israel's fence/wall.
The villagers of Bil'in, together with Palestinian, Israeli and international supporters, have been holding weekly demonstrations for the last five years in protest against the fence/wall and the confiscation of their land by the Israeli authorities for its construction.
The arrests of Abdallah Abu Rahma and other prominent activists against the fence/wall – including Mohammed Othman, and Jamal Juma' – have been part of a crackdown on those voicing their opposition to the construction of the fence/wall.
Mohammed Othman and Jamal Juma' were released uncharged in January 2010 following international appeals.
In 2008 the Bil’in Popular Committee was awarded the Carl Von Ossietzky Medal for Outstanding Service in the Realization of Basic Human Rights by the Berlin-based International League for Human Rights in Berlin.
The Israeli 700-kilometre fence/wall runs from north to south of the West Bank, encircling Palestinian villages as well as whole neighbourhoods in and around East Jerusalem.
Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are subjected to Israeli military laws including Order No. 101, “Order Regarding Prohibition of Incitement and Hostile Propaganda Actions” which was established shortly after the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967.
The order enables sweeping restrictions to be placed on freedom of expression, requiring any proposed gathering of 10 or more persons “for a political purpose of for a matter that could be interpreted as political” or even to “to discuss such a topic” to obtain a permit in advance from the commander of the Israeli military forces in the area.
This year there has been a dramatic increase in the use of the Order No. 101 particularly against Palestinians who organize demonstrations against Israel’s fence/wall.
The majority of the fence/wall is not built on the "Green Line" (the 1949 armistice line which separates the State of Israel from the occupied West Bank) but is located on Palestinian land inside the West Bank, separating Palestinian towns, villages, communities and families from each other and vital services, as well as cutting off Palestinian farmers from their land.
In June 2004 the International Court of Justice issued a unanimous advisory opinion stating that the construction of the wall in the OPT is contrary to international law and that Israel was obliged to dismantle sections already built there and provide reparation to Palestinians affected by the construction. The Israeli government rejected these recommendations.
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 protesters throw stones at the Israeli military or attempt to damage the fence/wall.