The conviction of a long-time non-violence advocate from the beleaguered city of Hebron reveals Israel’s intolerance of any Palestinian resistance to its settlements, violent or non-violent.
On January 6, Issa Amro, a UN-recognized human rights defender and founder and coordinator of Youth Against Settlements, a Hebron-based group, He was sentenced in an Israeli military court near Ramallah on six counts. He was first tried in 2016 on 18 charges dating back to 2010, including incitement, insulting a soldier and participating in a march without permission. He participated in a peaceful protest calling for the reopening of Shuhada Street, the old commercial center of Hebron. The delay in bringing him to trial was likely due to his high profile and support from human rights groups in Israel and around the world.
Amro, whose family is said to have lived in Hebron for more than 10 generations, was born just a few hundred meters from where Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Palestinians in prayer at the Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994.
Following the violent period of the second intifada (2000-2004), Israel restricted the Palestinian movement by placing more than 500 barricades in the West Bank. Now that the country is going through one of the least violent periods in its history, what justification remains for maintaining most of these restrictions?
The most extreme example of these obstacles to movement is found in the Old City of Hebron, a once-vibrant commercial hub serving a population of 220,000 Palestinians from the city and surrounding villages. This historic area is now called H2, home to several hundred Jewish settlers, in violation of international law, where in one square kilometer there are 21 checkpoints with permanent staff. Palestinians are completely prohibited from using Shuhada Street.
The Old City of Hebron, where 35,000 Palestinians lived, was once a major tourist attraction with a history of Islamic pilgrimage for many centuries. What I saw when I visited in 2019 was a deserted city with most of its stores closed. Some of the closed doors were covered in ivy and other creepers. A net was placed overhead to protect occasional passersby from trash projectiles that settlers throw onto the street at their rooftop apartments. Many of the Palestinian houses have been abandoned. I walked through its attractive souks and all I could see were the occasional settlers and heavily armed Israeli soldiers prowling the streets and controlling the checkpoints. The once vibrant city was practically deserted.
Without any security rationale for these extreme restrictions in the Old City of Hebron, the old justification is disappearing and being replaced by an ideological factor, which comes down to who is allowed to live in the Old City of Hebron and who is not. There is no indication that the settlers living there are willing to coexist as good neighbors to the Palestinians. Israel considers any resistance to or even denunciation of its actions illegitimate, and takes steps to stop it. When the country refused to renew the mandate of the international observer group TIPH (Temporary International Presence in Hebron), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Announced that “we will not allow the presence of an international force to operate against us.”
It takes a strong conviction to face such injustice and respond nonviolently. This type of resistance marked the first Palestinian intifada (1987-1993). After 2000, many have tried to shoot and stab soldiers and settlers. Amro has called for and practiced nonviolent resistance, and Israel is determined to stop him.
It is not difficult to bring charges against a Palestinian living in the occupied territories. One of the charges against Amro was insulting a soldier who took away his identity card. Amro says he asked the soldier to return the card and said, “I’m not on any wanted list, and if you had called to check, you would know. But you haven’t called, I know, I’m not stupid. “The soldier insists that Amro called him stupid.
As in this and other charges against the Palestinian accused in an Israeli military court, it is his word against that of the Israeli soldier. The final arbiter is an Israeli military judge.
After a long delay in bringing this case to trial, it has now been heard before Lt. Col. Menachem Lieberman, who lives in a settlement. It will decide the sentence on February 8. If Amro is jailed, as expected, his nonviolent struggle will have to be suspended. And Israel would have succeeded in criminalizing non-violent resistance by one of its main defenders among the Palestinians.
Faced with so many difficulties against him, his only hope now is to obtain the support of those who believe in the cause of justice and the path of non-violence as the only hope to combat the injustice that is occurring in the heart of this ancient city.
• Raja Shehadeh is a Palestinian lawyer and writer, and founder of the human rights organization Al-Haq. His most recent book, Going Home: A Walk Through Fifty Years of Occupation, won the 2020 Moore Award.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism