Abdallah Abu Rahmah, coordinator of the Bil'in Popular Committee, made the news this summer after the EU's foreign policy chief issued a statement condemning Abu Rahmah's conviction in an Israeli military court on August 24 of "incitement"—an intentionally vague charge that criminalizes freedom of speech—and of organizing "illegal" demonstrations.
Abu Rahmah, a school teacher, has been imprisoned at the Ofer military prison since December 10, 2009, International Human Rights Day no less. Israeli soldiers raided his home in the middle of the night and dragged him from his bed in front of his family, which included three young children.
Israeli soldiers arrest activist after demonstrators locked themselves to a fence—photo from www.bilin-village.org
The protests that Abu Rahmah was convicted of organizing began on December 16, 2004, the day Israeli military bulldozers first came to uproot olive trees in the Palestinian village and plant a wall in their stead. Since that day we have held hundreds of demonstrations, in which Israelis and internationals joined Palestinians to say no to Israeli apartheid and yes to partnership in peace based on justice. In Bil'in we believe that creativity and hope are our most effective tools to break the shackles of occupation.
In July 2004, months before the construction of Israel's barrier on Bil'in's lands began, the International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled that the wall Israel was constructing in the occupied Palestinian territory was illegal and must be dismantled. The ruling reiterated that Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories were also illegal under International law.
Israel, however, continued constructing the wall and the settlements. The impunity Israel enjoys regarding these violations erodes people's faith that international law and human rights are relevant to our lives. Many of us feel that human rights are something the West enjoys speaking of, but that they are reserved for others. We believe that for things to change there must be a price for Israel's flouting of international law and that this price can best be drawn through nonviolent means.
Every day, more and more Palestinians choose to oppose injustice and occupation with grassroots unarmed resistance, challenging Israeli hegemony. Threatened by our movement's growth, Israel has launched a campaign of repression, targeting activists and members of popular committees across the West Bank with arrests and violence.
A Palestinian outpost built in a part of Bil'in that is separated from the village by the Apartheid Wall—photo from www.bilin-village.org
Last March, in another draconian attack on free speech, the lands of Bil'in, and the neighboring village of Ni'ilin, where regular weekly protests against the theft of their lands are also held, were declared closed military zones for a period of six months.
Between February 2004 and June 2009, 20 unarmed demonstrators have been killed, hundreds imprisoned, and thousands injured. The soldiers and settlers who regularly violate international law do so with almost complete impunity while Palestinian civilians who organize protests are charged with incitement and organizing illegal demonstrations.
In fact, it is only by coincidence that I was not imprisoned in Ofer together with my friend Abu Rahmah. Like Abdallah, I was arrested by soldiers who broke into my home at the middle of the night. Like Abdallah, I, too, was charged with incitement and organizing demonstrations and accused of throwing stones.
Their mistake was that, unlike in Abu Rhamah's case, they tried to use unlawfully extracted testimonies of minors and a falsified picture of me with a stone in my hand. But I was lucky. I had been abroad on the date that the picture was taken and could prove that I was not the person in the picture. When the fraud became evident, the judge had no choice but to order my release. Otherwise, like many other Palestinian organizers and activists, I would have been considered dangerous and held at least until the end of my trial, which is still ongoing.
If what Abdallah has done is illegal, then we are all proud offenders. Israel better round us up and throw us in its jails and prisons by the hundreds as the perverse reality Israel has created means that we must continue to defy Israeli military law in order to achieve our human rights.
The EU's statement denouncing Abu Rahmah's conviction is an important first step. But it must be followed by serious action to ensure that Israel does not use the resumption of negotiations to hide behind while entrenching the occupation. Until such steps are taken, no one who dares to protest and challenge Israel's occupation is safe.
Mohammed Khatib is the secretary of the Bil'in village council and the coordinator of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee.