Interview with Jamal Juma’, Stop the Wall campaign leader arrested by Israel December 15

Many Z Net readers are familiar with recent Palestinian nonviolent resistance against Israel’s occupation -weekly village demonstrations in the village Bil’in against the segregation wall have gotten greatest coverage in the alternative and international media. (Israel’s "segregation" or "apartheid" wall was ruled illegal in 2004 by the International Court of Justice, but Israel has pressed forward: the wall now undulates for 280 kilometers throughout the West Bank, stealing Palestinian land as it does, and annexing it, de facto, to Israel’s West Bank settlements). Similar demonstrations are staged weekly in other West Bank villages (the Bethlehem region, and the region around the Palestinian city, Qalqilya, in the north). The nonviolent movement also engages in low-profile but equally urgent efforts at land-reclamation (clearing the land of stones, planting, re-planting after settler and Israeli army destruction. (See here.) Many Palestinian activists carry the movement forward, but several people stand out for their "high-profile" leadership.

One is 47-year-old Jamal Juma’, the coordinator of the Palestinian-led Stop the Wall campaign which since 2002 has been the impetus for the village demonstrations and land reclamation efforts, as well as for other nonviolent activities. On December 15 Israeli authorities arrested him, placing him under administrative detention without charge (a common Israeli practice), forbidding him access to lawyers or to his family (he is married with three young children). Over the past three months, two other Stop the Wall activists of international reputation have been similarly imprisoned — Mohammad Othman, arrested this past fall upon his return from a speaking tour in Norway; and, earlier in December, Abdallah Abu Rahmeh, an activist from the village Bil’in.

Writing in Ha Aretz Amira Hass observes, "The purpose of the coordinated oppression: To wear down the activists and deter others from joining the popular struggle, which has proven its efficacy in other countries at other times. What is dangerous about a popular struggle is that it is impossible to label it as terror and then use that as an excuse to strengthen the regime of privileges, as Israel has done for the past 20 years."

This past October I interviewed Jamal Juma’ at Stop the Wall campaign’s offices in Ramallah. Wiry, mild in demeanor, laid-back, Juma’ struck me by his lack of any pretension or self-importance. His English is fluent; his experience evident. Israel cannot afford leaders like this, for they are not part of "the peace process," not coercible, not part of that creature of the US and Israel, the Palestinian Authority. Their threat to Israel is real democracy from the grassroots. Stop the Wall exemplifies this. Here is Juma’s description of the campaign. (For actions to take to help him and stop suppression in the West Bank, see here.)

Leaders from the First Intifada

"Our work is based on popular committees… behind the Stop the Wall campaign is a group of people my age (46). We were the youth leading the first Intifadah [1987 -- 1993, see here]. We were wanted, we were jailed, we were active in the streets, and we had this history strongly in our minds. When [Israel] started building the wall [2002] we began this campaign. . . Right after the massacres and the invasion they started building the wall immediately. [Juma' is referring to Israel's 2002 invasion of the West Bank, 'Defensive Shield,' and its massacres in the northern West Bank city, Jenin. See Rita Giacaman's report here.]

"From the first moment when we see the wall, the plans, and what they are doing on the ground, we understand immediately that this is not any new settlement, or confiscating of the land. This is a huge political project. The whole country was under siege, all the villages, and their life situation was very bad, this [was] the right time for them to start building the wall. We take on our hands and shoulders to start building a movement against the wall. [For a useful description on the singularity and purpose of the wall see Jeff Halper's article here.]

Popular Committees: grassroots democracy

"We started by building popular committees. Any village where the wall was coming through, we start building a committee. In 2005 there were 52 popular committees under the campaign umbrella. Now we [have] changed the structure. There are ten committees now, each governing a region with its villages. We like to give the committees in the area a large margin of movement — to decide upon their work, what do they want, how do they organize it. But we play our role in awareness, in strategizing with them — also with some of their expenses.

"The campaign brings together the popular committees with some of the Palestinian civil society organizations working in agriculture and different kinds of development. We make connections between the affected communities and these organizations to provide them with some of their needs. A farmer who has lost his land or they [the Israeli army, settlers] destroy his trees, we ask these organizations to fund and give him new trees, reclaim and repair his land. If they need some inputs for production [we help, for example, with] roads to the fields where roads have been destroyed. [For a description of one popular committee's work in the Bethlehem region see my "Heroism in a Vanishing Landscape: Resistance in Bethlehem's Villages."]

"So this is a grassroots movement with ten committees in each district. [Each] committee represents the villages round it, particularly the locations the wall is passing through. Every committee [has] a coordinator who represents the campaign in [its] general assembly. The general assembly is formed of representatives of the popular committees, and the representatives of civil society organizations. We have activities everyone has to participate in, like Land Day. Last Land Day we had sixteen demonstrations in all the districts. There is also Nakba Day, the yearly memory of the International Court of Justice decision [which ruled the wall illegal in 2002], and [a yearly] week against the wall, November 9 to November 16, which is national and international. Approximately 25 to 30 countries participate. There is the olive harvesting season [from] the 10th of October till the 16th of November. Every committee coordinates in the ‘hot areas’ behind the wall where settlers attack [again, see here]. We organize volunteers -youth from universities and internationals. After finishing the harvest we have a festival, which we created in 2006 — a national day.

Documentation is the second dimension of our work. Our volunteers update us all the time, about destruction of the land, attacking the people, destroying houses, we document it.

Spreading the word, supporting the people

The main strategic aim of our campaign is to keep the popular resistance standing up. We want to keep the voice against the occupation loud. That is why the demonstrations going on regularly on Fridays, in locations like Bil’in, like Ma’sara, like Jayyouz, like Nil’in, are important to us. There is nothing called a peace process. There’s a process, but no peace is coming out. So we don’t believe that anything comes out of it. We don’t believe we will obtain our rights through negotiations or the peace process. The only thing that can get our rights as a people is resistance. So the Intifada is coming. We have to be prepared for that. These popular committees and this campaign would be engines for another Intifada."

According to Amira Hass, two Israeli Shin Bet officials confirm Israel’s fear of such aims. "Yuval Diskin and Amos Yadlin, the respective heads of the Shin Bet security service and Military Intelligence . . . [in] an intelligence briefing to the cabinet . . . said: "The Palestinians want to continue and build a state from the bottom up … and force an agreement on Israel from above … The quiet security [situation] in the West Bank and the fact that the [Palestinian] Authority is acting against terror in an efficient manner has caused the international community to turn to Israel and demand progress." The Palestinian Authority has endorsed nonviolent resistance in an effort to catch up with grassroots leaders; the latter do not endorse the PA, as Jama’s remarks about the "peace process" clearly illustrate.

Ellen Cantarow has written about Israel and Palestine since 1979. She can be reached at [email protected].


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