Israel’s war on protest




Jonathan Cook


A
Palestinian protester waits for the Israeli military at a demonstration
against the separation wall in the West Bank village f Ni`lin
19 June 2009 [MaanImages/Jared Malsin]

Ma’an, February 12, 2010

Jerusalem – The Israeli courts ordered the release last week of two
foreign women arrested by the army in the West Bank in what
human-rights lawyers warn has become a wide-ranging clampdown by Israel
on non-violent protest from international, Israeli and Palestinian
activists.

The arrest of the two women during a nighttime raid on the Palestinian
city of Ramallah that saw soldiers enter their home, highlighted a new
tactic by Israeli officials: using immigration police to try to deport
foreign supporters of the Palestinian cause.

A Czech woman was deported last month after she was seized from her
Ramallah home by a special unit known as Oz, originally established to
arrest migrant laborers working illegally inside Israel.

Human rights lawyers said Israel’s new offensive is intended to
undermine a joint non-violent struggle by international activists and
Palestinian villagers challenging a land grab by Israel as it builds
the separation wall on farmland in the West Bank.

In what Israel’s daily Haaretz newspaper called a "war on protest,"
last month, Israeli security forces launched a series of raids in the
West Bank starting in the end of 2009, detaining Palestinian community
leaders organizing protests against the wall.

"Israel knows that the non-violence struggle is spreading and that it’s
a powerful weapon against the occupation," said Neta Golan, an Israeli
activist based in Ramallah. "Israel has no answer to it, which is why
the security forces are panicking and have started making lots of
arrests."

The detention the internationals Ariadna Marti, 25, of Spain, and
Bridgette Chappell, 22, of Australia, both working with the
International Solidarity Movement (ISM), suggests a revival of a
long-running struggle between Israel and ISM, a group of activists who
join Palestinians in non-violently opposing the Israeli occupation.

The last major confrontation, a few years into the second intifada,
resulted in a brief surge of deaths and injuries of international
activists at the hands of the Israeli army. Most controversially,
Rachel Corrie, from the US, was run down and killed by an army
bulldozer in 2003 as she stood by a home in Gaza threatened with
demolition.

Ms Golan, a co-founder of the ISM, said Israel had sought to demonize
the group’s activists in the Israeli and international media. "Instead
of representing our struggle as one of non-violence, we are portrayed
as ‘accomplices to terror’," she said.

Targeting the internationals caused an escalation into the violation of
already limited Palestinian sovereignty. The first entry of Israeli
immigration police into a Palestinian-controlled area of the West Bank,
the so-called "Area A," occurred during the arrest of the Czech woman.
Eva Novakova, 28, had recently been appointed the ISM’s media
coordinator. She was detained because she allegedly overstayed her
tourist visa and was deported before she could appeal to the courts.

Human rights lawyers say such actions are illegal

Omer Shatz, the lawyer representing Marti and Chappell, said a military
operation into an area like Ramallah could not be justified to round up
activists with expired visas. "The activists are not breaking any laws
in Ramallah," he said. "The army and immigration police are effectively
criminalizing them by bringing them into Israel, where they need such a
visa."

Some officials in the Palestinian Authority (PA) said they were
increasingly unhappy at Israeli abuses of security arrangements dating
from the Oslo era. PA President Mahmoud Abbas described the Israeli
operations into Area A as "incursions and provocations," following the
execution of three Fatah affiliates in Nablus.

Although the supreme court released the two women on bail on Monday,
while their deportation was considered, it banned them from entering
the West Bank and ordered each pay an 800 US dollar bond.

The judges questioned the right of the army to hand over the women to
immigration police from a military prison in the West Bank, but left
open the issue of whether the operation would have been legal had the
transfer occurred in Israeli territory.

The Spanish government reportedly asked the Israeli ambassador in Spain to promise that Marti would not be deported.

Marti said she and Chappell were woken at 3am on Sunday by "15 to 20
soldiers who aimed their guns at us." The pair were asked for their
passports and then handcuffed. Later, she said, they were offered the
choice "either we agree to immediate expulsion or that we will be
jailed for six months."

On Wednesday, shortly after the court ruling, the army raided the ISM’s
office in Ramallah again, seizing computers, T-shirts and bracelets
inscribed with "Palestine."

"Israel has managed to stop most international activists from getting
here by denying them entry at the borders," said Ms Golan. "But those
who do get in then face deportation if they are arrested or try to
renew their visa."

ISM has been working closely with a number of local Palestinian popular
committees in organizing weekly demonstrations against Israel’s theft
of Palestinian land under cover of the building of the wall.

The protests made headlines only intermittently, usually when
international or Israeli activists have been hurt or killed by Israeli
soldiers. Palestinian injuries mostly go unnoticed.

In one incident that threatened to embarrass Israel, Tristan Anderson,
38, an American ISM member, was left brain-damaged in March after a
soldier fired a tear-gas canister at his head during a demonstration
against the wall in the Palestinian village of Ni’lin.

Targeting community leaders

In addition to regular arrests of Palestinian protesters, Israel
recently adopted a new tactic of rounding up community leaders and
holding them in long-term administrative detention. A Haaretz editorial
called these practices "familiar from the darkest regimes."

Abdallah Abu Rahman, a schoolteacher and head of the popular committee
in the village of Bilin, has been in jail since December for arms
possession. The charge refers to a display he created at his home of
used tear gas canisters fired by the Israeli army at demonstrators.

On Monday, the offices of Stop the Wall, an umbrella organization for
the popular committees, was raided, and its computers and documents
taken. Two coordinators of the group, Jamal Juma and Mohammed Othman,
were released from jail last month after mounting international
pressure.

The Israeli police also have been harshly criticized by the courts for
beating and jailing dozens of Israeli and Palestinian activists
protesting against the takeover of homes by settlers in the East
Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Last month, Hagai Elad, the head of Israel?s largest human rights law
centre, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, was among 17 freed
by a judge after demonstrators were detained for two days by police,
who accused them of being "dangerous".

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel.
His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran
and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing
Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair" (Zed Books). His
website is www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

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