Friday, July 02, 2010

Israel Convicts Grassroots Activist to Two Years' Imprisonment [Non-violent Demos On Trial]

 Adeeb Abu Rahme during a protest against the wall in Bilin. (Hamde Abu Rahme)

On 30 June grassroots activist Adeeb Abu Rahmah was sentenced by Israel to two years imprisonment at a military court hearing at the Ofer Military Complex in the occupied West Bank. Abu Rahmah already spent 11 months behind bars and his arrest and detention is part of Israel's repressive efforts to criminalize the grassroots popular resistance to the Israeli occupation.

Adeeb Abu Rahmah is known for his vibrant presence at the occupied West Bank village of Bilin's weekly demonstrations against Israel's wall and for his commitment to popular nonviolent resistance. A founding member of the Bilin Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, Abu Rahmah was arrested at a nonviolent demonstration on 10 July 2009 and later indicted by the military prosecution on grounds of "incitement," "activity against public order," and "being present in a closed military zone."

Abu Rahmah has repeatedly affirmed his commitment to nonviolent resistance. He has also denied all charges, aside from acknowledging his participation in the weekly demonstrations. Although his release was initially ordered on 16 July 2009, the prosecution later appealed the decision and Abu Rahmah was remanded into custody for the duration of his legal proceedings.

Many contend that Israel's investigation of Abu Rahmeh was flawed from the very beginning, and the Israeli military court system is notorious for its lack of respect for international standards of fair trial and detention. A 5 March 2010 Human Rights Watch report particularly highlighted many due process concerns where investigations regarding Palestinian anti-wall demonstrators are concerned, citing charges based on "questionable evidence and allegedly coerced confessions."

According to Iyad Burnat, Head of the Bilin Popular Committee, the Israeli military in Abu Rahmah's case "relied on the forced confessions of four Bilin youth -- one 14, one 15 and two 16 years of age -- to convict Adeeb for having told them to throw stones."

Burnat added: "This problem is not confined to Bilin and has also emerged in other villages."

Attorney Gaby Lasky, who is representing Abu Rahmah, noted that the testimony from the minors in question was provided under considerable duress. "They were arrested at 3:30am, they were handcuffed and blindfolded," she said. "They were then interrogated at 2pm the next day, without having eaten or having had a chance to use the washroom."

Israeli military authorities claim that they questioned the youths to determine who threw the stones, and the youths identified Abu Rahmah as having done so.

"Yet, several times, the demonstrators had thrown leaflets and other innocuous objects at the soldiers. We are arguing that the police investigation was so lacking that they didn't even ask the youth what Adeeb had specifically said," Lasky explained.

Lasky also noted that the youth were questioned by an interrogator who was not a specialist in questioning children, and the interrogation was carried out without the presence of a lawyer or the children's parents. Human Rights Watch states that such practices directly contravene provisions under Israeli Military Orders that allow detainees to contact lawyers and grant child detainees the right to have a parent present during their interrogations.

The credibility of the investigation was also challenged when Lasky learned that a special army unit was filming the demonstrations and that the footage was being submitted as evidence against Abu Rahmah. When Lasky subsequently attempted to get ahold of the footage, however, she was told that all the cassettes had been erased.

"Under different circumstances, this might have been enough to acquit him," Lasky said. "There have been many problems with the investigation and we had hoped that the court would take this into consideration."

Ultimately, Abu Rahmah's trial may portend broader implications where the popular resistance is concerned. "Adeeb's indictment and conviction raise much bigger questions," Lasky explained. "The trial is really against the demonstrations as a whole." Indeed, Abu Rahmah's indictment may signal an escalation in the use of legal strategies as a means of quelling the popular resistance.

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