Scales for Justice

Working towards peace and reconciliation



Israel is clearly misusing its military court system to restrict the fundamental human rights of HRDs

Unfair trial and accusations against Palestinain HRD Issa Amro and Farid Al-Atrash

Palestinian human rights defender (HRD) Issa Amro and his friend and lawyer Farid Al-Atrash are facing an unfair trial on 25 September 2016. The accusations relate to arbitrary arrests by Israeli soldiers during and after a protest in February 2016. The protest was part of the annual Open Shuhada Street Campaign organized by YAS. Accusations include the organization of illegal protests, Facebook incitement, and being in a military zone - all of which are totally unfounded. The trial is clearly aimed at punishing both activists for their human rights activities and will likely lead to new restrictions of movement and other reprisals, particularly Issa Amro, who turns out to be the main target of the operation. He is facing 18 charges and 38 witnesses for incidents dredged-up since 2010. Their case stands symbolic for the systematic reprisals against HRDs in the oPt and the UN must immediately take action.

Background of the arrests

The protest and arrest of Farid Al-Atrash

On 26 February 2016 a non-violent protest took place in Hebron, calling to re-open Hebron’s Shuhada street, lift the closed military zone in Hebron and put an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine. The protest was part of the annual Open Shuada street campaign for which Youth Against Settlements (YAS) has become prominent, with numerous events held all around the world that has received much international attention. The success of this years international campaign together with Friday’s protest likely infuriated Israeli occupation forces.

Although the protest on 26 February was totally peaceful and no stones were thrown, it was met from the outset on with excessive violence from side of the Israeli army, which fired rounds of tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber-coated steel bullets against the demonstrators. Two participants, the lawyer, Farid Al Atrash, and journalist, Mohammad Jardat, got arrested. The lawyer Farid Al-Atrash was holding a sign reading 'Free Free Palestine' when he was arrested and beaten before being taken to the Jaabara police station in the Kiryat Arba’ settlement.

According to the HR organization Frontline Defenders, the Ofer Israeli Military Court ordered an extension of Farid Al-Atrash's detention at an urgent hearing requested by the Independent Commission for Human Rights on 27 February 2016. The same day he had been transferred by the Israeli police into the custody of the military prosecution, where he was held until his release.

YAS coordinator Issa Amro was the main target

From the outset of the protest on it was clear that the Israeli soldier's main target was YAS coordinator Issa Amro. For this first time since he started his human rights activities the Israeli civil administration officer had given the direct order to arrest him and told the soldiers to shoot at him. At first  rubber bullets were shot against Issa Amro, then a sniper was brought to the scene. When the sniper aimed at him, Issa Amro left the protest for fear of being shot.

On Monday 29 February 2016, three days after the protest, Issa Amro passed through checkpoint 56 to meet an Israeli group from Breaking the silence but was already harassed on his way by an Israeli commander. Also the group from Breaking the Silence was facing problems. Although they had a special permit to access Issa Amro's house, the army refused to let them in, so the meeting needed to be held outside. While Issa Amro was responding to questions from the group soldiers came to arrest him.

Arriving at the police station the investigator accused Issa Amro of Facebook incitement and organizing an illegal protest. The investigator accused Issa Amro of being the main organizer of the Friday 26 protest and that he had disturbed soldiers on duty and escaped when they tried to arrest him. Issa Amro denied all accusations, still, the investigator continued to show Amro social media pictures from 2012, 2013, and 2014, all of which showed nonviolent events, such as the olive harvest, the Open Shuhada Street campaign, and a recent art event. One police offer told Issa Amro, that they did not legally hold anything against him, but that there were orders from above to arrest him.

Detained without any basic human rights

Issa Amro's investigation was completed in the early evening at around 5:30 p.m. and he was kept handcuffed and freezing outside in the cold before being taken to Gush Etzion at about 9:30 p.m., where he had to sleep on a metal bed with no mattress inside an overcrowded and dirty cell, without any basi human rights. There he also met Farid Al Atrash, who was psychologically completely broken. He fainted several times without receiving medical treatment. Never had his friend expected to be arrested for participating in a nonviolent protest or to be mistreated, Issa Amro said later. 

Issa Amro and Farid Al-Atrash were both released on Tuesday 1 March 2016. Farid Al-Atrash had to pay a bail of 1,500 shekels (approximately €350), Issa Amro was told to expect “an invitation to court”. The main reason he was released was his weak health condition and because Gush Etzion does not have medical facilities and other detention centers were overcrowded.

Issa Amro might be facing long-term imprisonment

The trial is particularly serious for Issa Amro, who will be tried for 18 charges, that places him under imminent risk of imprisonment. The charges have been dredged up for incidents between 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2016 and include the above described incident as well incidents the UN had already expressed copncerns about. Although none of the charges is serious in itself and although the trial is likely to take a year due to the high number of 38 witnesses, the sheer number of the charges might lead to a sentence between one and several years. Issa Amro himself fears that he will already be put into custody at the start of the trial.

Conclusions

The trial against Issa Amro and Farid Al-Atrash is clearly aimed at punishing them for their human rights activities. Their treatment as well as the accusations against them lack any foundation and Israel is clearly misusing its military court system to restrict the fundamental basic rights of HRD, including the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. the case stands symbolic for the systematic reprisals against HRDs in the oPt by Israel, that have to stop without any delay. S4J therefore demands from the UN to

  • Closely follow the trials against Issa Amro and Farid Al-Atrash
  • Express concern about allegations of mistreatment by both victims 

  • Call on the Israeli authorities to drop the trumed-up charges
  • Urge the Israeli to end their systematic haressment of Issa Amro and

  • Take all necessary measures to guarantee his protection and safety as well as
  • Guarantee in all circumstances that all HRDs in the West Bank are able to carry out their legitimate HR activities without fear of reprisals

    If you are a HRD and facing reprisals send an email to info@s4j.ch