Elders’ chair, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has expressed his deep concern about the arrest and indictment of Abdallah Abu Rahmah of Bil’in and has called for his unconditional release.
Abu Rahmah is a school teacher and coordinator of the Bil’in Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements, which has carried out a five year campaign of non-violent protest and legal challenge against the wall that separates Israel from the West Bank.
“My fellow Elders and I met Abu Rahmah and his colleague Mohammad Khatib in August when we visited Bil’in,” said Desmond Tutu. “We were impressed by their commitment to peaceful political action, and their success in challenging the wall that unjustly separates the people of Bil’in from their land and their olive trees. I call on Israeli officials to release Abu Rahmah immediately and unconditionally.”
Abu Rahmah was arrested by Israeli soldiers at 2am on 10 December 2009 and indicted on 22 December 2009 on several counts stemming from his leadership role in the Popular Committee. On 15 September Mohammad Khatib was severely beaten during a raid attempting to arrest Abu Rahmah. Since 23 June 2009, 31 residents of Bil’in have been arrested.
“Abu Rahmah’s arrest and indictment is part of an escalation by the Israeli military to try to break the spirit of the people of Bil’in,” said Tutu. “But they must realize that they cannot break the spirit of those who fight for freedom and justice.”
Abu Rahmah met six members of The Elders on 27 August 2009. The Elders visited the site of Bil’in’s weekly demonstrations near the separation barrier and also saw the memorial site paying tribute to Abu Rahmah’s cousin Bassem Abu Rahmah who was killed when he was hit in the chest by a tear gas canister during one of the demonstrations. (see photo)
The Elders who visited Bil’in were Desmond Tutu, Ela Bhatt, Gro Brundtland, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson. For more information go to www.theElders.org/middle-east
Abdallah Abu Rahmah
Abdallah Abu Rahmah was indicted in an Israeli military court on Tuesday, 22 December 2009. Abu Rahmah was charged with arms possession for collecting used tear gas canisters shot at demonstrators in Bil’in by the army and showcasing them in his home. The indictment also includes incitement and stone throwing charges.
On receiving the indictment Adv. Gaby Lasky, Abu Rahmah’s lawyer said that “the army shoots at unarmed demonstrators, and when they try to show the world the violence used against them by collecting presenting the remnants – they are persecuted and prosecuted. What’s next? Charging protesters money for the bullets shot at them?”
Abdallah Abu Rahmah was arrested from his West Bank home on 10 December, the International Human Rights Day. Seven military jeeps surrounded his house, broke open the door, and after briefly allowing him to say goodbye to his family; the army blindfolded and took him into custody.
Abdallah has been a member of the Bil’in Popular Committee since its conception in 2004. Following the initial construction of Israel’s wall on Bil’in’s lands in March 2005, Abdallah has participated in organizing almost daily direct actions and demonstrations against the theft of their lands. Garnering the attention of the international community with their creativity and perseverance, Bil’in has become a symbol for Palestinian popular resistance. Almost five years later, Bil’in continues to have weekly Friday protests.
As its coordinator, Abdallah has represented the village around the world. In June 2009, he traveled to Montreal to attend the village’s precedent-setting legal case against two Canadian companies illegally building settlements on Bil’in’s land and participate in a speaking tour. In December of 2008, he participated in a speaking tour in France, and on 10 December 2008, exactly a year before his arrest, Abdallah traveled to Germany on behalf of Bil’in, to accept the Carl Von Ossietzky Medal for outstanding service in the realization of basic and human rights, awarded by the International League for Human Rights.
Abu Rahmah’s arrest is seen as part of an escalation in Israeli military’s attempts to break the spirit of the people of Bil’in, their popular leadership, and the popular struggle as a whole – aimed at crushing demonstrations against the Wall. Recently, Adv. Gaby Lasky, who represents many of Bil’in’s detainees, was informed by the military prosecution that the army intends to use legal measures as a means of ending the demonstrations.
Located 12 kilometers west of Ramallah and 4 km east of the Green Line, Bil’in is an agricultural village spanning 4,000 dunams (988 acres) with approximately 1,800 residents.
While construction of the Wall and opposition to it began in 2005, the majority of land had been expropriated from Bil’in earlier.
Starting in the early 1980’s, and more significantly in 1991, approximately 56% of Bil’in’s agricultural land was declared ‘State Land’ for the construction of the settlement bloc Modi’in Illit (Modi’in Illit currently holds the largest settler population of any settlement bloc, with over 42,000 residents and plans to achieve a population of 150,000).
In addition to grassroots organizing, Bil’in has held annual conferences on popular resistance since 2006; providing a forum for villagers, activists and academics to discuss strategies for the unarmed struggle against the Occupation.
Bil’in embraced legal measures against Israel as part of its multi-lateral resistance to the theft of their livelihoods. The village first turned to the courts in the winter of 2004. Three years after they initiated legal proceedings, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that due to illegal construction in part of Modi’in Illit, unfinished housing could not be completed and that the route of the Wall be moved several hundred meters west, returning 25% of Bil’in’s lands to the village. To date, the high court ruling has not been implemented and construction continues.
In July 2008, Bil’in commenced legal proceedings before the Superior Court of Quebec against Green Park International Inc and Green Mount International Inc for their involvement in constructing, marketing and selling residential units in the Mattityahu East section of Modi’in Illit
In an effort to stop the popular resistance in Bil’in, Israeli authorities intimidate demonstrators with physical violence and arrests.
Israeli armed forces have used sound and shock grenades, water cannons, rubber-coated steel bullets, tear-gas grenades, tear-gas canisters, high velocity tear-gas projectiles, 0.22 caliber live ammunition and live ammunition against protesters. On 17 April 2009, Bassem Abu Rahma was shot with a high-velocity tear gas projectile in the chest by Israeli forces and subsequently died from his wounds at a Ramallah hospital.
Out of the 78 residents who have been arrested in connection to demonstrations against the Wall, 31 were arrested after the beginning of a night raid campaign on 23 June 2009. Israeli armed forces have been regularly invading homes and forcefully searching for demonstration participants, targeting the leaders of the Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements, as well as teenage boys accused of throwing stones at the Wall. 13 currently remain in detention, 4 of which are minors.