While the Israeli and international protesters detained in Bethlehem yesterday have been released, the police extended the arrest of the ten Palestinians, including PLO Executive Committee Member, Abbas Zaki, by 96 hours under military law. A demonstration held in Bethlehem today in support of the arrestees was dispersed by the Army.
Fifteen demonstrators have been arrested yesterday by Israeli forces during a peaceful demonstration near Rachel’s Tomb protesting Israeli violations of Palestinian freedom of religion and lack of access to Jerusalem. The demonstrators marked Palm Sunday and demanded to exercise the centuries old Christian tradition of pilgrimage to Jerusalem on that day. In a clear act of racial discrimination, the Israelis and international were released with a slap on the wrist that same night, while the police extended the arrest of all ten Palestinians by 96 hours.
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After soldiers tried to stop the procession at a checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem near Rachel’s Tomb, demonstrators overwhelmed the few soldiers positioned there with their numbers, and peacefully continued to march towards Jerusalem. They were, however, stopped by a large contingent of Israeli Police officers a few hundred meters into Jerusalem. When the crowed could not advance farther, a number of Palestinian dignitaries held speeches, after which the protesters began retreating back towards Bethlehem.
It was at that point, that the police began its unprovoked assault at the demonstrators, making fifteen arrests, including those of Abbas Zaki of the PLO Executive Committee, four members of local popular committees and an AP photographer. Abbas Zaki is one of the most prominent Palestinian leaders to have been arrested in grassroots demonstrations in recent years. His arrest has stirred vocal protest by PA officials in this already tense period.
All demonstrators were arrested under the exact same circumstances, and on the same suspicions. The four Israelis and one international detained during the incident, were released that same evening. The Palestinians, however, were subjected to much harsher treatment. The police extended the arrest of all ten of them by 96 hours, which are likely to be extended by another 96 hours even before they will be brought before a judge.
While Israelis and internationals are, as a matter of policy, subject to Israeli law, which only allows for a 24 hours detention by the police, Palestinians are subject to Israeli Military Law, which allows for their detention for a period of eight days before being brought in front of a judge. This blunt policy of racial discrimination is applied even in cases where Palestinians and Israelis are arrested together and under the same circumstances, and despite the fact that both Palestinians and Israelis are, in theory, subject to the Israeli Military Law when in the Occupied Territories.
The Army had also used concussion grenades to disperse a demonstration in support of the ten arrestees in Bethlehem today. One demonstrator was lightly injured after a grenade hit his back.