Ed’s Note: As I participated in the December 10th TIAA-CREF Day of Action on Human Rights Day, I felt I had gained a new holiday to my calendar. At the end of the day, as I was unwinding, I received this letter from imprisoned leader Abdallah Abu Rahmah over email, and saw it posted at sites such as Huffington Post. It is a common observation among those of us who work for human rights here in the United States that we would likely be imprisoned or worse for doing the exact same kind of work as Palestinians. This letter brought the point home much more forcefully for me. My daughter just turned three. When I think of all that I would have missed in her life had I been imprisoned for the past year, her newly long and articulate sentences, her starting school, her greater ability to sleep at night and control her body, I am shaken. I hope I would have the courage that Abdallah Abu Rahmah, his family, and so many others to do this work facing those risks. Here is the message in full.
A year ago tonight, on International Human Rights Day, our apartment in Ramallah was broken into by the Israeli military in the middle of the night and I was torn away from my wife Majida, my daughters Luma and Layan, and my son Laith, who at the time was only nine months old.
As the coordinator of the Bil’in Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements I was convicted of “organizing illegal demonstrations” and “incitement.” The “illegal demonstrations” refer to the nonviolent resistance campaign that my village has been waging for the last six years against Israel’s Apartheid Wall that is being built on our land.
I find it strange that the military judges could call our demonstrations illegal and charge me for participating in and organizing them after the world’s highest legal body, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, has ruled that Israel’s wall within the occupied territories is illegal and must be dismantled. Even the Israeli supreme court ruled that the Wall’s route in Bil’in is illegal.
I have been accused of inciting violence: this charge is also puzzling. If the check points, closures, ongoing land theft, wall and settlements, night raids into our homes and violent oppression of our protests does not incite violence, what does?
Despite the occupations constant and intense incitement to violence in Bil’in, we have chosen another way. We have chosen to protest nonviolently together with Israeli and International supporters. We have chosen to carry a message of hope and real partnership between Palestinians and Israelis in the face of oppression and injustice. It is this message that the Occupation is attempting to crush through its various institutions including the military courts. An official from the Israeli Military Prosecution shamelessly told my Attorney, Gaby Lasky, that the objective of the military in my prosecution is to “put an end” to these demonstrations.
The crime of incitement that I have been convicted of is defined under Israeli military decree 101 regarding the prohibition of hostile action of propaganda and incitement as “The attempt, verbally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the Area in a way that may disturb the public peace or public order” and carries a 10 year maximal sentence. This definition is so broad and vague that it can be applied to almost any action or statement. Actually, these words could be considered incitement if they were spoken in the occupied territories.
On the 11th of October of this year I was sentenced to 12 months in prison, plus 6 months suspended sentence for 3 years, and a fine. My family and I, especially my daughters, were counting the days to my release. The military prosecution waited until just a few days before the end of my sentence before appealing against my release, arguing that I should be imprisoned longer. I have completed my sentence but remain in prison. Though international law considers myself and other activists as human rights defenders, the occupation authorities consider us criminals whose freedom and other rights must be denied.
In the year that I have spent in prison, the demonstrations in Bil’in, Naalin, Al Maasara, and Beit Omar have continued. Nabi Saleh and other villages have taken up the popular struggle. Within this year, the International campaign calling for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions of Israel until it complies with International law has grown considerably, as have legal actions against Israeli war crimes. I hope that soon Israel will no longer be able to ignore the clear condemnation of its policies coming from around the world.
In the year that I have spent in prison, my son Laith has taken his first steps and said his first words, and Luma and Layan have been growing from children to beautiful young girls. I have not been able to be with them, to walk holding their hands, to take them to school as they and I are used to. Laith does not know me now. And my wife Majida has had to care for our family alone.
In 2010 children in Bil’in and throughout the West bank are still being awakened in the middle of the night to find guns pointed at their heads. In the year that I have spent in prison, the military has carried out dozens of night raids in Bil’in with the purpose of removing those involved in the popular struggle against the occupation.
Imagine if heavily armed men forced their way into your home in the middle of the night. If your children were forced to watch as their father or brother was blindfolded, handcuffed, and taken away. Or if you as a parent were forced to watch this being done to your child.
This week the door of our cell was opened and a sixteen year boy was pushed inside. My friend Adeeb Abu Rahmeh was shocked to recognize his son, Mohammed, whom Adeeb had not seen since he himself was arrested during a nonviolent demonstration 16 months ago.
Mohammad smiled when he saw his Father, but his face was red and swollen and it was clear that he was in pain. He told us that he had been taken from his home two nights previously. He spent the first night blindfolded and shackled, being moved from one place to another. The next day after a terrifying, disoriented, and sleepless night he was taken to an interrogation room, his blindfold was removed and an interrogator showed him pictures of people from the village. When questioned about the first picture he told the interrogator that he did not recognize the person. The interrogator slapped him hard across the face. This continued with every question that Mohammad was asked: when he did not give the answer that the interrogator wanted, he was slapped, punched and threatened. Mohammad’s treatment is not unusual.
Young boys from our village have been taken from their homes violently and report being denied sleep, food, and water and being kept in Isolation and threatened and often beaten during interrogation.
What was unusual about Mohammad is that he did not satisfy his interrogator and with competent representation was released within a few days. Usually children, just because they are children, will say whatever the interrogator wants them to say to make such treatment stop. Adeeb, myself, and thousands of other prisoners are being held in prison based on testimonies forced or coerced out of these children. No child should ever receive such treatment.
When the children who had testified against me retracted what they said in interrogation and told the military judge that their testimonies where given under duress, the judge declared them hostile witnesses.
Adeeb Abu Rahmah and I are the first to be convicted with incitement and participation in illegal demonstrations since the first Intifada but, unfortunately, it does not seem that we will be the last.
I often wonder what Israeli leaders think they will achieve if they succeed in their goal of suppressing the Palestinian popular struggle? Is it possible that they believe that our people can sit quietly and watch as our land is taken from us? Do they think that we can face our children and tell them that, like us, they will never experience freedom? Or do they actually prefer violence and killing to our form of nonviolent struggle because it camouflages their ongoing theft and gives them an excuse to continue using us as guinea pigs for their weapons?
My eldest daughter Luma was nine years old when I was arrested. She is now ten. After my arrest she began going to the Friday demonstrations in our village. She always carries a picture of me in her arms. The adults try to look after her but I still worry for my little girl. I wish that she could enjoy her childhood like other children, that she could be studying and playing with her friends. But through the walls and barbed wire that separates us I hear my daughter’s message to me, saying: “Baba, they cannot stop us. If they take you away, we will take your place and continue to struggle for justice.” This is the message that I want to bring you today. From beyond the walls, the barbed wire, and the prison bars that separate Palestinians and Israelis.