Rights and Accountability 7 July 2017
Issa Amro, left, gave members of Congress, including Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, front center, a tour of the Israeli-occupied city of Hebron, in 2016. (Youth Against Settlements)
Amro – founder of the organization Youth Against Settlements – faces 18 charges, ranging from “insulting an Israeli soldier” to “assault.” The charges have been condemned as baseless and politically motivated by Amnesty International.
Amro, a 37-year-old living in Hebron, nonetheless knows there is a strong likelihood that he will be convicted.
“Under Israeli military law, I am already convicted,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “It [Ofer] is a racist court in an apartheid system.”
But he added that the letter will help reduce the amount of prison time he is sentenced to and will help other human rights activists. “The letter recognizes and legitimizes our struggle to obtain our human rights,” he said.
“Deluge of charges”
The members of Congress voicing support appear to be aware that the charges are false. Amro has been accusedof calling an Israeli soldier “stupid.” But Amro maintains that he said of himself “I am not stupid” after the soldier in question had taken his identity card.
Amro denies the two allegations of assault he faces and notes he was the injured party in each case. An advocate of nonviolence, Amro has headed off attacks on Israeli soldiers.
The case will be challenging.
Amro will face 38 witnesses, all of them soldiers and settlers who illegally occupy Palestinian land in the West Bank.
Last year, several members of the US Congress toured Hebron with Amro. Following the tour, Amro wrote: “I saw the familiar look of shock on their faces as they experienced apartheid in person: the streets divided in half with one side for Jews and the other for Palestinians, the doors of Palestinian shops sealed shut by the Israeli military, the detention of Palestinian civilians for no reason, and the ceaseless taunting and harassment from settlers directed at a community just trying to survive.”
Amnesty International has expressed support for Amro. Magdalena Mughrabi, an Amnesty representative, said in November last year: “The deluge of charges against Issa Amro does not stand up to any scrutiny. In their determination to silence him and stifle his human rights work, the Israeli authorities have apparently even reopened a closed case file. If he is convicted, we will consider Issa Amro a prisoner of conscience.”
Josh Ruebner, policy director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, described the letter from the members of Congress as “significant not only because it echoes calls by Amnesty International for Israel to drop its spurious charges against a well-known Palestinian activist; it is also important because the letter critiques the entirety of the Israeli military judicial system and backs Palestinians’ freedom of expression to protest Israeli occupation and settlements.”
“The fact that 32 members of Congress signed this letter shows that it is becoming easier politically to publicly support Palestinian rights,” Ruebner noted. “In recent years, similar ‘dear colleague’ letters have failed to attract more than 20 signatures. This increase is a reflection of both more concerted congressional engagement by activists in the Palestine solidarity movement and the growing support for Palestinian rights within the base of the Democratic Party.”
Scores of Democrats are nonetheless absent from its list of signatories. Congress remains very much in the corner of Israel and its military.
Jan Schakowsky and Jamie Raskin, both members of the House of Representatives, wrote their own letter of support for Amro, but were quite cautious with their wording. Schakowsky and Raskin could not even bring themselves to mention the larger context of occupation. That is akin to speaking up for a South African political prisoner in the 1980s without mentioning apartheid.
They made sure to assert their pro-Israel position repeatedly. “We strongly encourage you to urge Israeli authorities to prosecute and punish all violent conduct within its jurisdiction but to guarantee due process and respect the rights of Palestinians to engage in nonviolent human rights advocacy,” they wrote.
This suggests that they regard armed Palestinian resistance against Israeli military forces as a crime that can be prosecuted in Israeli courts rather than resistance protected by international law against an occupying foreign power. They are not nearly so explicit in suggesting what should be done with violent Israeli soldiers and settlers harassing, injuring and killing Palestinian civilians.
No doubt the letters are helpful to Amro in the face of the charges being brought against him. But they also point to the severe limits politicians – even the well-meaning – place on themselves when it comes to Palestine.
The letter does put Israel on notice: Israel and its military courts are being closely watched for rights violations by some Democratic politicians – and by the grassroots organizations that successfully pushed for signatures.