Israeli soldiers arrest human rights defender Issa Amro
On February 29, the Israeli army arrested Youth Against Settlements (YAS) coordinator Issa Amro outside his home in Tel Rumeida. No initial reason was given for the arrest, but later he was accused of Facebook incitement and organizing an illegal demonstration. He was kept in jail over the night and released at 1 p.m. the following day. Issa fears that he may still be ordered to appear in court.
The arrest is part of a renewed campaign by Israeli forces against leading members of the popular resistance and clearly aimed at discouraging human rights defenders from Youth Against Settlements (YAS) from exercising their legal right to peacefully protest against the illegal occupation and expansion of settlements by sharing information from the ground.
Issa Amro’s arrest came few days after a nonviolent protest held by YAS on 26 February 2016, that called to re-open Hebron’s Shuhada street, lift the closed military zone in Hebron and put an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine. Although the protest 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. One activist, Mufeed Sharabati, had to be taken to the hospital after a stun grenade exploded next to him. Two participants, the lawyer, Farid Al Atrash, and journalist, Mohammad Jardat, got arrested.
The protest was part of an international Open Shuada street campaign organized by YAS with numerous events held all around the world that received much international attention including by German parliament members. The success of the international campaign together with Friday’s protest likely infuriated Israeli occupation forces and prompted them to arrest Amro.
Already during the protest Israeli forces had tried to get hold of Issa Amro. For this first time since he started his human rights activities, Amro accounted, the Israeli civil administration officer had given the order to arrest him and told the soldiers to shoot at him. At first three rubber bullets were shot towards 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, despite the fact that no violence was employed by any of the protestors at this moment.
When on Monday 29 February 2016 Issa Amro passed through checkpoint 56 to meet an Israeli group from Breaking the silence, he was stopped by a commander who asked for his phone number before allowing him to continue his way. Despite Breaking the Silence having a special permit that grants the group access to Issa Amro’s house, which also functions as YAS media center, the army refused to let the group in, so the meeting needed to be held outside. While Issa Amro was responding to questions from the group about the situation in Hebron soldiers came to arrest him. The incident was recorded by Youth Against Settlements activist, Ahmad Azzeh.
Arriving at the police station the investigator, who only spoke Hebrew, accused Issa Amro of Facebook incitement and organizing an illegal protest. The investigator told him that the civil administration had denounced him as 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 explained to the investigator that the civil administration obviously held a personal grudge against him because he had exposed their corruption several times and that the issue therefore was personal. He further said that he only participated in purely nonviolent actions and had merely been a participant in Friday’s protest. In order to prove his point, the investigator however continued to show Amro social media pictures from 2012, 2013, and 2014, all of which showing nonviolent events, such as the olive harvest, the Open Shuhada Street campaign, and a recent art event.
The investigation was completed in the early evening at around 5:30 p.m. and Amro was kept handcuffed and freezing outside in the cold before being taken to Gush Etzion at about 9:30 p.m.
Issa Amro recalls that a police officer stated that they did not legally hold anything against him, but that there were orders from above to arrest him. Amro describes Gush Etzion as “very crowded, dirty, and without any basic rights.” He had to sleep on a metal bed with no mattress. Inside the jail he met lawyer Farid Al Atrash, who had been arrested the day of the demonstration. “Psychologically he was completely broken,” Amro stated, as the lawyer had never expected to be arrested for participating in a nonviolent protest or to be mistreated. He fainted several times without receiving medical treatment.
Issa Amro was released on Tuesday 1 March 2016 around 1 p.m., about 24 hours after his arrest. He was told by the police officers to expect “an invitation to court”. He understands that 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.
Following his release Issa Amro wrote: “On Monday 29 February I was arrested by the Israel military. Police spokesperson, Luba Samri, said that I was arrested for organizing a violent protest, incitement on Facebook, and evading arrest by the army. None of these things are true. I am well known as a nonviolent organizer and the army is aware that I never have used violence in any form. Despite this, I was arrested, interrogated, and ill-treated, including being blindfolded and left in handcuffs. It is a kind of intimidation to stop the nonviolent activities and to stop any person from speaking loud against the occupation and human rights violations.”
Since several months already Israeli foces have been putting increased pressure on YAS through raids, intimidations and arrests and temporarily closing down the YAS center by declaring the area around it a military zone.