In yet another sign that the Democratic left is determined to stand up for Palestinian human rights, 34 congresspeople have signed letters supportive of Issa Amro, the courageous and non-violent leader of protest actions in occupied Hebron who has been accused by Israel of 18 charges going back to 2010, including “insulting a soldier,” “assault” and demonstrating without a permit.
Two letters have gone out in recent days to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to press Israel to drop the trumped-up charges aimed at shutting down/imprisoning the globally-recognized activist. The stronger letter cites Israel’s farcical conviction rate for Palestinians in occupation: over 99 percent. The milder of the two letters says Amro studied Gandhi and the U.S. civil rights movement.
Here’s the stronger letter, signed by 32 Congresspeople, all Democrats, at the Institute for Middle East Understanding website.
Dear Secretary Tillerson:
We write to request that you urgently pursue all diplomatic tools at your disposal to encourage the appropriate Israeli authorities to reconsider the charges against Issa Amro, a community leader, nonviolent activist and previous recipient of the United Nations’ “Human Rights Defender of the Year in Palestine” award. He faces charges described by Amnesty International as “baseless” and “politically motivated” within Israel’s military court system, which could result in years of imprisonment. United Nations human rights experts expressed concern that Mr. Amro is “being unfairly targeted due to his legitimate and peaceful human rights work.”
Mr. Amro founded a Hebron-based advocacy group that counsels Palestinian youth on nonviolent means of opposing Israeli settlement activities. President Trump himself recognizes illegal settlement activity is unhelpful to achieving a lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. In 2011, Mr. Amro was a guest of the State Department as part of its International Visitor Leadership Program. In 2016, the State Department highlighted Mr. Amro’s military court case in its Human Rights Report among its main concerns regarding freedom of peaceful assembly in Israel and the Occupied Territories. A representative of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv attended Mr. Amro’s court hearing in November of last year alongside representatives of other concerned governments such as Germany, the United Kingdom, and Spain.
We fear that Israeli military courts deliberating over Mr. Amro’s charges will be unlikely to render a fair and impartial verdict given that the conviction rate within that system is 99.74 percent.
Indeed, among the 18 charges that Israeli authorities allege against Mr. Amro, several—such as “participating in a march without a permit”—are not internationally recognizable criminal offenses. Amnesty International noted that a charge of assault supposedly committed by Mr. Amro in March 2013 would have been physically impossible, as Amro had already been arrested and video evidence clearly shows another man responsible for the incident. Unfortunately, such inconsistencies do not tend to deter legal action within this forum: as respected Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has observed of Israel’s military courts, “the threshold for meeting the requirement of prima facie evidence is so low that it poses no obstacle to the prosecution.”
Peaceful protest has been widely recognized as a fundamental right both in the United States and abroad. Although we strongly support Israel’s right and, indeed, obligation to ensure the security of its citizens, we also support the right of Palestinians to peacefully politically organize and demonstrate. We ask that you take any and all measures to urge Israeli authorities to reconsider the charges against Mr. Amro, a principled and internationally recognized nonviolent human rights advocate.
We believe that nonviolent means of political engagement should be encouraged rather than suppressed, and that the persecution and imprisonment of peaceful activists such as Mr. Amro only threatens the safety and human rights of both Palestinians and Israelis. As the United States seeks to assist in brokering a peace agreement between both sides, we should encourage our steadfast ally in the region to uphold our shared values and respect activists like Issa Amro: freedom of expression must be a foundation for a just and lasting peace for the Israeli and Palestinian people.
Karen Bass (CA-37)
Donald Beyer (VA-8)
Earl Blumenauer (OR-3)
Salud Carbajal (CA-24)
Andre Carson (IN-7)
John Conyers (MI-13)
Danny Davis (IL-7)
Peter DeFazio (OR-4)
Keith Ellison (MN-5)
Anna Eshoo (CA-18)
Tulsi Gabbard (HI-2)
Raul Grijalva (AZ-3)
Luis Gutierrez (IL-4)
Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-D)
Jared Huffman (CA-2)
Pramila Jayapal (WA-7)
Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30)
Hank Johnson (GA)
Marcy Kaptur (OH-9)
Barbara Lee (CA-13)
Zoe Lofgren (CA-19)
Alan Lowenthal (CA-47)
Betty McCollum (MN-4)
James McGovern (MA-2)
Gwen Moore (WI-4)
Chellie Pingree (ME-1)
Mark Pocan (WI-2)
David Price (NC-4)
Ro Khanna (TN-1)
Bobby Rush (IL-1)
Jackie Speier (CA-14)
Peter Welch (VT-AL)
A second letter that has more of a pro-Israel focus was sent to the Secretary of State by Reps. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Jamie Raskin of Maryland. It includes this affirmation re Gandhi and civil rights:
Mr. Amro has been outspoken in opposing settlement activity, but he has forsworn violence and chosen to act through the types of non-violent marches and tactics he learned about while studying Gandhi and the American civil rights movement.
Amro is an international star; he was at the center of “Who’s Afraid of Non-Violence?” an op-ed in the New York Times about the occupation by authors Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon.
Mr. Amro, 36, is among the most successful community organizers to have come of age in the Hebron of minority rule and sterile zones. For 13 years, he has been engaged in a creative, nonviolent campaign against the Israeli occupation.
That story, along with an NPR story cited in the Raskin/Schakowsky letter, described Amro’s successful effort to get a Palestinian teenager who felt that she had no hope to abandon a plan to stab an Israeli soldier.
Here is an excerpt of the Amnesty International appeal from last year urging Israel to drop the “baseless” charges against Amro:
“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,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
Those who want to thank members who co-signed the letter can do so here.
In circulating the letter, IMEU states that “The effort to gather signatories to the letter was supported by a coalition of human rights organizations including U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, CODEPINK, Jewish Voice for Peace, and American Muslims for Palestine.”
Here’s that 2016 human rights report from the State Department, which was issued in March 2017 and cites Amro’s case.
The IDF continued to use a 1967 military order that effectively prohibited Palestinian demonstrations and limited freedom of speech in the West Bank. The order stipulates that a “political” gathering of 10 or more persons requires a permit from the regional commander of military forces–which the commander rarely granted. The penalty for a breach of the order is up to 10 years’ imprisonment or a heavy fine. In February an Israeli military court indicted Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro on 18 charges dating back to 2010. Human rights organizations stated Amro’s actions during these incidents were consistent with nonviolent civil disobedience, although military law prohibits them in the West Bank, including obstructing or insulting a soldier, participating in an unpermitted rally, and “incitement” (encouraging others to engage in civil disobedience). The trial, which began November 23, continued through the end of the year.
Various NGOs noted that the IDF did not respect freedom of assembly and often responded to demonstrators aggressively.