Four Palestinian leaders and activists from Hebron were held in Israeli prison for five days over the weekend, their crime — planting olive trees on private Palestinian land at risk of being confiscated by the Israeli government.
Around 50 activists gathered for the commemoration of Land Day last Thursday to plant olive trees on Palestinian land near the illegal Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba in Hebron. The tree planting was a symbolic form of non-violent resistance to commemorate Land Day, a day in 1976, when the Israeli government annexed 20,000 dunams (5,000 acres) of land, killed 6 Palestinians and wounded around 100 protesters.
Bassam Shweiki, a member of the Hebron Defence Committee, a group partnered with the #DismantleTheGhetto campaign in Hebron, of which many of the arrested are part of, was present at the protest.
Shweiki told Mondoweiss that the four, identified as Anan Dana of the Hebron Defense Committee, Badee Dweik of the Human Rights Defenders group, Younes Arar, director of The Palestinian Commission Against The Wall and Settlement in the southern West Bank, and activist Ishaq al-Khateeb, were among 50 other activists present for the olive tree planting.
After the trees were planted, the group of activists were walking back from the field, when they were confronted by Israeli forces and settlers.
“They all started to push us, and settlers pushed us and assaulted us — one settler even assaulted a small boy who was with us,” Shweiki said.
Israeli forces then pulled out a paper and wrote an order declaring the area a closed military zone “in front of our eyes,” Shweiki explained.
“They pushed us and cursed at us and gave us two minutes to leave the area,” he said, explaining that vacating the area in two minutes was an impossible order.
The four have not been given official charges, but Samidoun, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Solidarity Network, reported that “the four are accused of participating in an illegal demonstration and being in a closed military zone, but the military prosecutor added additional charges of ‘interfering with security officers’ work’ and ‘assaulting officers in the course of their duties.’”
The four were supposed to have a hearing on Sunday, but the meeting was postponed, as the military court said it needed more time to review the evidence.
According to Samidoun, the hearing was attended by the director of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, James Heenan.
On Monday, another hearing was held, where the four were offered bail of around $1,000 each — half of what was initially suggested by the Israeli prosecution on Sunday.
“Of course none of them have this kind of money,” Shweiki said immediately following Monday’s decision. “But we are working on collecting it.”
In the end Shweiki said friends donated the money for bail at 3,500 shekels each, though the allegations against them are still being held and the investigation is ongoing. The next trial date has yet to be scheduled.
When asked why only four of the 50 activists present were arrested, Shweiki said he believed Israeli forces wanted to make an example out of the four, who are well-known non-violent resistance leaders in the Hebron community.
“They wanted these four specifically, even though they didn’t do anything against any law,” he said. “[The soldiers] know them by their faces — they consider them leaders of the public resistance.”
The international Commission to Support Palestinian People’s Rights, released a statement on Sunday about the arrests, condemning Israel’s actions.
“[We] demand the immediate release of the human rights defenders arrested by the Israeli occupation authorities,” the commission said in its statement. “[And] urge the international organizations (governmental and non-governmental) concerned with the defense of human rights activists to intervene effectively to ensure the release of Palestinian defenders from Israeli jails.”
Activists who support the release of the four started a “Twitter storm” over the weekend with the hashtag #AlKhalil4, hoping to put pressure on the Israeli government to release the four without charges.
The Israeli military court, where the four are being charged, convicts 99 percent of all Palestinian cases brought to its system.
There are currently 6,500 Palestinians being held in prison by Israeli authorities, 536 of whom are being held as administrative detainees — without charge or trial — and 300 of whom are children.
In February, Mondoweiss reported that Israeli forces had harassed one of those arrested, Badee Dwaik, before dawn on a day of a protest commemorating the Ibrahimi Massacre, carried out in 1994 by an American-Israeli settler named Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Palestinian worshippers and wounded 125 more during prayers at the mosque.
At the time, Dwaik told Mondoweiss that Israeli forces stormed his home the morning before the protest and threatened him.
“They told me they came to the house just for me, to give me a message,” Dwaik said hours after the incident.
“I’ve been arrested many times, this wasn’t a surprise for me,” he said. “I have been detained, I have been shot at, but they will never silence us.”
According to sources close to the four, family and friends have been barred from visiting the detainees since they were arrested.