An Israeli military court convicted Palestinian peace activist Abdullah Abu Rahmah of incitement and cleared him of stone-throwing charges on Tuesday. Activists called the sentence a direct assault against the non-violent movement in Palestine.
Abu Rahmah, coordinator of the popular committee against the wall and settlement in the village of Bil’in, near Ramallah in the central West Bank, was detained nine months ago while the investigation was ongoing. He was convicted of incitement and organising nonviolent protest against the construction of the Annexation Wall in the West Bank.
A number of European diplomats and many of Abu Rahmah’s friends were in attendance to observe the trial. The sentence is expected to be pronounced next month, and some local sources said they expect a two-year imprisonment.
Abu Rahmah’s verdict was read in a packed military court room, concluding an eight months long politically motivated show-trial. Diplomats from France, Malta , Germany , Spain and the UK , as well as a representative of the European Union were in attendance to observe the trial.
As a member of the Popular Committee and its coordinator since it was formed in 2004, Abdallah Abu Rahmah has represented the village of Bil’in around the world. In June 2009, he attended the village’s precedent-setting legal case in Montreal against two Canadian companies illegally building settlements on Bil’in’s land; in December of 2008, he participated in a speaking tour in France, and on 10 December 2008, exactly a year before his arrest, Abdallah received the Carl Von Ossietzky Medal for Outstanding Service in the Realization of Basic Human Rights, awarded by the International League for Human Rights in Berlin.
According to the indictment, Abu Rahmah collected used tear-gas projectiles and bullet cases shot at demonstrators, with the intention of exhibiting them to show the violence used against demonstrators. His supporters say that this absurd charge is a clear example of how eager the military prosecution is to use legal procedures as a tool to silence and smear unarmed dissent.
The court did, however, find Abu Rahmah guilty of two of the most draconian anti-free speech articles in military legislation: incitement, and organizing and participating in illegal demonstrations. It did so based only on testimonies of minors who were arrested in the middle of the night and denied their right to legal counsel, and despite acknowledging significant ills in their questioning.
The court was also undeterred by the fact that the prosecution failed to provide any concrete evidence implicating Abu Rahmah in any way, and despite the fact that all demonstrations in Bil’in are systematically filmed by the army, but these videos were not presented in court.
Under military law, incitement is defined 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’ (section 7(a) of the Order Concerning Prohibition of Activities of Incitement and Hostile Propaganda (no.101), 1967), and carries a 10 year maximum sentence.
Abu Rahmah’s case was the first time since the early 1990s that Israeli prosecutors used a little-known clause in the military’s regulations against non-violent assemblies in the West Bank. Military law defines illegal assembly in a much stricter way than Israeli law does, and in practice forbids any assembly of more than 10 people without receiving a permit from the military commander. Abu Rahmah’s sentencing will take place next month, and the prosecution is expected to ask for a sentence exceeding two years.