A total of 11 peace activists and reporters were detained Sunday by the Israeli military as they attempted to march to the old village of al Wallaja, near the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Those detained included leading activist Dr Mazin Qumsiyeh, Chairman of Board of the Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement Between People (parent organization of the IMEMC). The seven arrested international activists have been subsequently released while four Palestinians remain in custody in Atarot prison in Jerusalem.
Dr Qumsiyeh was arrested as he approached the old town of al Walaja as part of a non-violent march, one of many held throughout the world to mark the Nakba (Catastrophe). The march was halted by Israel troops, who fired tear gas and stun grenades.
Clashes between local youth and the military subsequently broke out as the protesters were pushed back to the current site of the village. The military subsequently fired a series of indiscriminate volleys of tear gas and stun grenades into the village center and blocked off all exit routes from the area. Soldiers then moved in to arrest the protest participants.
Eyewitnesses said troops assaulted the detained protesters with batons and pepper spray before handcuffing and blindfolding them and taking them to the Bethlehem checkpoint. Dr. Qumsiyeh and the others were then transferred to Atarot prison, according to Qumsiyeh’s family.
Protesters were kept without charge or questioning in the prison with others who were arrested during similar protests marking “al Nakba” around the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The military personnel in the prison refused medical attention to protesters injured during the clashes.
Following twelve hours of detention, the international volunteers were released on the condition of remaining away from future protests and from the perimeter of the separation barrier. However, the abducted Palestinian activists continue to be detained through the night, in open air detention facilities within the prison. Under Israeli “administrative detention” rules, the Palestinian activists can continue to be detained for a period of six months, which can be extended indefinitely as Israeli officials see fit.
Administrative detention allows individuals to be kept without charge or trial, on the basis of administrative orders, as opposed to judicial decree. Israel has extensively used the practice, which is only allowed under international law in certain extreme, specific circumstances.
Non-violent activists have documented the Israeli use of ‘administrative detention’ as a means of imprisoning without charge those Palestinians who are actively opposed to the occupation of the Palestinian Territories. Israeli human rights group B’T selem has stated that the use of administrative detention in Israel against Palestinian activists is “carried out under the thick cover of privilege, which denies detainees the possibility of mounting a proper defense…making a mockery of the protections specified in Israeli and international law to protect the right to liberty and due process, the right of defendants to state their case, and the presumption of innocence”.
Dr Qumsiyeh, a lead organizer of Sunday’s protest march, has been active in the recent campaign to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes in the area to make way for the Israeli Annexation Wall. The village has had hundreds of dunams worth of land confiscated from its inhabitants in a bid to complete the separation barrier that would annex the village from the rest of the Palestinian Territories if completed.
Israel does not allow the villagers of Al-Walaja to enter their lands, and claims it is an Israeli territory. Since 1948, Israeli has prohibited the original residents of Al-Walaja to enter their village in what is now Israel. They have established a new Walaja village near the old one, but on the other side of the Armistice line of 1949. In recent years, Israeli authorities have pushed the refugees out of new Walaja as well by refusing them building permits, demolishing dozens of homes, and building the Wall on village land.
Sunday’s march was one of many that ended in clashes and arrests yesterday as Palestinians commemorated, “al Nakba”, the mass forced exodus of Palestinians, living in what is now Israel during Israel’s 1948 war of independence and subsequent territorial expansions. At least 12 protesters were confirmed killed at the time of this writing, with other possible unconfirmed deaths. This year’s commemoration has coincided with a wave of popular uprisings across the Middle East, the unity deal between Fatah and Hamas, the complete breakdown of the peace process between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and the upcoming declaration of statehood by the Palestinian Authority in the UN this coming September.