Monday, March 14, 2011

Palestinian protest leader freed from Israeli jail

Editor's Note: The US Campaign has previously worked with its member organizations Adalah-NY, CODEPINK and Jewish Voice for Peace to persuade the U.S. State Department to apply pressure upon the Israeli government to release one of its highest-profile prisoners of conscience, Abdallah Abu Rahmah. Today we all celebrate Abu Rahmah's release and renew our pledge to continue calling upon our government to use its special relationship with Israel to secure the release of all other Palestinian political prisoners still languishing in Israeli jails under outrageous sentences for organizing nonviolent resistance in their communities.

Agence France Presse
Monday, March 14, 2011

A Palestinian activist jailed for organising weekly demonstrations against Israel's separation barrier was freed on Monday after 15 months behind bars.

Abdullah Abu Rahma was one of the chief organisers of weekly demonstrations in Bilin that have come to symbolise the Palestinian fight against the vast separation barrier Israel is building across the West Bank.

Abu Rahma was met by scores of family members, friends and supporters as he walked out of Ofer military prison near the West Bank town of Ramallah, an AFP correspondent said.

He was arrested in December 2009 and convicted eight months later of incitement and organising and participating in the protests in Bilin village, west of Ramallah, that are regularly attended by scores of Palestinian, Israeli and foreign activists.

But he was acquitted on charges of stone-throwing and weapons possession for exhibiting spent tear-gas canisters fired by Israeli troops.

He was released after serving more than 15 months and still has several weeks of remand time, meaning he risks going back to jail if he participates in or organises any demonstrations, or says anything considered as incitement.

"All these arrests and the killing will not prevent us from continuing our struggle against the occupation and against the wall," Abu Rahma told AFP shortly after his release.

"Whatever they do, we will continue," he said, while bringing "a message" from the Palestinian prisoners: "Continue the public struggle against the occupation and the struggle to reach national unity. Our first and only enemy is the occupation."

His conviction in 2009 prompted human rights groups and officials including European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to express concern.

Abu Rahma's lawyer, Gaby Laskey, described him as "an important part of the non-violent movement against the occupation," and said she was happy to see his release.

"I believe that the charges against Abu Rahma and his sentence were of a political nature to try and put an end to the non-violent demonstrations in Bilin," she told AFP.

"His being in jail did not stop the demonstrations, it actually encouraged people to go out and demonstrate more for their cause."

The protests are billed as non-violent though Palestinian youths often hurl stones at Israeli troops, who respond with tear gas and rubber bullets.

A relative of Abu Rahma, Jawaher Abu Rahma, died early on New Year's Day after reportedly inhaling massive amounts of tear gas at a protest in Bilin a day earlier, although the Israeli military denied tear gas was the cause.

Israel says the barrier is needed to prevent attacks, but the Palestinians see it as a land grab aimed at stealing chunks of their future state.