Dark shadow hangs over conviction of Bil’in anti-barrier protest leader

Published: 
10 Oct 2010

Abdallah Abu Rahmeh, to be sentenced tomorrow, was convicted based on questionable testimonies by minors

Tomorrow, the Ofer military court will pronounce the sentence of Abdallah Abu Rahmeh, a prominent activist in the struggle against the Separation Barrier in the West Bank village of Bil'in. Abu Rahmeh, who has been under arrest since December 2009, was convicted of inciting demonstrators to throw stones and of organizing and participating in an illegal demonstration, according to Military Order 101 of 1967 that the army recently reinstated. Abu Rahmeh was acquitted of the charges of stone throwing and possession of arms. The latter charge pertained to used tear gas canisters that Abu Rahmeh kept in his home to illustrate the measures employed by the army against demonstrators.

Abu Rahmeh's conviction was based solely on testimonies of several minors from the village of Bil'in, who were arrested in nightly arrest raids for allegedly throwing stones, and were then denied the right to legal counsel. The court itself acknowledged that there were severe shortcomings in the way the minors were questioned. A conviction based on dubious testimonies taken from minors in an improper procedure is weak at base, and raises serious doubt that due process was followed.

Abu Rahmeh's conviction should be viewed in the context of the army's recent efforts  to quell demonstrations against the Separation Barrier in the West Bank. As part of this attempt, security forces have arrested many demonstration organizers, have used violence to disperse demonstrations, and have deported several foreign activists.

Regarding Palestinian protesters, since the beginning of 2010, the army has also used another measure: Military Order No. 101 of 1967, which effectively prohibits demonstrations in the West Bank. From the beginning of the Oslo process to this year, the Order was not enforced, except for its provisions regarding incitement. Under the Order, an assembly, procession, or vigil of ten or more persons requires a permit from the commander of military forces in the region, if the assembly is for the purpose of “a political subject, or which might be construed as political, or to discuss such a subject,” or, in the case of a procession, “for a political purpose or for a matter that might be construed as political.” Such a sweeping definition greatly limits freedom of speech, in all aspects. The penalty for breach of the Order is harsh - ten years' imprisonment and/or a heavy fine.

The assumption underlying Order No. 101, signed some two months after the start of the occupation, is that residents of the Occupied Territories have no given right to demonstrate or to freedom of expression. Even non-violent resistance and civil protest, including a peaceful gathering, are prohibited under the order. The order conditions virtually any form of expression of personal opinions on advance receipt of a permit from the army, and imposes far-reaching and vague restrictions on the content presented in gatherings or publications. The order imposes a disproportionate obligation to secure permission, to the point that a modest gathering of ten persons without prior permission is considered prohibited, even if it takes place in the private domain.