“Missing the five-year anniversary of our struggle in Bil’in will be like missing the birthday of one of my children. Lately I think a lot about my friend Bassem whose life was taken during a nonviolent demonstration last year and how much I miss him. Despite the pain of this loss, and the yearning I feel to be with my family and friends at home, I think that if this is the price we must pay for our freedom, then it is worth it, and we would be willing to pay much more.”
ABDALLAH ABU RAHMA
High School Teacher
Date of Arrest:
Ofer Detention Center, Prison, and Military Court (&& Beit El Settlement Compound)
Date of birth: 10 November 1971
Date of arrest: 10 December 2009
Occupation: High school teacher
Place of residence: Ramallah
Place of detention: Ofer Prison
Date of Release: 14 March 2011
INTIMIDATION AND ARREST
Abdallah Mahmoud Mohammed Abu Rahma was arrested from his family home in Ramallah at 2 a.m. on 10 December 2009, the International Day for Human Rights. Approximately 10 Israeli military jeeps came to his house in the al-Tireh neighborhood, entered the home and arrested Abdallah in the presence of his wife Majida and their two daughters Loma, 7, and Leann, 5, and son Laith, 1.
Abdallah was then taken to Ofer military base near Ramallah in his pajamas, where he was immediately subjected to interrogation, but refused to answer any questions.
Abdallah’s arrest followed weeks of harassment and intimidation of his family and other anti-Wall activists by Israeli soldiers. This included raids of Abdallah’s home by approximately 50 Israeli soldiers and ransacking of the family home while Abdallah’s wife and three children were confined to one room. During this period, Abdallah’s life was also threatened by undercover Israeli intelligence forces that came to his house and set up surveillance points and checkpoints around Bil’in village.
Abdallah was charged with four offenses under Israeli military orders: incitement, possession of arms Abdallah was later acquitted of two of the four charges: throwing stones and possession of arms.
Under the charge of incitement, Abdallah was accused of “attempting to influence public opinion” between 2005 and 2009 through his membership of the Bil’in Wall Committee, his instrumental role in organizing and leading Friday demonstrations against the Wall and his distribution of Palestinian and Palestinian Authority flags (an act still considered a security offence under military law). The charge sheet also lists allegations that he “incit[ed] the public to harm security personnel”, by telling demonstrators not to “allow them [Israeli soldiers] to shoot at you” and by directing demonstrators to throw stones “in the direction of security personnel” and cut the wires forming part of the Wall installed by security forces.
Under the arms possession charge, Israeli authorities accused Abdallah of collecting empty M16 cartridges and empty sound bomb canisters and teargas grenades, which had been used by Israeli soldiers to disperse demonstrators, and exhibiting them in a Bil’in museum.
Problems with the charges: due process, natural justice and international legal standards
Fundamental provisions of international law and Israeli military orders governing the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) provide that the onus of proving the actual occurrence or “truth” of any allegations against a defendant lies with the military prosecution. In practice, however, evidence gathered by Addameer and other advocates and court observers indicates that the Israeli military courts operate on a “presumed guilty” rather than “presumed innocent” assumption. This presumption – which requires the accused to provide evidence to actively disprove the allegations – is on occasion even legislatively enshrined, as in the case of the ‘possession of arms’ charge. In any other developed jurisdiction – including in Israel’s civilian courts – a genuine presumption of innocence is a cornerstone of the very legitimacy of the court, a cornerstone that is widely considered to be a peremptory, or non-derogable, norm of international law.
However, each of the charges issued against Abdallah related to alleged activities over a long and vague period of time, five years in the case of charges one, three and four. Insofar as the charges failed to specify specific days, times, frequencies or instances of when Abdallah engaged in these alleged activities, the charges were impermissibly broad. Abdallah’s lawyers argued before the military court that this was a fatal flaw and the prosecution could not proceed on the charge sheet, but the court failed to rule on this issue.
Addameer submits that this vagueness deliberately exacerbates the “presumed guilty” underpinnings of the military court system: the broad nature of the allegations in terms of timing made it impossible for Abdallah to mount a defense as this would have required him to account for his activities on every Friday between 2005 and 2009.
Furthermore, another element of vagueness relates to allegations that Abdallah threw and encouraged others to throw stones “in the direction of” soldiers and property. The military prosecution provided no information as to how far away the alleged stone-throwers were from the soldiers and property in question. Addameer lawyer Mahmoud Hassan believes that this frequently-used “in the direction of” allegation conveniently evades the issue of whether the stones could feasibly travel far enough to reach the soldiers or property in question, whether propelled by hand or by a short rope attached to the stone, or even if the stones were in actuality aimed at particular soldiers or army property. Rather, it is well-documented that stone-throwing occurs in a much more haphazard and disorganized manner, rendering allegations that stone-throwers “aimed” or had concrete intentions are tenuous at best. Vague accusations do away with the on-the-ground details and consequently, the “intention to harm or cause damage” is solely imputed or presumed.
Addameer is therefore extremely concerned that Abdallah’s trial was marred by grave unfairness and breaches of international law, as such evidentiary and procedural bias against the accused is deliberately built into the military court system. The unacceptably broad scope of the charges against Abdallah meant that his prospects for a fair trial were nonexistent.
However, far from being exceptional, the vague and effectively indefensible charges that Abdallah faced under the unlawful military court system are those routinely levied against Palestinians. Addameer estimates that 80 percent of the approximately 700,000 Palestinians imprisoned since 1967 have been convicted of offenses where the ‘facts’ alleged are so nebulous and the procedures so biased that no defense could possibly be mounted. Moreover, thousands of Palestinians, predominantly children, have been charged with throwing stones “in the direction of” IOF soldiers on “one or more occasions” during the last several years. The “in the direction of” phrase is also frequently used in more serious allegations, such as shooting incidents where attempted murder is alleged on the basis of the accused having shot “in the direction of” an IOF vehicle or soldiers on “one or more occasions” during a period of several years. However, such allegations have occurred even in cases where the defendant fired a weapon into the air at a wedding, or when located miles away and far out of eyesight from their alleged target. Defending such vague charges is made deliberately impossible. The result is that the vast majority of defendants (at least 90-95 percent) are forced to plead guilty to avoid longer periods in detention in the face of a system impossibly weighted against them.
Speaking of the possibility of a fair trial in the military courts, Addameer lawyer Mahmoud Hassan says:
“The institution for justice in the West Bank – the military court – has no relationship with the people who are the subjects of this justice system. The prosecutor belongs to the ‘enemy’ since s/he is a member of the army and police forces, and the police and army are instruments of the occupying power. Even the judge is a commander in the very army which is violently enforcing the occupation. The laws devised and enforced by the occupying army serve the interests only of the occupier…The freedom of the people of Palestine only becomes plausible when they themselves can decide how to administer their own lives and choose laws which will guide the life of their society”.
Persecution of human rights activists
Every village that has been active in mobilizing protests against Israel’s ongoing construction of the Annexation Wall in the OPT through grassroots action and popular land defense committees has experienced various forms of intimidation and coercion through raids, harassment and targeted arrests by the IOF. While there are differences in the degree to which arrests are used, based on the decisions of the Israeli military, arrests appear to be carried out against protesters regardless of their methods of protest, and are particularly targeted at leaders of the popular movements and children.
Evidence collected by Addameer indicates that these arrests are used as a means of stifling any form of individual or collective resistance from these communities. It also appears to be a means of dismantling the Palestinian social fabric by targeting the movement’s leaders, social activists, unionists, community representatives and children.
Under current military orders in the OPT, putting up political posters, writing political slogans, participating in demonstrations, being in possession of a Palestinian flag, and belonging to any political party, amongst many other activities, are all defined as threats to the security of Israel. Article 7(A) of Military Order 101 defines the offence of incitement as “an attempt, whether verbally or otherwise, to influence public opinion… in a way that may disturb the public peace or public order”. The maximum penalty for incitement is ten years.
 Article 53(A)(2) of Military Order 378. The definition of ‘arms’ includes a firearm, ammunition, grenade, or any object that might cause death or disability and any piece or part of those mentioned. ‘Arms’ therefore include objects such as metal pipes or the lens of a pair of binoculars which could potentially be attached to a rifle. The burden of proof is on the accused to prove that the instrument could not cause death or disability. Whether the accused had any intention of causing such death of injury is irrelevant. The maximum sentence for possession of arms is life imprisonment.
 Articles 10 and 11(a) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulate that every person is entitled to a “fair hearing” by an “independent and impartial tribunal” and to be “presumed innocent until proved guilty in a public trial at which he[/she] has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense” respectively. Article 14(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ensures “the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law”.
 Addameer: Defending Palestinian Prisoners: A Report on the Status of Defence Lawyers in Israeli Courts, April 2008 (available at: http://addameer.info/wp-content/images/defending-palestinian-prisoners.pdf).