A Palestinian in Israeli military court: Issa Amro, the judge, and me

Palestinian activist Issa Amro arriving at the Israeli-run Ofer military court, Betunia, near Ramallah, West Bank, Jul 9, 2017. (Abbas Momani / AFP / Getty Images)
Nonviolent resistance is becoming an organizing principle of Palestinian civil society — which explains why Israel is so invested in criminalizing it.

By Batya Ungar-Sargon | The New York Review of Books | May 13, 2019

‘Israel is not afraid of violence. They immediately react with shelling and bombing. But when Palestinians use nonviolence, they don’t know how to respond, and they call it delegitimization.’
— Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the PLO

‘You know what is the one thing that most terrifies the State of Israel? That people, without guns, would start to walk. Picture it: 100,000 Palestinians start walking towards Jerusalem. Walking — nothing else. What would the IDF do? Say they kill fifty, they kill a hundred, they kill three hundred. What would happen if they just kept walking?’
— Ami Ayalon, a former Knesset member and former head of the Shin Bet

I think Israel is afraid of nonviolent activists. Israel knows — thank God — how to fight terrorism and violence. But if a very large number of nonviolent demonstrators would have huge marches like they had in India at the time of Gandhi, I don’t know how Israel would be able to stop that. And then, maybe, it would be a turning point in the occupation.’
— Gaby Lasky, Israeli civil rights lawyer

Two roads lead to the two separate entrances of the Ofer prison and military court in the West Bank, where Palestinians living under Israeli military rule in that territory are tried and sentenced. One road comes from the Palestinian territories. It leads to an outdoor waiting area, where Palestinian defendants and their families wait for their names to be called over a loudspeaker. The other road comes from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It leads to a guard booth, where you hand over your passport and, if you are on a list, you are waved through to a security check. This entrance is used by lawyers, dignitaries, and, early in April, me.

I was at Ofer as a journalist to attend the trial of Issa Amro, a Palestinian activist from Hebron. I have been writing about Amro for five years with growing admiration, visiting him in Hebron, chronicling his work, and publishing his words preaching nonviolent resistance against Israel’s occupation, where so many choose either violence or submission. These efforts have brought him growing prominence both internationally and within his own community. Together with the Hebron-based organization he founded, Youth Against Settlements, Amro has become famous for the kind of civil disobedience developed by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. . . .

And when violence does erupt from the Gaza Strip, as it did last week when Hamas rockets killed three Israelis, a ceasefire with favorable conditions to Hamas quickly follows. “It sends the message: If you adopt a nonviolence position, if you’re the nice guy, you don’t get anything, but if you resort to violence, you are rewarded,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the PLO, the official Palestinian representative body, told me over the phone.

That message is being sent in more ways than one. For example, you might think that a military occupation, which draws its justification from the need to protect its citizens, would relax somewhat in the face of fewer violent threats. And yet, the opposite seems to have happened. The past few years have seen a crackdown on nonviolent forms of resistance, including the arrest and detention of nonviolent activists and attempts to deport supporters of the boycott movement. Even those working to expose the human rights violations of the Palestinian leadership, such as Human Rights Watch’s Omar Shakir, have been targeted.

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