Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Why Israel Jailed Me for 'Talking Too Much'" by Jamal Juma'

Why Israel jailed me for ‘talking too much’

All we Palestinians want is a life free from racial discrimination. We could use a little support from Obama.

By Jamal Juma’ / March 9, 2010

East Jerusalem

The Palestinian elected leadership is weak. And even with Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan this week, the renewed Middle East peace process appears to be little more than a charade.

Israel has taken this opportunity to crack down on Palestinians who advocate nonviolent protests against the Israeli West Bank segregation barrier and charged them based on questionable or false evidence.

I know: I was arrested for talking too much. All we Palestinians want is a life free from racial discrimination.

During 2009, 89 peaceful apartheid wall protesters were arrested; since January, more than 40 have been arrested.

The US president’s support for nonviolent protest could go a long way. However, President Obama's repeated failure to protect the very rights and peace he has called for is a heavy blow to Palestinians. Especially now that Israel has taken to crushing the grass-roots equivalent of Palestinian Gandhis and Martin Luther Kings.

The power and importance of nonviolent protest is close to America’s heart. Decades after African-Americans’ historic sit-in at the Woolworth’s counter,

Palestinians live under a regime strikingly similar to Jim Crow. My Palestinian friends from the West Bank cannot eat dinner with me at my favorite Jerusalem restaurant. They would need to obtain Israeli “permits” to visit me, a privilege given to very few. They would be forced to endure several checkpoints or would have to defy Israeli martial law.

For my friends in Gaza, getting a permit to visit Jerusalem is nothing but a dream. Meanwhile Israeli settlers live illegally on our land, sail through checkpoints, and travel freely.

And it does not end there. One of the world’s strongest armies pounded our cities in Gaza with white phosphorous and encloses us in isolated, shrinking Bantustans almost with impunity.

Yet, every Friday, Palestinian villagers losing precious agricultural land to Israel’s wall turn out to protest peacefully. Unarmed farmers and entire families march to defend their lands. They do so though 16 have been killed, many just kids. They continue to show up though thousands have been injured.

In October, I expressed concern over the arrest of my colleague Mohammed Othman. Shortly before his arrest, Israeli soldiers at a West Bank checkpoint took him aside and warned, “We’re going to arrest you, but it’s difficult with you because all you do is talk.” I wrote then, “If talking is a crime, if urging the international community to hold Israel accountable for theft of our land is a crime, then we all are vulnerable.”

Less than two months later I, too, was sitting in an Israeli prison cell – for talking too much.

As they dragged me from my house, Israeli occupation forces threatened my family’s well-being, saying they would only see me again after a prisoner exchange.

Because we Palestinians are under military occupation, where military decrees sharply limit political activity, the struggle for our most basic human rights is, by default, criminalized. Once arrested, protesters do not face civil courts, but military courts which blatantly violate international standards of fair trial

Fortunately, individuals around the world, including European diplomats, demanded my release. Amnesty International’s role was vital in suggesting that detained activists such as Abdallah Abu Rahma, Mr. Othman, and I were in fact prisoners of conscience. Othman and I were released within a week of Amnesty’s intervention.

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