An Israeli military court convicted on Wednesday a Palestinian rights activist of protesting without a permit, obstructing Israeli soldiers' activities in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron and assaulting a Jewish settler, in a case that Amnesty International described as politically motivated.
Prominent Hebron activist Issa Amro denied the conviction of six of 18 charges against him filed in 2016. Arguments over sentencing will await a further hearing on February 8.
"Issa Amro is a local leader and key activist leading a non-violent struggle against the occupation," said his lawyer, Gaby Lasky. "After all the charges against him have fallen away, all that remains is for the military court to convict him with ridiculous charges that would not be under discussion at all if he were not a person living under occupation. Israel once again demonstrates that any non-violent struggle against the occupation is considered a crime in its eyes. "
Amro, 40, founded an activist group that regularly protests against settlement construction in Hebron. Under heavy Israeli military protection, around 1,000 settlers live there among 200,000 Palestinians.
"It doesn't make sense to punish someone for non-violent resistance," Amro told Reuters. "The Israeli military system exists only to oppress Palestinians and restrict freedom of speech."
Amro was acquitted of most of the charges brought against him for incidents occurring between 2010 and 2016, including incitement, assaulting soldiers and insulting them, and entering closed military zones. Two charges dropped by the police — including a charge of obstructing soldiers — were closed because they were deemed not in the public interest.
The indictment that had been filed against Amro related to a series of incidents and was rooted in military law in the West Bank, according to which any procession or protest rally attended by 10 or more people requires a permit. By contrast, in Israel, a procession or assembly is defined as an event attended by 50 or more people.
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The charge of illegal demonstration related to a protest action in 2012 in which Amro barricading himself in a building in Hebron, where he “led a group of dozens of protesters wearing masks depicting U.S. President [Barack] Obama, wearing shirts with the words ‘I have a dream,’ and carrying PLO flags and photographs of prisoners.” A separate charge relating to his participation in an unauthorized march toward Beit Hadassah in Hebron.
Amro was convicted of participating in another rally that took place in 2016, during which, the prosecution said, he had carried a sign that said "Liberate Shuhada Street," referring to the central Hebron street.
He was charged with assaulting a public servant for an incident in Kiryat Arba, the settlement adjacent to Hebron, in which he pushed the chief security officer, telling him to "fly away," when a confrontation broke out between Palestinians and settlers. The court, however, dismissed the charge on the grounds that it had not been proven that the officer was indeed a public servant.
Lasky said it was hard to predict whether Amro would face prison time, but that a Palestinian in a similar case received a 10-month term.
Amnesty International said the charges against Amro were "politically motivated and linked to his peaceful work in exposing Israel's human rights violations."
The group has also condemned as "disgraceful" charges brought against Amro by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
The PA has accused Amro of "disturbing public order" and "insulting higher authorities" over Facebook posts in 2017 critical of Palestinian leaders.
Amro said his next Palestinian court hearing is on January 20.
Reuters contributed to this report.