The PA’s Gift to Hebron’s Settlers

The arrest of West Bank activist Issa Amro betrays common PA-Israeli interests to deter acts of civil disobedience

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Palestinian activist Issa Amro.
Palestinian activist Issa Amro.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

They say Palestinian security coordination with Israel has been severely cut back on the orders of President Mahmoud Abbas. So why did the Palestinian Authority arrest Issa Amro, one of the perennial thorns in the side of the Israeli foreign power in Hebron?

Through his arrest, the PA exposed its joint interests with Israel and proved once more that its very existence has become its raison d’tre. It also betrayed political stupidity and disregard for the Palestinian popular struggle against the land thieves and population expellers.

A Palestinian court in Hebron extended Amro’s remand by four days last week, before releasing him on Sunday on bail. Amro is charged with disturbing the peace, based on the dubious new electronic law the Ramallah government recently enacted. He is also charged with causing internal strife and insulting the highest echelons of the PA.

Amro is co-founder of Youth Against Settlements. The group has been documenting the deranged behavior of Hebron’s settlers and the soldiers guarding them. It has also initiated social activities to strengthen the Palestinian presence in the Old City.

Youth Against Settlements offers a model of civil disobedience and putting a spoke in the wheel of Israeli plans of transfer. It is a small group with big ideas, divisions, failures and successes. It has also increased awareness among Diaspora Jews about this insane strain of apartheid that the army, Civil Administration and Hebron settlers have created.

It is not for nothing that Israel places anti-occupation opponents in Hebron in detention and violently disperses their protest marches (which sometimes involve Israeli activists). It is not for nothing that a year ago the Israeli military prosecutor manufactured charges against Amro based on old offenses (from before 2013) such as demonstrating, remonstrating with soldiers, pushing the military security coordinator of the Kiryat Arba settlement, and similar incidents only a military junta could turn into an indictment.

Because the alleged crimes were committed so long ago, the court could not order Amro’s remand until the end of proceedings. Sometimes, embarrassment binds even the junta’s hands.

The Israeli indictment against Amro is intended mainly to deter other young Palestinians from joining in with the civil disobedience in Hebron, from daring to stand up to the settlers and their constant racist violence, and from increasing their presence in old, haunted Hebron.

The Israeli army, settlers and police prefer the desperate and isolated Palestinian youths who, lacking a plan, vision or horizon, come to the checkpoints to commit suicide by soldier or settler.

The real danger to the Settlements Defense Army is the activists who can clear a path to hope, who can plan several steps ahead and strive for mass participation.

The work of the wicked is also, it transpires, being done by others. Palestinian security services arrested Amro last Monday morning. He had published two mild Facebook posts the previous day, calling to respect the principles of freedom of expression and opinion. The sharpest sentence in his post stated that the Palestinian security services arrest people based on orders from on high. He was referring to the arrest of one of the managers of radio station Minbar Al Hurriya a few days after the Israeli army closed it.

The manager, Ayman al-Qawasmi, had called on Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to resign because they are incapable of protecting Palestinian institutions. Qawasmi was released last Wednesday. As mentioned above, on Sunday the Palestinian court released Amro on bail of 5,000 shekels ($1,425).

Diplomats, Amnesty International representatives and foreign journalists came to the first hearing of Amro’s case on Thursday – the same group that attends the hearings against him in Israeli military courts. However, the case in the Hebron court was held behind closed doors, so they had to remain outside.

Even though the Palestinian court returned to its senses, the damage has been done. The PA has already given a gift to the Israeli advocates of transfer. From the PA’s perspective, the arrest of Amro was foolish because, more than any other antidemocratic act, it was clear it would draw global attention and shine a negative light on it. If only for utilitarian reasons, the PA should have remembered it was arresting a well-known activist whose work is greatly respected abroad.

Had the PA attached any importance to the popular struggle, it would have understood from the outset that such an arrest would harm it. But at the end of the day, the PA dismisses popular struggles as a tool of change. It needs them only as decoration in order to salvage the reputation of Fatah and the PA as exclusive agents in the struggle for independence.

The arresting authorities, from top to bottom, thought only of themselves; about their survival as a ruling apparatus; their salaries; their promotions. Open criticism spoils the veneer of the apparatus as a patriotic representative of the people. The criticism is sometimes aimed at the lack of freedom of expression, sometimes at suspended or rigged elections, and sometimes at the economic gains of a narrow ruling class.

Such voices must be silenced for the sake of the apparatus, which depends directly on maintaining the eternal interim agreements with Israel. Therefore, the popular struggle and its activists must be controlled and contained, so they won’t create situations that threaten agreements that expired long ago and serve only the continuation of the occupation.

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