Palestinian Authority Arrests Prominent Activist Over Online Criticism

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Issa Amro speaks after his release from detention, in the West Bank city of Hebron, 2017.
Issa Amro speaks after his release from detention, in the West Bank city of Hebron, 2017.Credit: AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi

The Palestinian Authority arrested a prominent activist and held him on overnight between Monday and Tuesday after he criticized its policies in a series of online posts and accused it of arresting another individual for political reasons.

The PA, which has limited autonomy in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has come under intense criticism in recent weeks after canceling the first elections in 15 years and being largely sidelined during last month's 11-day Gaza war.

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Issa Amro, an outspoken critic of both Israel and the PA, said he was summoned for questioning by the PA's cyber crimes unit late Monday.

Tweet by Issa Amro depicting his arrest by Palestinian authoritiesCredit: Issa Amro

He said he was asked about a Facebook post in which he protested the arrest of a man linked to a political rival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In the post, he said the PA should instead arrest “corrupt” people within its own ranks.

Amro told The Associated Press he was arrested shortly thereafter and confined overnight in a “very, very dirty place which is not suitable for humans.” He appeared before prosecutors Tuesday before being released and told to return Wednesday, when he could be charged.

Palestinian officials declined to comment on the case.

Last month, Amro met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during the latter's visit to Ramallah, imploring him to visit Sheikh Jarrah, Gaza and Hebron to see what life looks like for everyday Palestinians, and called on the administration to have direct contact with Palestinians inside Israel. 

The Palestinian activist has been repeatedly arrested by both the Israeli military and Palestinian security forces in the course of his activism. An Israeli military court convicted him in January 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.

Amro, 40, founded an activist group that regularly protests against settlement construction in Hebron. Around 1,000 Jewish settlers live there under heavy Israeli military protection among 200,000 Palestinians. Amro previously met with Sen. Bernie Sanders and members of Congress during a visit to Washington in 2017.

The Palestinian Authority faces a crisis of legitimacy after calling off elections in April when it looked like Abbas' Fatah party would suffer an embarrassing defeat. Its rivals in the Islamic militant group Hamas have meanwhile seen their popularity soar following the Gaza war.

The PA has grown increasingly autocratic and unpopular in recent years. But it is still seen internationally as a partner for rebuilding Gaza — where it has had no authority since Hamas seized power in 2007 — and eventually reviving the long-moribund peace process.

The European Union on Tuesday agreed to provide $425 million in loans to the PA and Palestinian banks to help them weather an economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Ben Samuels contributed to this report. 

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