Non-violence Frightens the Army

Ahmed Awad is dangerous for public security. That's what the Shin Bet thinks, that's what Col. Yossi Adiri thinks, that's what military prosecutor Itai Pollak thinks.

Ahmed Awad is dangerous for public security. That's what the Shin Bet thinks, that's what Col. Yossi Adiri thinks, that's what military prosecutor Itai Pollak thinks. The three are responsible for the issue of an administrative arrest order against him at the end of October, meaning an arrest without trial, without any way to respond to the accusations against him.

Military Judge Adrian Agassi, on the other hand, does not think Awad is dangerous to public security. He ordered a cancelation of the administrative arrest order. But the military judge in the military appeals court, Moshe Tirosh, agrees that Awad is dangerous to the public. On November 3, he ordered a cancelation of the cancelation of the administrative arrest order.

The Shin Bet thought the danger from Awad was worth three months in administrative detention. Adiri thought that he should be jailed for four months, and the order he signed designated the dates as from October 28 to February 27.

But Tirosh had the impression that two months' administrative detention is appropriate, considering the amount of information and its severity that he found in the request for the arrest. To the decision to cancel the cancelation of the administrative order but to shorten the time Awad spends under arrest, he added, "I hope that the respondent will note that the current arrest is a warning of what the future holds and turns away from the bad road with its unhappy ending. He should pay attention to where he comes from and where he is going, and that there is someone before whom he will have to give an accounting."

But Awad doesn't have a clue what he must beware of and what is the bad road to which Judge Tirosh was referring. Tirosh, after all, was basing his decision on secret material on which the Shin Bet grounded the request for an administrative detention: the exact same secret material in which Agassi found no evidentiary basis for an arrest.

Awad's lawyer, Tamar Peleg, from Moked, the Center for the Defense of the Individual, also has no way to advise him how to "turn away from the bad road with its unhappy ending." She also is not allowed to see the classified material against her client.

Awad, 42, is a high school teacher, father of six and one of the leaders of the Committee for the Popular Struggle against the Separation Fence, which went up in the village of Burdus. The activity by the residents of that village a year ago signaled the start of a grass-roots, non-violent Palestinian struggle against the route of the fence and its accompanying bulldozers, guards, military jeeps and soldiers.

Tear gas, beatings and shootings did not deter them. Quite a few Israelis joined their struggle, and ties of friendship and trust have been formed between them and the residents of the village.

The struggle bore fruit. A spectacular olive grove that sprawls over a few hundred dunam was saved. The defense establishment decided to move the route of the fence westward, so as not to harm the trees. About 100 dunam of farmland remained that the fence was going to swallow up. The village decided to show self-restraint, to concede. They understood their victory was impressive. But then it turned out that the bulldozers deviated from the route that was agreed upon in the compromise between the army and the court. So the villagers resumed their demonstrations.

To prevent their demonstrations, the army and Border Police have been operating in the last three months with considerable aggression and violence against all the residents of the village. The demonstrations have been dispersed with more violence than usual. For 15 days the army imposed a de facto curfew on the village. The minute the children reached their schools, the troops fanned out in the village, took up positions, and did not allow people to leave their homes. The children were too frightened to leave school on their own.

That's when Awad was arrested. As opposed to the other members of the committee who belong to Fatah, Awad, as he admits, spent a year in prison in 1997 for belonging to Hamas. Last year he was actively involved in developing the non-violent approach to the struggle.

"Instead of the fence, my friends and I managed to establish bridges of trust between us and the Jews," he said to Judge Agassi. "We let the world understand that there can be coexistence between us and the Jews."

According to the Shin Bet, military prosecution and Judge Tirosh, the danger referred to in the classified material does not refer to his activity against the fence but to "other activity." Peleg was only allowed to cast doubt upon the severity of the secret, "other activity." The open activity, the grass roots activity, she said, contributes to security and public order; it persuades young Palestinians that there is another way to fight for their rights, without going to the Carmel Market to blow up. The hope for change through non-violent struggle provides a counterweight to the despair that sends people to acts of personal vengeance.

But now the despair has been reinforced. Awad will sit in administrative detention until the end of the year. It is difficult not to think that the "good way" he and his colleagues chose in the popular committee is what bothers some elements in the army so much: fraternization with the Israelis, the recognition of a joint Palestinian-Israeli struggle against the occupation, the popular struggle's success at changing the military decisions, the refusal to be dragged into violence compared to the violence of the army and occupation.