Israel has been loudly protesting the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) resolution placing Hebron on the UN’s endangered heritage list. But Israel cannot sweep the truth under the rug. Issa Amro, 37, is proof that Hebron is endangered. Amro, head of the group Youth Against Settlements, is highlighting that danger and Israel is trying to shut him up.
Under Israeli occupation Hebron is a divided city, as are many cities in Israel and the occupied territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel discriminates on the basis of religion and race, justifying public denunciations of it as an “apartheid-like” state. Jews are treated with privilege and benefit, and non-Jews are seen as an impediment the Israelis wish would just go away.
Through his activism, Amro documents Israel’s civil rights violations and the violent activities of the illegal settler movement. Settlers have stolen homes and properties, and beaten and harassed residents, including old men, women and children. It is a daily occurrence, but Israel does not file criminal charges against settlers, only against non-Jews.
Amro has organized protests against settler expansion and the abuses of Israeli soldiers, who are stationed in Hebron to protect radical settlers, not the civilian population. He is on the frontline of the fight for civil rights and justice in Hebron, which the UNESCO resolution addresses.
All of Amro’s protests have been nonviolent. They have been effective in spotlighting the activities of settlers, who often engage in unpunished violence against Hebron’s non-Jews. Rather than crack down on settler violence, Israel focuses on persecuting Palestinian activists such as Amro.
Israel’s actions are much like those of the Soviet Union against Jewish dissidents in the 1970s to bully and silence them. The Soviet gulag was more than just a prison system; it was a government policy to silence criticism.
Israel led the fight to expose the brutality of the Soviet Gulag, yet its own gulag is no different, filled with thousands of Palestinian political prisoners and dissidents who, like Jewish dissidents incarcerated by the Soviets, are described by Israel as violent terrorists. Israeli settlers in Hebron are among the most violent and hate-driven of the nearly-800,000 settler population.
He has organized protests against settler expansion and the abuses of Israeli soldiers, who are stationed in Hebron to protect radical settlers, not the civilian population. He is on the frontline of the fight for civil rights and justice in Hebron.
Israel claims Amro “incited violence” by holding up signs denouncing Kiryat Arba as an illegal settlement. The only violence was from settlers and Israeli soldiers, who pounced on protesters with clubs and weapons. Amro denied the charge, which was backed by “testimony” from three Israeli soldiers who live and work with the fanatic settlers of Kiryat Arba. Israel wants to end Amro’s protests; UNESCO is not making it easy for that to happen.
It is not the only international organization paying attention to the plight of civilians in Hebron, which is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Amnesty International has come down hard on Israel’s oppression of Amro and other activists, including his colleague Farid Al-Atrash, calling all the Israeli charges “baseless.”
Amnesty said: “Some of the charges (against Amro), such as ‘participating in a march without a permit,’ are not internationally recognizable criminal offenses.” It noted that one of the assault charges against him refers to an incident on March 20, 2013, that took place while he was in Israeli detention.
Amro has pointed out that 99.74 percent of all criminal charges against Palestinians result in convictions and jail time. That is because the system is rigged. The judge and prosecutor are Israeli soldiers. They have brought 38 witnesses — soldiers and settlers — to testify against Amro, whose trial is now taking place in Israel.
“It is a kangaroo court system where there is no justice at all,” he said. “The charges against me are an effort to shut down my human rights work and stop me from speaking up for my people.”
Amro has documented how the situation is even worse than UNESCO has described, noting that Israel moved from creating “segregated streets” in Hebron to enclosing entire Palestinian neighborhoods. “The gate is locked at 11 p.m. each night and families are imprisoned inside. So even as I prepare for the surety of my conviction, I am working to end this new injustice,” he said.
In an encouraging show of support, 32 members of the US Congress gave Secretary of State Rex Tillerson a letter urging him to compel Israel to withdraw the charges against Amro and other civil rights dissidents. Israel cannot talk about Hebron unless it wants to openly discuss its persecution of him. That is why the UNESCO resolution is so important.
• Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian-American former journalist and political columnist. Email him at [email protected]