Abbas Momani / AFP / Getty Images

Prominent Palestinian activist convicted of obstructing Israeli military

Abdullah Abu Rahmeh, who leads nonviolent actions against Israel’s occupation, has been called a human rights defender

A prominent Palestinian peace activist, once characterized by the European Union as a “human rights defender,” has pledged to continue opposing Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian lands despite being convicted this week of interfering in Israeli military affairs.

A military court at Israel’s Ofer prison in the West Bank on Monday found Abdullah Abu Rahmeh guilty of obstructing military operations during a rally he led in May 2012 in support of Palestinian political prisoners on hunger strike.

He was arrested after standing in front of a bulldozer, preventing its operator from constructing a structure that Abu Rahmen says Israeli soldiers planned to use to monitor and shoot at Palestinians. 

“They said I was standing in front of the bulldozer and didn’t allow them to continue their work,” Abu Rahmeh told Al Jazeera on Tuesday. “For this the court said yesterday that I’m guilty and on Dec. 1 they will give me the punishment.” 

An Israeli official confirmed Abu Rahmeh's account of his arrest.

"He stopped a military tractor from completing its work and refused to follow the instructions of the soldiers at a checkpoint," an Israeli military spokesman told Al Jazeera on Wednesday. "He denied the charges against him, but a military court convicted him as charged."

Abu Rahmeh is a schoolteacher and coordinator for the Bil’in Popular Committee, an organization that opposes Israel’s construction of a separation wall and settlements — both considered illegal under international law — in the West Bank.

Bil’in, the village for which the committee is named, is known for its weekly, nonviolent protests against Israel’s separation wall. Its construction there annexed more than half of Bil’in’s land, most of it agricultural, for nearby Israeli settlements.

Despite his conviction Monday, Abu Rahmeh said he would continue to actively protest Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.

“This is our right to protest or express my opinion, and I didn’t use any violence — this is the way to support human rights and refuse the occupation,” Abu Rahmeh said.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (R) greets Palestinian woman as she visits the West Bank village of Ras Karkar, which neighbors Bil'in, on Oct. 25, 2012.
Abbas Momani / AFP / Getty Images

Gaby Laskey, Abu Rahmeh’s lawyer, said Monday that there was “no legal basis” for Abu Rahmeh’s arrest or conviction, and that the verdict meant his client could serve up to four months in prison.

“It seems that prosecuting a Palestinian for a nonviolent symbolic act against the occupation has more of a political meaning than a criminal one,” Laskey said.

Abu Rahmeh has previously been detained and jailed by Israel for participating in nonviolent protests in Bil’in. In 2010, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called Abu Rahmeh a “human rights defender” and criticized Israel for convicting him on charges of incitement and organizing illegal demonstrations.

In a statement issued by her office at the time, Ashton expressed concern "that the possible imprisonment of Mr. Abu Rahmeh is intended to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest against the existence of the separation barriers in a non-violent manner."

Abu Rahmeh’s village has been on the front lines of the conflict with Israel, and served as a model for the nonviolent protest movement that has taken hold in the West Bank since Bil’in began weekly demonstrations in 2005.

Bil’in’s activism has made it a target for the Israeli military, with villagers reporting routine raids, arrests and the use of lethal force. Israeli soldiers have killed two residents, both relatives of Abu Rahmeh, while participating in the village’s protests.

Activist Bassem Abu Rahmeh was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers during a protest in Bil'in on April 17, 2009. His sister, Jawaher Abu Rahmeh, died in 2011 on New Year’s Eve after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers.

Bassem’s brother, Ashraf Abu Rahmeh, was detained in 2008 by Israeli soldiers in the nearby village of Ni’lin. He was tied and blindfolded before being shot in the leg at close range with a rubber-coated steel bullet. The incident was captured on video, raising tensions throughout the West Bank.

Israeli investigations into the incidents have all been dropped and no charges were filed against the soldiers involved.

In spite of his family’s hardships and his recent conviction, Abdullah Abu Rahmeh vowed on Tuesday to never give up his right to protest peacefully.

 “I will continue my protest because as the EU considers me a human rights defender I will respect this title and will work to support my people and to protect human rights in my country,” Abu Rahmeh said.

With wire services

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