Thursday, January 14, 2010

Victory! Release of Jamal Juma' and Mohammad Othman demonstrates importance of international grassroots pressure

You have probably heard by now that Jamal Juma' and Mohammad Othman, leaders of the Palestinian grassroots struggle against Israeli occupation and apartheid and proponents of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), have been released from their imprisonment-without-charge in Israeli jail. Their freedom is a huge victory for the grassroots struggle for Palestinian self-determination and equality. It's also an incredible demonstration of the power of international civil society pressure to defend the human and political rights of those seeking to end Israel's policies of apartheid, occupation, and colonization directed toward the Palestinians. More than 1500 of our supporters sent emails to the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem demanding the release of Mohammad, Jamal, and Abdallah Abu Rahmah, a leader of the nonviolent struggle against the Wall in the West Bank village of Bil'in who has been slapped with a phony "arms possession" charge for collecting spent munitions fired at Bil'in protesters by the Israeli army. You can continue to send letters to the Consulate to demand Abdallah's release by clicking here. US Campaign member groups Jewish Voice for Peace and Adalah-NY, among others, responded as well, sending letters and emails to President Obama and the U.S. Consulate and flooding the State Department with phone calls. On his release from prison, Jamal Juma' credited grassroots international pressure:
"Like for the other Palestinian human rights defenders in Israeli jails, there was never a case in the courtroom. Not a single charge has been put forth. The reason for my arrest was purely political – an attempt to crush Stop the Wall and the popular committees against the Wall. Therefore, the reasons for my release are also outside the courtroom: The impressive support of international civil society has moved governments and used the media to an extent that made our imprisonment too uncomfortable. This international solidarity has given our popular struggle against the Wall further strength. We are deeply thankful for all the efforts. Yet, the latest arrests and continuous repression show that we have not yet defeated the Israeli policy as such, as Israel remains determined to silence Palestinian human rights defenders by all means. We therefore need to ensure that the campaign for the freedom of all anti-wall activists and Palestinian political prisoners continues to grow. We have to combine our energies to ensure that the root cause – the Wall – will be torn down and the occupation will be brought to an end."
In a sense, our work has been doubly affirmed by the Israeli political-military apparatus. Jamal, Mohammad, Abdallah, and others have been targeted not only for their role in spearheading Palestinian nonviolent resistance but also because of their leadership in promoting international campaigns of boycott, divestment, and sanctions. As the international campaign grows, so does Israeli repression...but so does the pressure on that repressive system, making repression much more difficult to sustain. Here's Jesse Rosenfeld at The Daily Nuisance, writing of Mohammad's release:
"Stop the Wall, a Palestinian movement based on grassroots popular resistance to Israel’s wall in the West Bank, has faced increased military pressure as it strengthens its connection to the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement....However, the same international attention and connection to a global movement that is landing activists in prisons, is one of the few factors providing some refuge from the relentless Israeli campaign to break them."
It's worth noting that Mohammad was arrested as he attempted to return from Norway, where he had spoken to the Norwegian government pension fund's ethics board about divestment from Israeli weapons contractor and Apartheid Wall-builder Elbit Systems. This is the kind of international solidarity that prison walls can't contain. In a brief interview with Rosenfeld, the Stop the Wall organizer notes that the Israeli authorities considered him a threat even while imprisoned:
"I’m still in shock about being free, but am so happy and relieved,” the youth coordinator from the Stop the Wall campaign told me on the phone while riding with his brother to see his family in the West Bank for the first time in months. “We were constantly under surveillance in the jail; the Israelis were always trying to get information to incriminate us with. I was in a cell with other people, but couldn’t trust talking politics with anyone."
And what of Abdallah Abu Rahmah, still stuck in Israeli jail? The Bil'in resistance leader speaks for himself, in a statement passed to his lawyers from his prison cell:

"I know that Israel’s military campaign to imprison the leadership of the Palestinian popular struggle shows that our non-violent struggle is effective....This year, the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee will expand on the achievements of 2009, a year in which you amplified our popular demonstrations in Palestine with international boycott campaigns and international legal actions under universal jurisdiction."

The message is loud and clear. International pressure secured Jamal and Mohammad's release. International pressure can secure Abdallah's release, and the release of all those imprisoned for nonviolently struggling against Israel's illegal Wall and illegal occupation. And international pressure in solidarity with Palestinian grassroots struggle can secure the end of Israeli occupation and apartheid, and a future of justice and equal rights for all. Get involved. Send an email demanding that Abdallah be set free. Join national boycott and divestment campaigns against Caterpillar, Motorola, and Ahava, companies that directly benefit from Israeli occupation and expropriation of Palestinian land. Start divestment campaigns on campus and boycott campaigns in your community. Organize in your Congressional district against U.S. military aid that sustains and abets Israeli occupation and war crimes. These aren't just "feel good" actions. The Israeli military's campaign of repression against grassroots activists is telling us--and our Palestinian grassroots allies are telling us--that these actions are exactly what threatens the maintenance of Israeli occupation and apartheid. They are exactly what works.