This June marked the 50th anniversary of the 1967 war in which Israel defeated the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. For Israelis, it has meant unprecedented access to holy sites and a dramatic acquisition of land, water and other valuable resources. It marks the beginning of the settlement project in which Israel has built 130 settlements and over 100 illegal outposts where approximately 600,000 Israelis now live. For Palestinians it has meant further loss of land and displacement; the destruction of Palestinian olive groves and the demolition of Palestinian homes; raids, curfews, and detentions; an endless maze of checkpoints; and a separation wall that restricts their movement and has destroyed their economy.
In the midst of this grim reality a brave Palestinian has been preaching nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation. Issa Amro, who founded Youth Against Settlements and lives in Hebron, one of the most segregated and militarized areas of the West Bank, has become a leader in the Palestinian-led effort to end the Israeli occupation. His organization works closely with the 250 families in the city center, where entire streets have been closed to Palestinians. Youth Against Settlements has established a kindergarten, resists eviction, fixes homes in disrepair, and runs an annual international campaign to reopen shuttered Shuhada Street. Mr. Amro tirelessly teaches nonviolent resistance and intervenes at checkpoints when soldiers or settlers are harassing Palestinians.
Both the settlers and the Israeli military view Mr. Amro as a political threat, and he faces a military trial this July for 18 charges against him for offenses such as insulting a soldier, protesting without a permit, and entering a closed military zone. He is almost certain to spend several years in prison, as the conviction rate for Palestinians in Israeli military courts is 99.7 percent.
None other than our member of Congress, Rep. Mark Pocan, is leading an effort by U.S. representatives to encourage Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to work with the Israeli government to ensure that Mr. Amro has the right to due process, freedom of expression, and peaceful protest.
The letter states: "We believe that nonviolent means of political engagement should be encouraged rather than suppressed, and that the persecution and imprisonment of peaceful activists only threatens the safety and human rights of both Palestinians and Israelis. As the United States seeks to assist in fostering the conditions for peace negotiations between both sides, we should encourage our steadfast ally in the region to uphold our shared values of respecting the rights of activists like Issa Amro."
As a rabbi and as someone who is deeply connected to Israel, I could not be more proud. Mr. Amro is the kind of nonviolent activist who can help bring peace, justice and equality to this conflicted land. This May, I spent several days working with Mr. Amro as part of a delegation of 130 mostly American Jews with the Center for Jewish Nonviolence. We volunteered with Youth Against Settlements and saw the ugliness of occupation through Palestinian eyes. One afternoon as we cleared weeds from a path connecting several Palestinian homes to make the path more accessible, we were approached first by settlers and then by soldiers. Our very presence triggered a military order to declare the path a closed military zone. We were forced to leave.
I had been to Hebron twice before, in 1999 and 2014. In that time it has changed dramatically. Eight hundred Israeli soldiers are now stationed in a small area to protect the 850 settlers who have moved in. The bustling fruit market I remembered from my first visit is gone. Shuhada Street, which was the main artery of the city and an essential component of the Palestinian economy, is eerily silent. The Israeli government has permitted four settlements to be built inside the city, and Palestinians are forbidden from driving and even walking down certain streets. Many Palestinian families have left, and those who have stayed live in tiny homes above the boarded-up shops. They scramble over rooftops to get in and out of their homes while Israeli settlers and soldiers walk the street with impunity.
This is what occupation looks like, and this is what Mr. Amro is mobilizing Palestinians to resist nonviolently. Along with many members of my community, I applaud Rep. Pocan’s commitment and courage to support nonviolent activists like Mr. Amro.
Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman is rabbi with Congregation Shaarei Shamayim in Madison.
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