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Locked in Israeli Jail for Being a Human Rights Defender

Since Hassan Karajah was arrested on January 23, access to his lawyer has been prohibited and he has been relentlessly interrogated.
 
 
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A Palestinian boy and Israeli soldier in front of the Israeli West Bank separation barrier.
Photo Credit: Justin McIntosh/Wikimedia Commons

 
 
 
 

Hassan Karajah loves cooking. Since he came to work with us at the Stop the Wall Campaign, whenever he was in the office he would ensure we all had tasty lunches together. Often we would joke that his culinary capacities would come in handy once he was inevitably incarcerated in an Israeli jail. On January 23, the Israeli military came to arrest him. Since then he has been relentlessly interrogated. Access to his lawyer was prohibited for nearly two weeks, while court hearings so far only served to extend interrogation periods over and over again.

We are grateful that already over 2,000 people have asked the US diplomatic offices to intervene on behalf of Hassan. Unfortunately, even such massive concern has been simply ignored by American authorities. Earlier this week, the State Department admitted that it had not even discussed the matter with Israel.

Hassan´s arrest has gotten such attention because his work as a human rights defender is so unique: he has an extraordinary capacity to take what is at hand and transform it into something special. At Stop the Wall we organize peaceful protests and advocacy campaigns with the aim of stopping the Wall Israel is constructing illegally in the West Bank and which, together with the Jewish-only settlements and other related infrastructure built on our land, cuts us off from approximately 60 percent of the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem (from which we are also cut off).

Hassan trained and mobilized youth activists and helped to network them with the exciting nonviolent experiences of the Arab Spring. Out of an old fashioned, half-way broken Nokia phone Hassan would create e-campaigns and twitter actions. He would organize workshops and trainings for the youth from all over the West Bank so that they could learn how to get their word out and use these tools to mobilize. Just as in the story of 5 Broken Cameras, the documentary on the struggle against Israel's apartheid wall that is currently up for an Oscar this Sunday, February 24, Hassan was mobilizing against the Wall and to inform the world about what is happening in Palestine. Unfortunately, locked up in prison, Hassan may not even know about the Oscar nomination.

Born out of his love for music and culture, he and other Palestinian youth organized in less than a week – and with no money at hand – one of the most inspiring New Year’s eves in Ramallah. In one of the central squares, they brought together Palestinian musicians to sing for free. Popular and resistance songs started a new year rooted in the awareness of the richness of our identity and the hope expressed in our songs.

Hassan offered ideas, determination and a never-ending energy. He knew this was dangerous. Already a year ago he expressed this in an interview regarding a previous raid of our offices: “We are with our bodies here in the streets and in the fields and with our voices all around the world. The idea that a new generation is getting stronger, that it is not ready to forget about their rights and their identity, and that it is not ready to accept the status quo as ‘normal,’ this is what scares them.”

The status quo for Palestinian youth under occupation means almost daily humiliation at the scores of checkpoints that separate villages from each other, people from jobs, services, schools and universities. It means ongoing theft of land and natural resources through the construction of the illegal Wall and the settlements and with this the loss of the means of livelihood for entire communities. It means home demolitions, forced displacement, military attacks and imprisonment. Hassan is a symbol of this new generation of Palestinian resistance against this status quo. This is his crime.

Before him, I was arrested, as was the previous youth coordinator, Mohammad Othman. Unlike many other human rights defenders that are in their villages active against Israeli policies of occupation and apartheid, we both had to be released after respectively weeks and months of interrogation, including torture. Israel was not able to present any reasonable charges against us and international attention was too strong to let us simply disappear in Israeli jails.
 
Recently, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued its latest report on the Israeli settlement enterprise, condemning it as an internationally recognized crime of population transfer of an occupying power such as Israel into occupied territory and as a system of severe segregation. The report shows how the settlements undermine the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and calls for ending trade and cooperation with the settlements and encourages sanctions against Israel. Finally, the report urges Israel to put an end to arbitrary arrest and detention of the Palestinian people related to the settlement enterprise. Yet, the international community continues to stop short of holding Israel accountable for its ongoing violations of international law and Palestinian rights.

The international community repeatedly fails the Palestinian people and leaves the people across the globe as the only ones to effectively defend a just peace in Palestine and ensure the recommendations of the report are implemented. At this stage, the very least the international community should do is to stand up for the right of Palestinians to protest Israeli violations of international law and international complicity with it.


Hassan and millions of other Palestinians deserve that much from an international community that has done far too little over the past several decades to advance Palestinian rights and to hinder Israeli lawbreaking.

 

Jamal Juma is coordinator of Stop the Wall and in 2009 was arrested by Israel. He was released without charges after a high-profile international campaign on his behalf.

 
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