A message of thanks and hope from a Palestinian to American lawmakers
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When I came into this world, 37 years ago, Israeli settlers had already established themselves in the heart of Hebron, where I was born and have always lived, in the occupied West Bank. Israel’s military rule over Palestinians in the occupied territories, which marked its 50th anniversary this month, has defined and controlled every aspect of my life since birth. And very soon, the occupation may put me in prison. Fortunately, support has risen from an unexpected quarter — the U.S. Congress – and it is my hope that their assistance will help me avoid a long and unjust prison sentence.

Raised under Israeli military occupation, I grew up accustomed to a feeling of powerlessness. That changed when I discovered nonviolent resistance. As a student, I helped organize nonviolent demonstrations demanding the reopening of our university after it was closed by the Israeli military. These protests were successful and I fell in love with nonviolence as a way to peacefully bring about an end to our suffering.

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In 2008, this led me to found Youth Against Settlements, a Palestinian organization dedicated to nonviolent opposition to the injustices and brutality of the Israeli occupation. Since then I have dedicated my life to organizing nonviolent direct actions and community infrastructure projects, and creating of links of friendship and understanding across borders.

 

One of those links of understanding came in the form of a visit from progressive members of the U.S. Congress last year. Walking along the closed streets of Hebron, through the checkpoints and among the heavily armed settlers, I saw the familiar look of shock on their faces as they experienced apartheid in person: the streets divided in half with one side for Jews and the other for Palestinians, the doors of Palestinian shops sealed shut by the Israeli military, the detention of Palestinian civilians for no reason, and the ceaseless taunting and harassment from settlers directed at a community just trying to survive.

The connection made in the streets of Hebron deepened this month as Reps. Mark PocanMark PocanA message of thanks and hope from a Palestinian to American lawmakers Dems to Mattis: Don't delay transgender enlistment policy Progressive Caucus elects Wisconsin lawmaker as new leader MORE (D-Wisc.), Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerDo we really want to give Trump a new nuke? Medical marijuana patients need an antidote for Jeff Sessions Humane Society pushes bills to connect wounded vets, service dogs MORE (D-Ore.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) circulated a letter expressing support for me as I head into Israeli military court. The letter was signed by 32 members of Congress and sent to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, urging him to “urgently pursue all diplomatic tools at [his] disposal” to encourage Israeli authorities to reconsider their case against me. I am facing 18 charges for my nonviolent human rights work. On July 9, I may be condemned to many years in one of the occupation’s prisons.

The offenses I am accused of, including participating in an illegal demonstration and impeding the work of the military, date back to 2010. Some are from cases that have already been closed. Other charges, such as “participating in a march without a permit,” are for actions considered free speech under international law but deemed criminal by the Israeli military when a Palestinian utilizes them.

While Israel seeks to tarnish and imprison me, the international community has offered a different perspective. In 2010, the United Nations named me Human Rights Defender of the Year for Palestine. The following year, I was a guest of the U.S. State Department. The European Union officially designated me as a human rights defender in 2013. And earlier this year, Israel’s case against me was included in a State Department report on human rights as an example of Israel’s violations of those rights.

Nonetheless, Israel’s military court system, whose conviction rate of Palestinians is over 99 percent, is little concerned with the international recognition I have received. I am now at risk of joining the 800,000 other Palestinians who have seen the inside of an Israeli jail since the occupation began in 1967.

Members of Congress are taking a risk by standing up for me. But in doing so, they are accurately reflecting the growing sentiment among Americans who believe in equal rights for all people. A recent survey by the Brookings Institution shows that 74 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of Independents, and 60 percent of all Americans believe that the U.S. should not take a side but remain neutral in seeking a resolution to the conflict. Such an approach would be based on international law instead of the whims of powerful lobby groups, and the letter to Secretary Tillerson sits firmly in that vein.

Contrary to the support Trump has shown for the right-wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the members of Congress signing the letter are not only assisting me, but they are claiming a stake in the freedom of all Palestinians. It is our hope that more members of Congress use their position to effectively represent the wishes of the American people and embody the professed American ideals of democracy and freedom so we may achieve an end to the occupation that has ruled over most of us our entire lives.

Issa Amro is a prominent Palestinian human rights defender and co-founder of the group Youth Against Settlements, based in Hebron in the occupied West Bank. He is currently under indictment by Israel’s military court.


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