Palestinian Authority Suppresses Free Speech

Over the past several years, I had heard about the work of the Palestinian peace activist Issa Amro. I read about his work in the New York Times (NYT) article “Who’s Afraid of Nonviolence” and was encouraged by friends to meet him. Amro, 35, founded the group Youth Against Settlements. According to the article, Amro is committed to nonviolent resistance as “the only legitimate path to lasting change [and] is the best hope of peace for Palestinians and Israelis alike.”

In June 2017, I had the opportunity to meet Issa and hear first hand his approaches to nonviolence while working with youth and other activists in Hebron. I, and the nonprofit I lead, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), have been following his activities closely. CMEP issued this press release today. We were dismayed to learn that Issa is facing charges in the Israeli military court system, having been accused of conducting illegal protests and obstructing soldiers’ duties. According to Haaretz, Amro’s charges include “spitting at a settler, obstructing soldiers and insulting them, and entering closed military zones.” His trial is scheduled to resume in October.

Thus, I was disturbed earlier this week to learn that on Monday, September 4, 2017, Issa was detained by the security forces of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Amro had publicly voiced criticism of the PA for detaining Ayman Qawasmeh. Qawasmeh, a Palestinian journalist, who has criticized the Authority and called for PA President Mahmoud Abbas to resign. In two Facebook posts from Sunday, September 3, Amro expressed support for Qawasmeh and condemned his detention.

On Tuesday, Amro began a hunger strike to protest his detention, where he claims to have been subjected to filthy conditions as well as physical violence and threats.

It has been four days since Amro’s initial detainment. Our office and staff team having been paying close attention to the situation and just today released a statement calling on the Palestinian Authority for the immediate release of Issa Amro. We were encouraged that nine members of Congress also called on the PA for Amro’s immediate release. In a letter dated September 6, 2017, members of Congress wrote: “Mr. Amro’s detention is extremely concerning as the United States continues discussion with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to seek a two state solution.” They described the charges against Amro as “baseless” and his detention as “unjust.”

Amnesty International called the arrest “outrageous,” while the UN OHCHR similarly expressed concern and urged his release. The Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights called for both Amro and Qawasmeh to be released from custody.

The detention of Amro and Qawasmeh takes place in a context of increasing authoritarianism by Abbas’ PA.

As a Christian who cares deeply about peace, I believe we must lift up and laud the courageous voices of peace activists, like Issa Amro, who are committed to nonviolence. May Christians and faith leaders alike join together to call for Amro’s release while encouraging the efforts of others who so diligently pursue peace.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Churches for Middle East Peace.

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