Palestinians have ‘no alternative but non-violence’
Issa Amro is a Palestinian human rights activist from the West Bank city of Hebron. He is the founder of several organisations that use non-violent means to protest the Israeli occupation. One of these is Youth Against Settlements.
He has been arrested numerous times by the Israeli military. Amro won a recent ruling of unlawful arrest and a claim for compensation but criminal charges are pending.
Amro was arrested by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 2017 after denouncing the detention of a journalist critical of the Palestinian leadership. He faces imprisonment by the PA for his dissent.
In 2009, he was given the One World Media award for the “Shooting Back” project in which cameras were distributed to Palestinians to document human rights violations by Israeli soldiers and settlers. He has won the support of prominent organisations and individuals, including US Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont. Amro spoke to The Arab Weekly in London via telephone from Hebron.
The Arab Weekly (TAW): What is the current focus of your work?
Issa Amro (IA): “Last year, I started another organisation called the Hebron Freedom Fund working for peace and justice. The main idea is to oppose the Hebron Fund, which is an American charity and the main supporter of the Israeli settlers in Hebron.
“I do more sumoud [Arabic for “resilience”] projects supporting Palestinians on the ground by establishing women’s groups, training women about advocacy, about how to start their own business so they will have what I call a ‘freedom economy,’ which is not dependent on anyone.
“We choose women because women are stronger and they know how to help their families. We do a lot of training for women, give them languages, we train them about international law, about their rights because as Palestinians we live under Israeli military law so you should know your rights very well to protect yourself.
“We also do a lot of advocacy work among Jewish groups around the world. We try to open their eyes about the situation in Hebron, about the situation in the Palestinian territories in general, about Palestinian narratives and how they should come to see with their own eyes. We try to target celebrities, bring them on tours of the city and we also ask Israelis to come and see.
“We are also establishing a playground for children, the only playground in H2 [The 1997 Hebron Protocol divided the city into two sectors: H1, controlled by the Palestinian Authority and H2, roughly 20% of the city, administered by Israel.]”
TAW: Is non-violent protest gaining support among Palestinian youth?
IA: “Unfortunately, the Palestinians are almost destroyed and disappointed by the situation they are living in. The jobless rate among young Palestinians in Hebron is… creating a catastrophe for everyone. It’s a big deal after you get your degree to end up unemployed and so you lose all your dreams in your early life.
“The huge amount of violence from the Israeli soldiers and settlers is making the Palestinians angry. I try, try hard to convince them that non-violent resistance is the best tool to end the occupation. I think we don’t have any other alternative. It’s the only way and we need some time to do it.
“The people do love us. My friends tell me ‘Issa, we like what you are doing, we hope to do what you are doing but it has a very high price.’ There is a huge price for participating in resistance against the occupation because the occupation doesn’t distinguish between different kinds of resistance — all resistance according to military law is illegal. So I could be in jail for one to ten years for resisting peacefully.”
TAW: What gives you the courage to continue?
IA: “I get it from the victims who see me as their supporter, as the person they call when they need help, this is what makes me do more. The people need someone to challenge the system and challenge the difficulties.
“I have been arrested many, many times by the Israelis and they might decide my sentence by the end of this year. I don’t like to be reminded about the seven days I spent in a Palestinian torture cell. The Palestinian arrest affected me a lot and made me angry about my government, which should support me and back me up. [It hasn’t] dropped the charges. At any time they could activate the file and I could be in a Palestinian jail for one year.
“There is a high price, you can’t have a normal life because of that but let me say that I’m very proud of myself, very proud of all Palestinian and international human rights defenders who are giving their lives for peace, for justice and for human rights. I’m not the only one in the world, many human rights defenders give their lives for their own people.”
TAW: Are you optimistic?
IA: “[US President Donald] Trump is making everyone aware there is something wrong. I’ve read a lot of history and no oppressor stays forever. Israeli solidarity is not increasing, it’s decreasing, but I can say that Jewish solidarity is increasing so we work more with Jewish groups all over the world. As the situation gets worse, the more we need to be active and smart and this means it will be solved so I’m very optimistic about the future.”