Posted by: Lister | January 23, 2008

Ahmed Awad and Non-violent protest

This is an old story, but I’ve just heard of it. Non-violence frightens the army (Nov 2004):

Ahmed Awad is dangerous for public security. That’s what the Shin Bet thinks, that’s what Col. Yossi Adiri thinks, that’s what military prosecutor Itai Pollak thinks. The three are responsible for the issue of an administrative arrest order against him at the end of October, meaning an arrest without trial, without any way to respond to the accusations against him.

Military Judge Adrian Agassi, on the other hand, does not think Awad is dangerous to public security. He ordered a cancelation of the administrative arrest order. But the military judge in the military appeals court, Moshe Tirosh, agrees that Awad is dangerous to the public. On November 3, he ordered a cancelation of the cancelation of the administrative arrest order.

[…] To the decision to cancel the cancelation of the administrative order but to shorten the time Awad spends under arrest, he added, “I hope that the respondent will note that the current arrest is a warning of what the future holds and turns away from the bad road with its unhappy ending. He should pay attention to where he comes from and where he is going, and that there is someone before whom he will have to give an accounting.”

But Awad doesn’t have a clue what he must beware of and what is the bad road to which Judge Tirosh was referring. Tirosh, after all, was basing his decision on secret material on which the Shin Bet grounded the request for an administrative detention: the exact same secret material in which Agassi found no evidentiary basis for an arrest.

Awad’s lawyer, Tamar Peleg, from Moked, the Center for the Defense of the Individual, also has no way to advise him how to “turn away from the bad road with its unhappy ending.” She also is not allowed to see the classified material against her client.

Awad, 42, is a high school teacher, father of six and one of the leaders of the Committee for the Popular Struggle against the Separation Fence, which went up in the village of Burdus. The activity by the residents of that village a year ago signaled the start of a grass-roots, non-violent Palestinian struggle against the route of the fence and its accompanying bulldozers, guards, military jeeps and soldiers.

Tear gas, beatings and shootings did not deter them. Quite a few Israelis joined their struggle, and ties of friendship and trust have been formed between them and the residents of the village.

The struggle bore fruit. A spectacular olive grove that sprawls over a few hundred dunam was saved. The defense establishment decided to move the route of the fence westward, so as not to harm the trees. About 100 dunam of farmland remained that the fence was going to swallow up. The village decided to show self-restraint, to concede. They understood their victory was impressive. But then it turned out that the bulldozers deviated from the route that was agreed upon in the compromise between the army and the court. So the villagers resumed their demonstrations.

To prevent their demonstrations, the army and Border Police have been operating in the last three months with considerable aggression and violence against all the residents of the village. The demonstrations have been dispersed with more violence than usual. For 15 days the army imposed a de facto curfew on the village. The minute the children reached their schools, the troops fanned out in the village, took up positions, and did not allow people to leave their homes. The children were too frightened to leave school on their own.

That’s when Awad was arrested. As opposed to the other members of the committee who belong to Fatah, Awad, as he admits, spent a year in prison in 1997 for belonging to Hamas. Last year he was actively involved in developing the non-violent approach to the struggle.

“Instead of the fence, my friends and I managed to establish bridges of trust between us and the Jews,” he said to Judge Agassi. “We let the world understand that there can be coexistence between us and the Jews.”

According to the Shin Bet, military prosecution and Judge Tirosh, the danger referred to in the classified material does not refer to his activity against the fence but to “other activity.” Peleg was only allowed to cast doubt upon the severity of the secret, “other activity.” The open activity, the grass roots activity, she said, contributes to security and public order; it persuades young Palestinians that there is another way to fight for their rights, without going to the Carmel Market to blow up. The hope for change through non-violent struggle provides a counterweight to the despair that sends people to acts of personal vengeance.

But now the despair has been reinforced. Awad will sit in administrative detention until the end of the year. It is difficult not to think that the “good way” he and his colleagues chose in the popular committee is what bothers some elements in the army so much: fraternization with the Israelis, the recognition of a joint Palestinian-Israeli struggle against the occupation, the popular struggle’s success at changing the military decisions, the refusal to be dragged into violence compared to the violence of the army and occupation.

So the Israeli government keeps secret the ‘real’ reason for the detention of a man who was building bridges between Israeli and Palestinian people. The strength of those bridges was so strong that when 41 anti-fence demonstrators were arrested near Budrus, there was a Spartacus moment:

Security forces arrested 41 Israeli left-wing activists who were participating in a demonstration against the separation fence yesterday near the West Bank village of Budrus.

The protesters, who were from the groups Anarchists Against the Fence and Ta’ayush Arab Jewish partnership, were demonstrating against the use of village grounds for the construction of the West Bank separation fence and against the Israel Defense Forces’ decision to place Budrus resident Ahmed Awad under administrative detention for organizing anti-fence protests.

None of the Israelis arrested were carrying their identity cards, and when asked their names they all said, “My name is Ahmed Awad.”

The IDF said it disrupted the demonstration because Israeli and foreign activists leading the protest violated an agreement the army had made with Budrus residents, whereby the protest would take place only near the village and not near the construction site.

Not bad for an ex-member of Hamas. I can see why Awad had to be arrested. Imagine if Israelis and Palestinians got to know each other and want justice for each other. That would change the region.

Ta’ayush (Arabic for “life in common”) is a grassroots movement of Arabs and Jews working to break down the walls of racism and segregation by constructing a true Arab-Jewish partnership. They have a copy of the Haaretz story.



  1. Ta’ayush article — We are all Ahmed Awwad from Dec 2004:

    The Israeli position on Palestinian political organization was made explicit on March 19th 1988 when the ‘Shabiba’ was outlawed by a military order. According to Joel Greenberg writing in the Jerusalem Post on March 20 1988 (quoted in the AL-Haq report):

    “The Shabiba, whose members include college students, pupils, and Palestinian youngsters not in school, has branches throughout the Territories and in East Jerusalem… among its open activities were community projects such as home renovation, aid to the elderly and youth programs. Security officials considered it to be in fact a recruiting mechanism for Fatah, through which young Palestinians are mobilized for anti-Israel attacks and nationalist political activity.”

    The military was not required to substantiate its (unlikely) claims about the Shabiba being a front for Fatah let alone accusations made against any particular member of the Shabiba who has been put in administrative detention. Furthermore, under Israeli law a person can actually be convicted for simply being a member of such an outlawed organization. Evidence of such membership can include delivering food to elderly people or the more serious charge of ‘nationalist political activity’.

    […] In spite of the repression, a Palestinian non violent popular movement has risen to oppose the separation wall. In Salem, Anin, Masha, Azawia, Biddu, Beit Awwa, Beit Ula, Iskakka, Budrus, Dir Balut, Beit Surik, Beit Likia, Al Ram, Abu Dis, Kibbia and other villages. A broad based movement, including men women and children has persistently resisted the land confiscation and the caging of their communities. The movement has persisted in non violent action even after 6 protesters were killed and thousands injured by live fire, rubber coated metal bullets tear gas and beatings.

    For the first time, this movement has also been joined by Internationals and Israelis on the ground. Those Internationals and Israelis who have joined the Palestinian movement do not presume to instruct Palestinians in the conduct of their struggle. Rather, they realize that it is thier own societies which need to learn that Palestinians are human beings and deserve to be treated as such.

    The Israeli authorities have responded to the popular movement and its international supporters in the usual manner. Demonstrations are violently suppressed with live fire, Rubber coated metal bullets, tear gas and beatings. Not surprisingly, most of the violence is directed at Palestinians. In fact, commanders can be heard ordering soldiers to not shoot the Israelis. However, in spite of their relative privileged position, internationals and Israelis were also victims of IDF and police violence. One Israeli was nearly killed when he was shot in both legs with live ammunition from close range and another was shot in the eye with a rubber coated metal bullet. Other Israelis and Internationals have also been beaten and shot with rubber coated metal bullets.

    Other than violent repression of demonstrations the Israeli authorities employ a wide range of political suppression tools. The ministry of interior systematically prevents members of the International Solidarity Movement from entering Israel and tries to deport those who are arrested at demonstrations. IDF commanders issue orders declaring demonstration areas “closed military zones” and arrest Israelis who are caught inside. Most sever of course is the treatment of Palestinian activists. Those who are suspected of being organizers can be imprisoned for months without charges.

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