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Leading Palestinian activist isn’t fixated on a Palestinian state

Palestinians are dealing with more pressing issues like losing their land and their children, says Amro

Image Credit: AFP
Eisa Amro, a leading Palestinian activist, has beendetained numerous times by the Israeli military while staging non-violent protests.
Gulf News

Washington: In Washington, a generation of diplomats, politicos and wonks see the prospect of peace between Israelis and Palestinians entirely in the context of the “two-state solution,” a scenario in which an independent Palestinian state emerges alongside Israel. It has been an article of faith for successive American administrations, even the current one. But on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territories, the two-state solution is a mirage.

The right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu includes a number of politicians who emphatically reject the notion of an independent Palestine.

Israeli colonists continue to expand across the Occupied West Bank, no matter the timid censure of the international community. And Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finds himself tethered to a process that has no real future, while his support dwindles among the Palestinian public.

“We are not in the time to talk about solutions,” said Eisa Amro, a leading Palestinian activist who spoke to The Post while on a visit to Washington this week. “We are in the time to protect ourselves from colonies, from colonist violence, from attacks on our cities and villages.”

Amro, 38, has risen to prominence as a nonviolent dissident. Amro’s organisation, Youth Against Colonies, stages civil disobedience actions and monitors human rights violations in the West Bank. He comes from a generation of Palestinians who have grown up in the era that followed the 1993 Oslo peace accords and yet see no end to the military occupation that has defined their lives. That’s perhaps especially true in the West Bank city of Hebron, Amro’s hometown, where civic life is dominated by Israeli colonies.

“It’s every day — house demolitions, land confiscation, building more and more colonies,” he said. “If you tell a Palestinian, ‘two-state’ or ‘one-state,’ he’ll say ‘What are you talking about? They are burning my house, they are arresting my children.’”

For his pains, Amro has been detained numerous times by the Israeli military while staging nonviolent protests. This summer, he appeared in an Israeli military court on a series of charges mostly dating back more than three years, including supposedly spitting at a colonist and “obstructing” soldiers. The trial is set to resume later this month.

“The right-wing government is pushing the Israeli military to take me down for being an activist who is opposing the colony project in my own city peacefully,” said Amro, who refers to the segregation enforced in Hebron as open “apartheid.”

“If he is convicted, we will consider Eisa Amro a prisoner of conscience,” a spokeswoman from Amnesty International told Israeli media earlier this year, saying that the charges against Amro “don’t stand up to scrutiny.” Adding to the chorus are a number of US senators, including Senator Bernie Sanders, who penned a letter in August to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raising concerns about Amro’s trial and urging the State Department to keep tabs on it. Amro called on Sanders while in Washington.

Israeli military courts, though, have a 99 per cent conviction rate in cases such as this.

Amro, who was born in Hebron and turned to activism as a college student, is one of the more well-known dissidents in the West Bank. He liaises with left-wing Jewish organisations, both in Israel and overseas, while his work has been highlighted by UN rapporteurs and defended by European diplomats.

Amro sees the struggle before him in stark and simple terms. He is not invested in notions of Palestinian statehood or independence, but in winning for the close to 5 million Palestinians living under occupation the same basic freedoms afforded to Israelis.

“We want Israelis to talk about our rights as equal human beings. But we see that they only talk about themselves and they just ignore this,” he said.

“Nobody cares about me waiting at a checkpoint for three hours for no reason. Nobody cares about a child being detained by Israeli occupation forces.”

The repeated refrain from Netanyahu and other Israeli officials is that the main obstacle to peace is Palestinian violence. But that argument falls short with people like Amro, whose tactics include sit-ins and the monitoring of colonists and Israeli occupation forces with video cameras.

“They see us as the main enemy,” he told me. “They don’t know how to deal with non-violence.”

“It is particularly people like him that Israel is most uncomfortable with, more than the militant carrying the weapon,” said Yousuf Munayyer, executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.

“People often ask, ‘Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?’ You’ll often find many of them either in Israeli prisons or shot or killed or otherwise oppressed from engaging in activism.”

Amro is cynical about the peace process, suggesting that Netanyahu and his allies are happy with the prevailing state of affairs and that talks will yield little for Palestinians.

“Israel wants the status quo. It wants us to accept the occupation, to give up our rights,” he said.

“Negotiations haven’t brought us anything on the ground. On the contrary, it gave colonists more time to build more colonies.”

Amro wants to encourage a campaign of mass civil disobedience across the West Bank. But such protests carry high costs; an estimated 40 per cent of the total male Palestinian population has been detained at some time or the other by the Israeli military.

“The majority of the Palestinians are not using violence or non-violence,” Amro said. “The majority are silent and are afraid to leave their homes.”

Nor do such movements win clear support from the Palestinian Authority led by Abbas, which in some instances has worked hand-in-glove with Israeli authorities to detain activists under loosely defined terror charges. Not long before arriving in the United States, Amro spent a week in Palestinian police custody after writing a Facebook post that called for the release of a detained Palestinian journalist who had written critically of Abbas.

“The international community unflinchingly supports Israel and the PA, even as both continue to demonstrate that they are repressive regimes,” lamented Palestinian-Canadian lawyer Diana Buttu.

In his conversation with The Post, Amro said the Palestinian National Authority — an institution that’s supposed to be the vehicle through which Palestine becomes a state — was “an authority without authority,” subservient, in his view, to an Israeli government that would rather it didn’t exist.

“It’s not about two states. It’s not about peace,” Amro said, referring to the aims of Netanyahu and his allies.

“They believe that it’s all for them.”

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