After almost four months in Israeli custody without charge, nearly half that time spent in the legally dubious administrative detention, Mohammad Othman left the prison walls behind, taking his first free steps in months, before crossing Israel’s wall, heading home.
"I’m still in shock about being free, but am so happy and relieved," the youth coordinator from the Stop the Wall campaign told me on the phone while riding with his brother to see his family in the West Bank for the first time in months. "We were constantly under surveillance in the jail; the Israelis were always trying to get information to incriminate us with. I was in a cell with other people, but couldn’t trust talking politics with anyone."
Othman was beaten, threatened with death and subjected to various forms of psychological torture during his interrogation and detention, according to his lawyer. Indeed, his experience is becoming a reality for an increasing number of Palestinians involved in community organizing and popular resistance to the occupation.
Stop the Wall, a Palestinian movement based on grassroots popular resistance to Israel’s wall in the West Bank, has faced increased military pressure as it strengthens its connection to the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The same fate has been made for Palestinians living along the wall’s route, fighting ghettoization and annexation of their land.
Just 24 hours before Othman’s release another lead organizer with Stop the Wall, Jamal Juma, was released from nearly a month of changeless detention and interrogation. Juma was taken from his Jerusalem home on December 15 and, despite having an ID from the city – entitling him to similar rights on paper as Israeli citizens – he was brought before military courts and held under the same terms as a West Bank Palestinian under military rule.
However, the same international attention and connection to a global movement that is landing activists in prisons, is one of the few factors providing some refuge from the relentless Israeli campaign to break them. Speaking anonymously for security reasons, one Stop the Wall activist credited the releases of Juma and Othman to the broad campaign both locally and in the West.
"We had pressure for their release coming from all directions and it must have had an effect," said the activist. "But we’re not going to stop now that they’re released, this campaign [against Israeli detention] will continue and now we have more people to lead it."
Yet, Israel too, is well-weathered in pressure tactics and while it has been forced to relent on pursuing specific activist targets, its occupation strategy has been based in hedging bets.
In the week leading up to the release of the Stop the Wall 2, the army raided and arrested four popular committee activists against the wall in the villages of Ni’lin and Bi’lin. Picked up at his Ramallah home several weeks ago, Bi’lin’s popular committee leader, Abdullah Abu Rahma, continues to sit in Israeli prison awaiting trial, going through the motions of military tribunal, hearing after hearing. And, in an unprecedented move earlier in the week, Israeli soldiers, together with immigration police, raided Ramallah, arresting and deporting International Solidarity Movement media coordinator, Czech-born Eva Nováková.
This numbers game played on people’s liberty has been a favored approach of the Israelis when under pressure to release prisoners. In 2007, Israel arrested over 1800 Palestinians in the months prior to a release of 429 prisoners, pressured by the US to bolster the fledgling Mahmoud Abbas, amidst a growing Palestinian consciousness of expanding PA collaboration with Israel.
The government and army’s continued hold on 11000 Palestinian prisoners in its jails, plus more than 300 additional Palestinians held, absent of charge or trial, in administrative detention, illustrates Israel’s empty symbolism of acquiescence to appease and deflect pressure. Although, if Stop the Wall is right about their expanding campaign, it could change prisoner releases from drops in the bucket that evaporate before they fall from the tap, to starting a slow stream of significantly successful resistance.
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