In January of this year, Abdallah Abu Rahnah was arrested, tried and convicted in an Israeli court to 12 months in jail. Abu Rahnah has been organizing demonstrations and other initiatives protesting the Security Wall that Israel erected to stop the waves of suicide bombers who were murdering random civilians throughout Israel’s major cities during the second intifada.
Though I was always very uncomfortable with the building of the wall (I demonstrated in Israel under the banner: build bridges not walls), I have to admit that it does its job of preventing suicide bombings. It has also severely restricted the flow of illegal, hard drugs into Israel. I do believe that there are many instances where the wall should have gone around a Palestinian orchards or neighborhoods, and that there was an element of vindictiveness in the implementation.
Abdallah Abu Rahnah has made the wall a focus of his protest. I would take issue with him on many issues that he supports. But he is in prison for expressing these opinions in a non-violent way. Israel is a democracy and we, as Israelis, take great pride in being one of a very few democracies in the Middle East and Africa. But democracy comes with a price. To be a democracy, you need to honor the views of those who don’t agree with you. When the line is crossed whereby someone is violent or intimidating, that is one thing. When Abu Rahnah was charged with violent acts such as stone throwing, the courts found him innocent.
In a letter to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Amnesty International referred to him (and two others) as… “Prisoners of conscience, held for legitimately voicing their opposition to the fence/wall,”
The Middle East is a tough place to live especially when you value such principles as freedom of speech and expression. Israel has the right to defend itself and this includes those who use or advocate for violence. But Abu Rahnah should not be incarcerated for non-violent advocacy. It is an injustice against him and against the democratic state of Israel.
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com