A Place with No Law | An Interview with Issa Amro, an activist from Hebron

Interview by Omer Even-Paz

Can you tell me about yourself and your political activities? 

I am a human rights activist from Hebron, and the founder of many nonviolent groups, the most famous of them is probably Youth Against Settlements.  Our goal is to expose the occupation, raise awareness by getting media coverage ,and take legal actions against the occupation’s activities such as the random checkpoints and curfews. We try to increase the cost of the occupation by direct action and other nonviolent activities. The other part of our activities is directed inwards: we volunteer and do social work to support the community so it can withstand life under the military oppression. 

You had a recent encounter with the Israeli intelligence services. What happened there?

Last September, Netanyahu came to Hebron as part of his election campaign. He wanted to show to the Israeli public that he’s connected to Hebron, that it the city important to him. His visit was meant to provoke the Palestinians, to signal that Hebron is part of Israel – which, according to international law is completely false. He was the first prime minister to visit Hebron during an election campaign. I wrote a Facebook post against his visit, saying we will not be silent and act peacefully against it. The authorities didn’t want us to organize any public opposition or any peaceful resistance. An hour before the visit I received a threatening phone call from someone who said his name is Yasser. He said he’s working with the Israeli intelligence. He was following my Facebook and said I was inciting against Netanyahu and that I had thirty seconds to delete the post or else something bad will happen to me. Then he hung up. Everybody knows that I’m only doing nonviolent resistance and only support peaceful resistance. The only objective was to scare me and deter people from practicing any kind of resistance or protest. I filed a complaint through an association of civil rights regarding the threats I’ve received. threats which were made for simply writing my opinions on Facebook. there was no incitement in them, but this is a place with no laws. 

What do you mean by ‘no laws’?

If the Israeli army wants to know something about me, they can. Nothing keeps them from doing what they want. I know that Israeli intelligence is following my social media accounts, my phone, any communication I make. As Palestinians, we don’t have any rights because we are under military law, which means that we are practically guilty until  proven otherwise. They can follow, observe; they can do anything. Every aspect of our lives is under military control. 

Did something like that happen before? 

Many times. Last February, the Israeli police arrested me after the Israeli Civil Administration commander filed a complaint about my social media activity. These cases are not unusual: I was interrogated many times about my posts, and so were my friends. It’s not just the Israeli forces: The Palestinian Authority also arrested me for criticizing the Palestinian leadership on Facebook and advocating for the defense of journalists who were intimidated and detented by the Palestinian Security Forces

In February, they only released me after bail was paid. The trial itself will be held next year. 

So how does it happen? the Israeli police or soldiers just come knocking on your door?  

You are taken from your house or street while being blindfolded and handcuffed. Usually, they will keep you in a military base for a few hours and only then move you to a police station. There they interrogate you in a mixture of Arabic and Hebrew. After a few more hours, they decide what to do with you. If they choose to keep you in jail until the court hearing, they will take you to Military Detention Center. I was taken to the military camp in Gush-Etzion, Which is famous that you will be mistreated humiliated there. 

In what manner? 

First, you have no idea what time it is. No sense of time. No connection with the outside world, nothing. Not your family, no news given. The food is terrible food: you eat the leftovers of the soldiers. You’re disconnected; you know nothing, everything smells very bad: the cells, the blankets. The soldiers treat you as if you’re a terrorist. They keep you naked sometimes, they shout and yell at you, they beat you up sometimes. But the worst is to go from Gush Etzion to the military car, which takes you to Ofer military base. One day you are being handcuffed and blindfolded and even your legs are with chains. You being put in the car all day from the early morning until the night, you are on a metal chair in the car. It happened to me that I’ve spent 12 hours in this thing, which is a stinking metal box. It’s a lorry with iron chairs and no air conditioning, nothing it’s the kind of truck used for the cows. This is even what one of the soldiers told me, that this is not meant for humans, but animals. After this is over you go to the military go to the judge. And again, you have no rights in a military court. You are guilty until proven innocent, that’s how the military code works. The judge is a military commander. The prosecutor is military personal if you’re fortunate to have an Israeli lawyer, and that might help. 

And this all happened because of a Facebook post? 

It can happen for any reason. 

How does this situation affect your personal life, your connections with your family and friends? 

It’s in everything. It affects my relationships with my friends and family. Some of them stopped being in touch with me. This is how the occupation is pressuring activists. They know all your friends, they know your family, and they put pressure on them so it will affect your activities. People close to me were threatened not to get close to me. Some of my family members are afraid to get close to me because they are afraid that the occupation will get to them. One army commander even said in my trial that they follow my activities. So It changes things. It changes the way I speak with my friends or the way I make friends because I suspect that any new friends will collaborate with the Israeli occupation forces. 

So the web is as dangerous as anywhere. 

You need to understand, The international companies like Facebook and Google and other social media, they don’t understand the conditions of the Palestinians and their needs under the occupation. Facebook removes many Palestinians media accounts in Palestine. We see that they don’t understand the Palestinian narrative, and they don’t get the situation in which Palestinians are talking about their lack of rights and freedoms.

But the occupation is doing more than that. 

They are using social media to affect the Palestinian public opinion against any resistance to the occupation. They have Manny Manny fake accounts that operate to discourage the people Involved in the peaceful resistance or any Palestinian activities on the ground against the presence of the settlements. 

So the military is operating inside the Palestinian social networks?

Yes. Only that the occupation has more capabilities and more financial resources to influence social media. The occupation is controlling the internet, it is monitoring the content they follow you, and they can use any private or social activities to destroy your image or to destroy your support from your community. 

September 2019