Analysis: Trial of Palestinian women politically charged

Trial of 2 Palestinian women highlights International Court of Justice ruling on West Bank security barrier and debate over protests.

July 10, 2013 04:04
3 minute read.
PALESTINIAN PROTESTER Nariman Tamimi (center) during weekly demonstration in Nabi Salih

PALESTINIAN PROTESTER Nariman Tamimi 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

For a number of days multiple media outlets have been providing coverage of a trial of two Palestinian women who were arrested by the IDF for nonviolent protest in a closed military zone.

The events surrounding the case, how it is being covered, as well as court documents, news reports and a release from the B’Tselem human rights group indicate that much more is at stake here than the fate of these two women, who have been essentially released to partial house arrest and, even if convicted, cannot be given any severe punishment.

Nine years ago the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel’s West Bank security barrier is illegal under international law.

According to the Palestinian side, what is at stake in this trial is its right to nonviolently protest that Israel is violating its rights by maintaining the barrier and by refusing to comply with the ICJ ruling.

The Nabi Salah village – regarding which the women were arrested – has been a major area of protests since the Palestinians claimed that Jewish settlers took over a spring and lands connected to the village in 2009.

There are indications that the Palestinians may be timing a spike of larger protest to coincide with the anniversary of the ICJ’s ruling, and there are indications that the IDF has stepped up the aggressiveness of its responses to what it perceives as a deeper threat to its ability to maintain order in the West Bank.

In one of the remand hearings, the women’s lawyer, Nery Ramati, even attacked the arrest as an unconstitutional violation of their right to protest.

The head prosecutor for the IDF in the West Bank made an extremely unusual personal appearance at the hearing, in which he argued the issue, which the court put off, to be decided at trial.

The two Palestinian women are also not unknowns. Nariman Tamimi is the wife of Bassam Tamimi, who is revered by Palestinians as their Gandhi and leader of nonviolent resistance but is considered highly problematic by the IDF, which claims that he morphs from encouraging nonviolence to coordinating rock-throwing attacks and worse.

The second woman, Rana Hamadi, is a dual Palestinian-Canadian citizen. Because such foreign citizens often draw greater foreign government and media attention, Israel generally tries to avoid prosecuting persons who are citizens of other countries.

Notably, a military appeal’s court order releasing her from arrest does not directly prevent her from returning to Canada to avoid trial.

So the two women have a high enough profile to attract outsized attention compared to others arrested, and they are about as sympathetic cases as can be presented to make the argument about the ICJ ruling and nonviolent protest; for, unlike some cases, there are no allegations that they attacked IDF soldiers or threw any rocks.

The IDF, on the other hand, appears to want to draw a line in the sand, both because, according to court records, the two women have prior indictments or convictions, and to show its resolve in the face of potentially escalating protests.

In this case, the IDF’s efforts appear to have mixed results, with the Military Appeals Court declaring the two women not dangerous, reversing the lower Judea Court ruling on that issue, but also finding that there was substantial evidence that they had violated the closed military zone order – implying that the violation was done knowingly.

Part of the fight is also whether the IDF orders are clear enough about where protests are legal and illegal and whether Palestinians should have to apply for a permit to protest.

The IDF would likely say that Palestinians purposely do not apply for permits, as it is against their principles that they should need such permission for protests on Palestinian land, and they therefore knowingly violate the law.

The IDF would likely add that the boundaries of the closed military zone have been published for months, and that the women were warned not to approach, and yet they specifically approached an area closer to a street that the IDF considers a potentially dangerous area.

The Palestinians would say that the IDF changes the boundaries often, and that IDF orders are not clear enough or publicized in such a way that puts them on proper notice.

With neither side backing down, it seems that another major legal public relations battle is off and running.

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