Government slams Ashton's 'meddling'

EU: Conviction aims to prevent Palestinians from protesting.

catherine ashton 311 (photo credit: AP)
catherine ashton 311
(photo credit: AP)
EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton’s statement on Wednesday expressing “concern” at the conviction in a military court of a high profile protester of the West Bank security barrier at Bil’in raised the Foreign Ministry’s ire, with spokesman Yigal Palmor calling it unprecedented meddling in a transparent judicial process.
Ashton issued a statement saying she was “concerned by the conviction of 39-year-old Abdallah Abu Rahma in an Israeli military court on charges of incitement and organizing and attending demonstrations.
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He is due to be sentenced shortly. The EU considers Abdallah Abu Rahma to be a human rights defender committed to nonviolent protest against the route of the Israeli separation barrier through his West Bank village of Bil’in.”
In the statement, Ashton said the EU considered the barrier “illegal” where built on Palestinian land, and added that she was “deeply concerned” that the possibility of Abu Rahma’s imprisonment was “intended to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest against the existence of the separation barrier in a nonviolent manner.”
Palmor responded to the statement by saying that “in Israel, where even those who openly support Hamas and Hizbullah enjoy freedom of speech, such accusations sound particularly hollow. Moreover, interfering with a transparent legal procedure of a democratic country is not just highly improper, but is hardly consistent with promoting European values.”
Abu Rahmeh is one of the organizers of the Friday protests at Bil’in, and his trial drew international attention, with an EU representative at all his hearings.
He has been jailed since December and convicted in military court on Tuesday of inciting protesters to attack IDF soldiers and for participating in protests without a legal permit. Sentencing is scheduled for next month.
Abu Rahmeh’s lawyer, Gaby Lasky, said the charges could carry a jail sentence of several years, and that her client would appeal the conviction.
Saying that the High Court of Justice had ordered the barrier be moved at Bil’in, she added, “They try a person who organized protests against a fence that is itself illegal. This is an unfitting use of legal measures.”
Palmor said that if Ashton wanted to replace Abu Rahama’s lawyers, she should say so. “Otherwise she should respect the ruling of the Israeli justice system, and refrain from casting aspersions on a legal system that is lauded world wide by its peers.”
Government officials were even sharper in their rebuke, with one saying Ashton’s statement “probably reflects that internalization of the anti-Israeli discourse that denies any merits or any legitimacy to Israeli democracy and its institutions.”
The official said that what made Ashton’s comments even more “open to ridicule” was that she found time to criticize Israeli justice, while ignoring troubles at home, such as the “curious release” by a Scottish court of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, a year ago and the highly controversial ongoing expulsion of scores of Roma from France to Romania.
AP contributed to this report