Legal battle over Palestinian activist sentencing in IDF courts

The new controversy on Monday was over what Amro’s supporting Israeli witnesses could testify about in court.

Palestinian provocateur Issa Amro of the "Youth Against Settlements" group films IDF soldiers in front of a disputed home in the Israeli-controlled side of Hebron (photo credit: NAYEF HASHLAMOUN/REUTERS)
Palestinian provocateur Issa Amro of the "Youth Against Settlements" group films IDF soldiers in front of a disputed home in the Israeli-controlled side of Hebron
(photo credit: NAYEF HASHLAMOUN/REUTERS)
The controversy continues in a major legal battle between a Palestinian activist and the IDF prosecution in the military courts over whether he is a defender of human rights or a violent agitator.
On Monday, a military court held a sentencing hearing in which the IDF prosecution requested issuing Issa Amro a suspended sentence based on a series of six convictions mixing altercations with security forces and violating laws regarding protests.
According to a statement by the NGO Young Against Settlements, representatives from the EU, Germany, Ireland, Canada, Netherlands, Norway and the UK consulates were at the hearing to show support for Amro, who they believe has been prosecuted for his activism against Israeli control of the West Bank.
But Amro’s support is not merely global. It also includes Israeli officials from the human rights community, including Hagit Ofran from Peace Now, ex-Knesset member Avraham Burg, Prof. Hillel Cohen, and Yehuda Shaul of Breaking the Silence.
All four officials even testified on Amro’s behalf at Monday’s hearing, attesting to his good character and focusing on the idea that he is a political activist opposing Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank non-violently.
The new controversy on Monday was over what Amro’s supporting Israeli witnesses could testify about in court.
According to a spokesperson for Amro, the court would not let the human rights activists talk about the suffering of Palestinians in Hebron due to “the Israeli occupation.”
The spokesperson said that this was unfair as there was no way to separate talking about Amro’s positive character without looking at the broad context of Palestinians under Israeli control which he is trying to change through nonviolent protests.
Sources from the Israeli side countered that all four witnesses were permitted to testify at length and implied that any limits would have been based simply on standard rules of what testimony is relevant to a convicted person’s character.
The implication was that the sentencing hearing for Amro should not be changed into a sideshow in which the main theme shifts to political issues.
At trial, many of the charges against Amro were dismissed, many related to rules regarding protests by Palestinians in the West Bank and in some instances where he was convicted of shoving Israeli security forces, he had argued that he was shoved first and only defended himself.
A spokesperson for Amro also said that the security personnel with whom he had the altercation was not indicted, though the court acquitted Amro of certain charges on the basis of that official having acted outside of his jurisdiction.
Former IDF West Bank chief prosecutor Maurice Hirsch has told The Jerusalem Post that Amro intentionally mixes peaceful protests with instigating violent protests.
Hirsch said he pursues this strategy to try to trap the IDF into being videotaped in compromising situations while not showing the full context when IDF troops sometimes come under various forms of attack.
Amro told the Post that Palestinians are discriminated against as they are arrested for protests whereas Jewish settlers protesting next to his house without a permit were only politely asked to move, with no arrests.
The controversy also exploded on Twitter where Hirsch attacked B’Tselem official Sarit Michaeli for supporting Amro (Amro once worked for B’Tselem) and Michaeli characterized Hirsch as part of the problem, since he was the prosecutor at the time that Amro was indicted.
Amro told the Post he regarded Hirsch as acting politically as a prosecutor and noted his Twitter messages as proof.
In the meantime, Hirsch’s initial tweet appeared to be a response to an attack on Israel by US Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), who claimed that Israel was mistreating Amro.
Tlaib referenced a story by the online site Mondoweiss which said that Amro may be sent to prison, while Hirsch responded the IDF was not requesting prison time, only a suspended sentence.