Facing jail, the unarmed activist who dared to take on Israel

Baroness Ashton 'deeply concerned' at court's ruling in case of West Bank protest

Baroness Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, yesterday issued an unusually sharp rebuke to Israel over a military court's conviction of a Palestinian activist prominent in unarmed protests against the West Bank separation barrier.

Lady Ashton said she was "deeply concerned" that Abdallah Abu Rahma was facing a possible jail sentence "to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest against the separation barriers in a non-violent manner".

Though acquitted on two charges – including one of stone-throwing – Mr Abu Rahma, 39, a leader of the anti-barrier protests which have taken place every Friday for five years in the West Bank village of Bil'in, was convicted on Monday on another two: "incitement" and "organising and participating in an illegal demonstration".

He is in jail, awaiting sentencing next month. He was detained last December by troops who arrived at his Ramallah home at 2am in seven jeeps as part of what anti-barrier activists say has been an escalating wave of arrests of protesters in West Bank villages, angry about the barrier and settlements encroaching on Palestinian land.

Pointing out that the European Union regarded the barrier as "illegal" where – as at Bil'in – it was built on Palestinian land, the EU's High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy said the EU considered Mr Abu Rahma, who works as a teacher at a private school, to be "a human rights defender committed to non-violent protest".

The protest by Lady Ashton, who was yesterday accused by Israel's foreign ministry of "interfering" in the country's judicial process, follows mounting concern by Western diplomats over the severity of measures taken by Israeli security forces against the mainly rural protests. Officials from several European countries, including Britain, were present for the verdict in the Ofer military court on Monday.

Her intervention was partly designed to demonstrate that the EU representatives will continue closely to watch developments on the ground in the West Bank while direct peace negotiations, due to start in Washington next week, get under way.

The military judge also acquitted Mr Abu Rahma of a charge of illegal arms possession which arose from a collection of used tear gas canisters and bullet cases he had been making to demonstrate that police and troops used violence against protesters.

The Popular Struggle Co-Ordination Committee said the "absurd" charge demonstrated the lengths the military was prepared to go to "to silence and smear unarmed dissent".

It added that the incitement charge had been upheld even though it was based on the testimonies of minors who had been arrested in the middle of the night, and which the court recognised had defects. No other evidence had been offered, despite the routine filming of the protests by the security forces. It said the charge of organising demonstrations had not been used since the first intifada, from 1987 to 1993.

In 2008 Mr Abu Rahma was given an award by the International League for Human Rights in Berlin for "outstanding service in the realisation of basic human rights". He met "the Elders", a group of global statesmen and women including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, when they made a solidarity visit to Bil'in last year.

The protests at Bil'in, the highest profile of several in West Bank villages, have seen clashes between security forces using tear gas and rubber bullets and stone-throwing youths. After a protester was killed there in April 2009, military prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence for an investigation.

Construction work on rerouting part of the barrier at Bil'in finally began this year after the state had twice been found in contempt by the Supreme Court for failing to implement a 2007 court order to reroute the barrier.

Yigal Palmor, Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman, said: "In a country in which even open supporters of Hamas and Hizbollah enjoy freedom of speech, Lady Ashton's accusations sound particularly hollow. If she thinks she can do a better job than the defendant's lawyer, she should say so. Otherwise, interfering in a transparent legal process in a democratic country is a very peculiar way to promote European values."

But Mr Abu Rahma's lawyer, Gaby Lasky, said: "The international community must take a tough stand on this issue, and I am happy that the political motivation of the indictment against a human rights defender was clear to the EU from attending the hearings."

The Co-ordination Committee, a loose body of protest organisers, said yesterday there had been a "dramatic" increase in arrests. Of 93 made at Bil'in alone in five years, 46 were made since July of last year. At the more recent flashpoint of Nabi Saleh, there had been 41 arrests in the last eight months.

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Life and Style
fashionThe supermodel on her career, motherhood and Cara Delevingne
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# asp.net Developer - West Sussex - permanent - £40k - £50k

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Project Manager (infrastructure, upgrades, rollouts)

£38000 - £45000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

Project Manager (App development, SAP, interfacing)

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum + excellent company benefits: Clearwater People Solu...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments