I remember the day I first met Jamal Juma. He was speaking at a United Nations conference in 2003 about the damage being done by Israel’s Wall. The audience was shocked: Many had heard that Israel had started carving a Wall in the West Bank in 2002, but they had no idea it could already be seen from outer space.
Yet this articulate, handsome Palestinian used facts and visual evidence to show how the Wall was expropriating yet more Palestinian land and separating Palestinian communities from each other.
One picture Jamal showed us still breaks my heart: A middle-aged Palestinian farmer with a tear trickling down his cheek. The olive grove he had inherited from his father had just been bulldozed to make way for the Wall. He had not only lost his livelihood; he had also been unable to protect his family’s trust, the symbol of everything that had gone into making them Palestinian.
Now Jamal is in jail. Israel’s occupation army detained him on December 16. After interrogating him, they brought him back home, handcuffed, and searched his house while his wife and three children watched. Then they took him off to prison.
Jamal has always combined strategic thinking with practical non-violent action to defend Palestinian rights. He founded the Stop the Wall Campaign, which tirelessly fought the Wall’s encroachment alongside village-based movements like Bil’in and Ni’ilin. The Campaign has mobilized activists for justice within Palestine and across the world.
Jamal is the third anti-Wall activist to be arrested in the last few months. Their arrest is an Israeli acknowledgement of their success, at great personal cost.
Civil resistance has spread widely throughout the occupied territories, in spite of Israel’s attempts to crush it. On November 9, the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, protestors managed for the first time to topple a few of the Wall’s massive concrete panels. The movement has also imposed itself on the Palestinian Authority, which recently held a conference bringing together all the village civil resistance committees.
Moreover, the Stop the Wall Campaign made a strategic decision to link to the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. The first Stop the Wall activist to be arrested was Mohammad Othman on his return from Norway, where his advocacy efforts contributed significantly to the Norwegian Pension Fund decision to divest from the Israeli military giant Elbit Systems.
Omar Barghouti, a founder of the academic boycott movement, says that Israeli analysis of the impact of BDS has changed after “academic and commercial organizations started feeling the heat and demanding action.”
He sees Israel’s latest arrests as a test. “Either we meet this challenge and the world supports our right to civil resistance, or they will intensify their repression of all human rights defenders. If they can get away with arresting civil society leaders that are clearly committed to non-violence, then everyone’s at risk.”
The world appears to be responding. Mohammad Othman’s arrest sparked a flurry of protests by European officials and diplomats, including a letter from a British minister demanding that Othman be given the right to due process or released.
In the United States, Jewish Voice for Peace took up Othman’s case. Its members sent some 10,000 letters to Barack Obama asking him to live up to his Cairo speech, which called on Palestinians to use non-violence.
JVP had already been supporting the Shministim, the young Israeli Jewish conscripts refusing to serve in the army of occupation. They took up Othman’s case because “We wanted to show the Palestinian side,” JVP campaigns director Sydney Levy explained. Of course it’s much harder — U.S. audiences assume that if a Palestinian is arrested they must have done something wrong. With Mohammad, you have a young man with a friendly smile, a Palestinian partner for peace committed to non-violence.”
Israel has one prisoner in Palestinian hands, and everyone knows his name. Few know the names of between 9,000 and 11,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
Until now. Along with dozens of JVP activists, Levy called Hillary Clinton’s office. He had just started speaking when the State Department official sighed and said, “Is this about Mohammad Othman?”
And now Jamal is imprisoned too. I once asked Jamal about the dangers of his work but he brushed the question aside: “People are being killed like flies. I’m no better than the next person.”
Israel still believes it can act with impunity. It will only stop if there is a cost to its human rights violations. Appeals to the Israeli authorities to respect due process are not enough, as Omar Barghouti put it in a call to redouble efforts for BDS. Israel will only change if it “gets the message that its arrest of civil resistance leaders will only intensify the already massive BDS campaigns against it.”
NADIA HIJAB is an independent analyst and a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies.