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When the “Northern” Islamic Movement was outlawed by the Israeli government, in November 2015, it was a relatively low-profile event. It came almost three decades after the Islamic Movement replaced the Israeli Communist Party as the main mass political organization within the 1.5 million Palestinian Arabs that survived the 1948 ethnic cleansing and are formally regarded citizens of the state of Israel. (“Northern” relates to an internal split that took place within the Islamic Movement in the nineties, when the more pragmatic “Southern” wing decided to participate in the Zionist Knesset, while the more popular and militant “Northern” wing concentrated on grass-root organization.)

You Can’t Outlaw Life

The outlawing of the movement was not followed by detentions or physical attacks – instead the oppression apparatus preferred to concentrate on rooting out the many NGOS, educational and welfare institutions that were identified with the movement. Confiscating the funds that were distributed regularly to poor Arab orphans was no doubt a lucrative profitable business for the Israeli Shabak (GSS). But, anyway, outlawing the biggest political movement of a community that struggles daily for its survival and human and social rights within a systematic apartheid system was due to add a new aspect of illegality to any public expression or struggle.

Free Dr Sleiman Agbariya

Dr. Suleiman Agbariya in the protest tent against the outlawing of the Islamic Muvement, Umm Al-Fahm

Back in November 2015, the response of the Palestinian population was also relatively low profile. The united position of all the parties that are active within the Arab public was expressed by the “High Follow Up Committee” denouncing the outlawing of the movement as an anti-democratic and racist step, targeting all the Arab masses as part of a much wider oppressive wave led by the Israeli government. There was one mass demonstration in Umm Al-Fahm, the biggest city in the Arab Triangle and the traditional capital of the Islamic Movement, a big and very lively protest-tent there and some other activities around the country. But basically the Arab Palestinian public opinion is totally disregarded in Israeli politics. People are fully aware that there is now way that the Arabs can “save” or “defend” Israel’s fake democracy when its government is determined to tear it to pieces.

Firas al-Omary - with writing

Human Rights activists – Firas Omary

The outlawing of the Islamic Movement didn’t “solve” any of the issues that motivated its struggle or caused people to support it. Israeli provocations in Al-Aqsa mosque continue as well as constant offences against Palestinian cemeteries, holy sites and the population in general. As the expression of protest “in the name of the movement” was banned, more energy is invested in united action under the name of local committees and national coordination bodies under the umbrella of the Follow-Up Committee. One example of such democratic united struggle was the campaign of demonstrations against administrative detention and in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Hunger strike.

Escalating Political Detentions

It was strange enough that the first time we heard about political detention as result of the outlawing of the Islamic Movement was the case of an old woman from Al-Quds (Jerusalem). Her main activity was to pray regularly in Al-Aqsa mosque. Over the last year many of those caring for Al-Aqsa, praying there or organizing travel to the mosque from around the country were arrested. In this way the Israeli government actually vindicates the claim of the Islamic Movement that changing the status quo in Al-Aqsa is a strategic goal consistently pursued by the state of Israel. The latest case escalating the persecution of Al-Aqsa lovers was the administrative detention of Muhammad Ibrahim from Kabul.

In the meantime Sheikh Raed Salah, the charismatic, soft-spoken and widely popular leader of the movement, Spent 9 months in prison on old “incitement” charges, related to a speech he gave in Al-Quds some ten years ago.

But a new wave of detentions in the last weeks looks like an attempt by the Israeli police and GSS to bend the rules farther against any kind of political activities, going after central political leaders and subjecting them to secret interrogation while denying their basic rights for legal protection.


Israeli occupation police was here – Firas Omary’s house after his detention

At 1:00 after midnight, on March 22, 2017, Israeli forces surrounded and invaded the house of Firas Omary in Sandala, a village inside the “Green Line” on the road between Afula and Jenin. They awakned the family, terrorizing the small kids, and searched the house in a way that is designed to show force and contempt more than to find anything. They took with them Mr Omary, the leader a prisoners’ rights NGO named “Yusouf Al-Sadiq” and a central activist in “the liberties committee” – an organ of the Follow-Up Committee that specializes in defending political freedoms and caring for the human rights of Palestinian prisoners.

On April 2, another post-midnight police operation targeted in a similar way the house of Suleiman Agbariya, the previous mayor of Umm Al-Fahm. According to Richard Silverstein in Tikun Olam there are now 5 ex-activists of the outlawed Islamic Movement that are now detained in this wave. Even Silverstein that usually knows all the unpublished details about oppression in Israel couldn’t get the names of the other three.

Denial of legal counsel and defence

Closed doors

Behind closed doors – Omary’s remand hearing in Nazareth

When Mr. Omary was brought before the Nazareth court for remand, on March 22, it came out that he is not allowed to meet his (or any other) lawyer. The court extended his detention for six days.

On Tuesday, March 28, I was in the vast waiting halls of the Nazareth court building when Mr. Omary was brought for a second remand. I met there dozens of the central activists of the different Palestinian movements within the green line (those parts of Palestine that are occupied since 1948), in addition to relatives of the detainee. Nobody was allowed in to the hearing, in front of Judge Lily Jung-Goffer, except for the lawyers from Al-Mizan, a Legal Human Rights NGO.

The prevention of contact between the detainee and his lawyers is not only designed to deprive him from legal counsel so that he will not be aware to his rights according to the law. It is also a very important part of the practice of isolating the detainee from the world while he is being subjected to harsh interrogation, aimed to provoke psychological breakdown. For this reason it is not only that the detainee is not allowed to meet his lawyer in private – he is even prevented from seeing him in the court room.

The lawyers out

Mizan lawyers had to leave the courtroom

To achieve this, the detainee was not present at most stages of this own remand hearing. After the legal argument finished, the defense lawyer was instructed to leave the courtroom so that the judge will speak with the detainee without his presence. Only after Mr. Omary was taken away his lawyers were allowed to return to the hall to hear the judge extending the detention for another 6 days.

On Monday, April 3, Omary’s detention was remanded again for another 6 days. He’s expected to appear in the Nazareth court again on Sunday, May 9, the same day that Dr. Agbariya is expected to be brought before the court in Rishon LeZion near Tel Aviv.

(There are some more details about the case of Firas Omary in a previous Hebrew post in Haifa Ha-Hofshit)