For more than three years, Anas Barghouti has been compelled to attend a “court” intermittently by the Israeli military regime which illegally occupies the West Bank region of Palestine. The Israelis have also summarily imposed a travel ban on him.
Barghouti is a lawyer, and he represents Palestinian prisoners in both Israeli and Palestinian Authority courts. When he is made to pitch up at the Israeli kangaroo court at Ofer military base every three months, though, he is not going there to fight for his clients; it is Barghouti himself who is the accused.
Barghouti was kidnapped by Israeli occupation soldiers in September 2013, becoming an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. The renowned human rights group says that “his arrest was based solely on his peaceful work as a human rights defender” and is currently asking its supporters to take urgent action to end his ongoing harassment by Israel.
The charges brought by the illegal Israeli military court against Barghouti were transparently political: membership of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (a leftist Palestinian political party) and “leadership of a committee to organise demonstrations.” He denied both charges.
On Monday, Theresa May used her speech at the Conservative Friends of Israel annual dinner to gush that Israel is “a thriving democracy, a beacon of tolerance.” The reality of life for the millions of Palestinians who suffer because of the Israeli occupation regime puts the lie to this claim, which is heard all-too-common in Western halls of power. Barghouti’s is very much a case in point.
Due to the fact that there was precisely zero evidence for the charges against him (putting aside their entirely anti-democratic nature, even had they been true), the military “judge” running the Israeli occupation court had to order Barghouti to be released. The prosecution’s “evidence” is likely to have come from Shin Bet – Israel’s domestic spy agency, which is a notorious and habitual master of torture, kidnapping and assassination of political opponents – and its people failed to turn up in court.
Ever since then, every three months, Barghouti has been called back time and time again. On every occasion, the Shin Bet and its associated thugs have failed to turn up in court. This is clearly no mere incompetence; it’s a deliberate tactic.
Amnesty said that “trials at Ofer military court are frequently postponed when the prosecution has failed to produce their witnesses – who are often other Palestinian prisoners, or members of the Israeli forces.” The human rights group explained that it has in the past expressed concern in certain cases that repeated and unjustified delays in trials were themselves a method of punishing Palestinians who were either detained or on bail. “Palestinians face unfair trial before an Israeli military court, whose proceedings fall short of international standards for fair trial.”
Barghouti told Amnesty that the day when he has to go to the court is a day wasted. “It creates tension within me and with my family, especially when you’re in the court from 10am to 4pm and your phone is taken away from you, so there’s no way for your family to know what is happening.” As a lawyer, he pointed out, when he has a hearing to attend he makes sure to clear his diary. “I make sure that I have no work or social commitments, but when I go to court for myself, this is nullified. The travel ban also makes me feel as if I am in a big prison – I can neither go inside Israel nor abroad.”
The human rights lawyer told The Electronic Intifada back in 2013 that his arrest was part of the Israeli occupation policies. “They are afraid of anyone who tells them ‘No.’ If you look at who’s behind bars, you’ll find that they arrest students, intellectuals, women, children, the elderly — everyone.”
This harassment campaign against an important Palestinian lawyer must come to an end immediately. Clearly part of a pattern, the legal harassment and travel ban targeting Anas Barghouti is an obvious attempt to make it harder for him to do his work standing up for the rights of his Palestinian clients.
Israel is no democracy; it is a racist endeavour; an illegal occupation regime. Its brutal military rule over the West Bank and Gaza Strip should come to an immediate end, and it should desist from blocking the realisation of equal rights for all who live between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.