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The Palestinian artist jailed by Israel for the ‘crime’ of inspiring his people

February 29, 2020 at 12:00 pm

Hafez Omar, a Palestinian artist who was arrested by Israeli forces in March 2019 [Twitter]

Today he may be sitting and rotting in an Israeli cell, but in 2012 Palestinian graphic designer Hafez Omar’s posters were setting the internet alight. On Facebook in particular, his simple, iconic, anonymous brown avatars in support of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel spread like wildfire. People all over social media changed their profile photos to one or other of the male or female versions.

In a 2013 interview, Omar explained that his work drew on a far older Palestinian tradition of popular political posters. This trend, going back many decades, has always helped to rally and inspire the people towards resisting Israel. It is a common method for the mass mobilisation of the people in many societies around the world.

Omar’s work in many ways was a modern, digital extension of such work into the online realm. In that interview he noted how he saw it as encouraging when the Palestinian people themselves adopt and print his posters. “I take it as a sign that I’m still with the people when I see people [have] printed and [are] using things that I design.”

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Hafez Omar is not a criminal; he is not a “terrorist” and nor is he an “extremist”. He is not even a resistance fighter. The only “crime” that he has committed is to stand up for the rights of his people, the people of Palestine. For this, Israel has kept him imprisoned without trial for almost a year.

Israel army thugs first kidnapped Omar in March last year. During the interrogation process, the Israelis demanded to know about “his artworks and publications on social media, especially those in support of the rights of Palestinian prisoners.” He was not accused of any wrongdoing, except the “crime” of inspiring his people to resist the Israeli occupation.

Lives of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails - Cartoon [Arabi 21]

Lives of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails – Cartoon [Arabi 21]

According to Human Rights Watch, the Israelis’ invalid charge sheet consisted “almost entirely of peaceful activities, such as meetings with other activists and involvement in protests, including several against the Palestinian Authority.” Even the allegedly “non-peaceful” activities he is accused of are unspecified “clashes” four years earlier; it is alleged that he “threw stones at [Israeli] security forces”.

Had Omar really done this, though, he would have been entirely justified. Even armed resistance to illegal and oppressive military occupation is a basic right enshrined in international law, never mind a few stones. Israeli soldiers routinely lie about this, and habitually invent charges against Palestinian protesters.

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This is all incredibly well documented, and I experienced it myself in the mid-2000s in the Jerusalem area when I was filming a peaceful Palestinian protest against an Israeli checkpoint. The protesters were attacked instantly by the Israeli occupation forces, who proceeded to beat them up and arrest several, as well as myself as a solidarity activist. We were all bundled into a van and taken to a police station.

As a Westerner with privileges bestowed by Israel’s racist system, I was released after a few hours without charge. Before I left, I was told by the Israeli police that we had all been accused of throwing stones. This was a blatant lie, but it was obvious from the casual manner in which the lie was told that such fabrications were routine in Israel’s racist, apartheid, military dictatorship imposed on the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

My point is that Hafez Omar is guilty of no crime. He has been jailed for almost a year by the Israeli dictatorship very simply because the occupation state considers the very existence of the indigenous Palestinian people to be a crime against their racist settler-colonial project fuelled by that pernicious ideology Zionism.

This week, almost a year after his arrest, Israel’s illegitimate occupation military “court” at Ofer sentenced Omar to a year in jail. In other words they had arrested him then made up the charges as they went along.

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Israel’s system of military “courts” in the West Bank is a racist system, used against Palestinians only, not the illegal Jewish settlers. The system has a 99.7 per cent conviction rate, just like the very worst of kangaroo courts. And, remember, such courts are operated by what is supposedly “the only democracy in the Middle East”, a state which we are browbeaten into supporting unconditionally on pain of being accused of anti-Semitism. This really won’t wash.

Hopefully, Hafez Omar will be released soon. However, like all Palestinians kidnapped by Israel’s military dictatorship, there is a real threat that he will be re-arrested almost immediately on similarly made-up charges. That’s how Israel works. Palestinian legislator and women’s rights activist Khalida Jarrar, for example, has been in and out of jail for years, and is once again being held with neither charge nor trial under the infamous “administrative detention” system.

It is a sham to claim that Israel is a democracy, for its policies and practices prove otherwise. The state is a racist military dictatorship which denies the indigenous people of Palestine their most basic human rights. As such, Hafez Omar — the Palestinian artist jailed for inspiring his people — must not be left to stand alone; we all need to challenge and resist Israel’s brutal occupation.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.