Demonstrators Demand Prisoners' Release

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Press release
31 March 2010

Hundreds of people gathered at the Bitunya checkpoint near Ofer Military prison to demand the release of ten demonstrators arrested in Bethlehem last Sunday, among them Abbas Zaki of the PLO Executive Committee. Two demonstrators were arrested.

Hundreds of demonstrators, among them Jubril Rajoub, Jamal Muhsein and Mahmoud alAloul of Fatah's Central Committee, gathered today in front of the Bituntya military checkpoint leading to Ofer Prison, where the ten demonstrators who were arrested in Bethlehem last Sunday are held. The demonstrators demanded the immediate release of those arrested in Bethlehem and of all the prisoners of the popular struggle. They also denounced the racial discrimination the ten were subjected to in their arrest, as the Israeli activists arrested with them were released with a slap on the wrist that very same day.

After a few short speeches, the demonstrators intended to continue to the Ofer military court, where the ten's hearings were scheduled to be heard. Once refused passage, protesters tried to topple the fence near the checkpoint in order to get to the court. Border Police officers responded with concussion grenades, tear-gas and rubber-coated bullets. Clashes between officers and local youth continued for about two hours before the demonstration was dispersed.

Two Palestinian protesters were arrested during the demonstration. One of them, a 16 year old, was nabbed from within his father's car, through the window, after Border Police officers broke it using a rifle butt.

The Bethlehem Ten's remand hearing, which was supposed to be held today, did not take place, and was postponed to tomorrow.

Today's demonstration, which was organized jointly by West Bank popular committees and the Fatah movement, follows a press conference held yesterday in Ramallah, in which Fatah announced an escalation in the movement's use of popular struggle strategies.

For more details:

Jonathan Pollak: +972546327736


Fifteen demonstrators were arrested by Israeli forces during a peaceful demonstration near Rachel's Tomb last Sunday, protesting Israeli violations of Palestinian freedom of religion and lack of access to Jerusalem. The demonstrators marked Palm Sunday and demanded to exercise the centuries old Christian tradition of pilgrimage to Jerusalem on that day. In a clear act of racial discrimination, the Israelis and international were released with a slap on the wrist that same night, while the police extended the arrest of all ten Palestinians by 96 hours.

After soldiers tried to stop the procession at a checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem near Rachel's Tomb, demonstrators overwhelmed the few soldiers positioned there with their numbers, and peacefully continued to march towards Jerusalem. They were, however, stopped by a large contingent of Israeli Police officers a few hundred meters into Jerusalem. When the crowed could not advance farther, a number of Palestinian dignitaries held speeches, after which the protesters began retreating back towards Bethlehem.

It was at that point, that the police began its unprovoked assault at the demonstrators, making fifteen arrests, including those of Abbas Zaki of the PLO Executive Committee, four members of local popular committees and an AP photographer. Abbas Zaki is one of the most prominent Palestinian leaders to have been arrested in grassroots demonstrations in recent years. His arrest has stirred vocal protest by PA officials in this already tense period.

All demonstrators were arrested under the exact same circumstances, and on the same suspicions. The four Israelis and one international detained during the incident, were released that same evening. The Palestinians, however, were subjected to much harsher treatment. The police extended the arrest of all ten of them by 96 hours, which are likely to be extended by another 96 hours even before they will be brought before a judge.

While Israelis and internationals are, as a matter of policy, subject to Israeli law, which only allows for a 24 hours detention by the police, Palestinians are subject to Israeli Military Law, which allows for their detention for a period of eight days before being brought in front of a judge. This blunt policy of racial discrimination is applied even in cases where Palestinians and Israelis are arrested together and under the same circumstances, and despite the fact that both Palestinians and Israelis are, in theory, subject to the Israeli Military Law when in the Occupied Territories.