|Born||April 13, 1980|
Hebron, West Bank
|Known for||Human rights defender and grassroots activist in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict|
Issa Amro (Arabic: عيسى عمرو; April 13, 1980) is a Palestinian activist based in Hebron, West Bank. He is the co-founder and former coordinator (2007–2018) of the grassroots group Youth Against Settlements. Amro advocates the use nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience to fight the Israeli Occupation of the Palestinian Territories. In 2010, he was declared "human rights defender of the year in Palestine" by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights In 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Council expressed concern for his wellbeing and safety due to numerous accounts of harassment from Israeli soldiers and settlers and a series of arbitrary arrests. At present,[when?] Amro is being indicted by the Israeli military court with 18 charges against him.[needs update] In May 2017, Bernie Sanders along with three U.S. senators and 32 congressmen wrote to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to urge Israeli authorities to reconsider the charges against Amro.
In March, 2019, Amnesty International demanded that the Palestinian authorities should drop all charges against him, adding "It is disgraceful that Issa Amro is facing a prison term simply for expressing his views promoting human rights online."
Amro grew up in the Hebron's Old City near Shuhada Street in an area that is now closed to Palestinians. His father, a school teacher, moved his family into H1 during the First Intifada when Amro was seven years old, as recounted in The Way to the Spring by Ben Ehrenreich.
Two years after the start of the Second Intifada, the Israeli army declared the Palestine Polytechnic University a closed military zone and sealed off its entrances. Amro, who was then in his last year of an engineering degree, decided to take action against the closures. With the participation of other students of the university, Amro organized actions of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience for half a year. These actions included protests and demonstrations, moving into classrooms, sit-ins, and having lessons in the presence of Israeli soldiers. The campaigning was a success and the university was reopened in June.
Amro describes this victory as his gateway into resistance against the occupation. He took inspiration from known human rights defenders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. He stated in a piece for The Guardian:
"I became convinced that their non-violent method was the best strategy for community resistance. Furthermore non-violence meant that there was a role for every Palestinian. ... My campaigning, my whole philosophy, everything I do now, is underpinned by these ideas."
Amro became part of B'Tselem and won the One World Media award in 2009 for the "Shooting Back" camera project, which he coordinated in Hebron. The project distributed cameras to Palestinians for the purpose of documenting human rights violations by Israeli soldiers and settlers. In 2008, B'Tselem reported an occasion where Amro himself was prevented from documenting Israeli settler disturbances, after which he was then beaten and arrested by Israeli military.
Youth Against Settlements
Amro is the coordinator Youth Against Settlements (YAS), which he describes as his major project to involve young Palestinians in nonviolent resistance against the Israeli occupation. He stated that his dream is to see nonviolence used as the methodology for a massive Palestinian resistance against the occupation. He co-founded YAS in 2007 as a group that documents and protests against human rights violations. The group's leading campaign is Open Shuhada Street, which calls for an end to the closures and restrictions enforced on Hebron's main street. The campaign takes place in several countries worldwide.
During the surge of violence throughout the Palestinian territories in autumn 2015, Amro worked to discourage Palestinian youths from carrying out knife attacks: in their place, he advocated a nonviolent approach to resistance. He stated that he felt more worried about being shot by the Israeli army during these times than ever before.
At the regular session of the UN Human Rights Council in September 2015, Amro said that he was "extremely concerned" with the situation in Palestine during this time and stated that "the erupting violence over the past weeks…can only end when international law is applied." He mentioned the case of 18-year-old Hadil Hashlamoun, who on the 22 September of that year had been shot and killed by Israeli forces, and whose death was reported as "unlawful" by Amnesty International:
"Mr. President, I was present when they took her body away, and saw the settlers and soldiers rejoice at her fate. We urgently need an impartial international investigation into her case," Amro stated.
Amro wrote an article for the Huffington Post in response to the Hebron shooting incident in March, 2016. A video had been published by B'Tselem showing Israeli soldier Elor Azaria shooting Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in the head at point-blank range, while the Palestinian was lying wounded on the ground. In his article, Amro described being guarded by Azaria for seven hours during an arrest in March, which took place before the shooting incident. Amro did not consider the soldier to be "unusually fanatical or extreme." Instead, he blamed the normalization of anti-Palestinian hatred within the Israeli military, and Benjamin Netanyahu for "pulling verbal triggers of incitement" and denying freedom for Palestinians with his politics.
Harassment and arrests
In 2013, the Israeli army conducted an unannounced 'training exercise' at his home: "15 soldiers suddenly entered the family's yard at about 9pm. Wearing helmets, body armour and carrying weapons, they used a ladder to enter the house from an upstairs window."
In a statement from 2013, the UN Council of Human Rights addressed the issue of ongoing harassment of Amro. Juan E. Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, expressed deep concern for Amro's "life, physical integrity and the psychological toll that [this harassment] is having on his health and family."
Amro was arrested and detained twenty times in 2012 without any charges filed against him, and on a further six occasions in 2013 up to the point that the aforesaid statement was written. It mentions an incident from July 8, 2013, when "Israeli soldiers allegedly beat Mr. Amro, taking photos of him on a stretcher and threatening to shoot him. He was hospitalized more than five hours later and summoned to the same police station the next day." The report also mentioned a recent "number of death threats from settler organizations" against him.
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, described the acts against Amro as an "unacceptable campaign of harassment, intimidation and reprisals." The report also mentioned an Israeli raid undertaken on the Youth Against Settlements media center in July, 2013, during which Israeli soldiers allegedly fired at Amro and three other activists. Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, called for the protection of Youth Against Settlements members and for "those responsible for the unacceptable acts against Mr. Amro [to be] held accountable."
In addition to the incidents mentioned in the statement, Israeli right-wing politician Baruch Marzel was charged for an attack on Amro on February 8, 2013. He entered Amro's home and assaulted him for "unknown reasons." Reportedly, Amro was arrested on that day as a result of the occurrence, and later released. Amro stated in a regular session of the UN Human Rights Council in 2013 that according to his Israeli lawyer, all his arrests were arbitrary.
On February 26, 2016, Amro took part in a nonviolent demonstration calling for an end to the restrictions imposed on Hebron's Al-Shuhada Street. A few days later on February 29, while speaking to a tour group from Breaking the Silence, Amro was arrested and brought to the Gush Etzion settlement's detention center. There, he was accused of incitement and of having organizing protests Israel deems illegal. He was released the following day after being notified that he should to expect an invitation to appear in court. A police officer allegedly told him that he had no legal basis for the arrest but had received orders from above to carry it out. In response to the event, Amnesty International released a statement about Amro's arrest, which called for the Israeli government to "cease intimidation of human rights defenders."
On July 15, 2016, Youth Against Settlements began to establish a cinema in Hebron in cooperation with Center for Jewish Nonviolence. The action was suppressed by Israeli military and police. Shortly afterwards, Amro was indicted by an Israeli military court, and now faces 18 separate charges referring to putative infractions between 2010 and 2016. The charges include the accusations from March along with "insulting a soldier," "spitting in the direction of a settler," "entering a closed military zone," and other apparent offenses. There are 38 witnesses against him. Amro's Israeli lawyer, Gabi Lasky, stated that:
"... the fact that in this case he was released dozens of times over the years without any indictment, and suddenly an indictment is served that collects all the conduct for which he was released, absolutely seems to be a matter of political persecution."
An IDF spokesman stated that Amro had
"“taken part in riots, attacks on soldiers, calls to violence, and prevented security forces from doing their work."
Former UN Special Reporter on Palestine, Prof. Dr. Richard Falk, signed an urgent appeal dated September 21, 2016, coordinated by Scales for Justice. The appeal was sent to Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and called for the charges against Amro to be dropped and for an end to the harassment against him. While holding office in 2013, prior to the appeal, Falk had stated that Amro appeared to be the victim of a "pattern of harassment." Other petitions for Amro's case are led by organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace and Code Pink: Women for Peace, who emphasized that the Israeli military court's conviction rate of Palestinians is over 99%. Amro would have faced trial on the 25th of September, 2016, but it was postponed. Jewish Voice for Peace. Writers Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman wrote about Amro's trial in an article for The New York Times entitled “Who’s Afraid of Nonviolence”, in which they condemned the charges. In May 2017, a group of four U.S. senators and 32 congressmen, led by Senator Bernie Sanders, wrote to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, asking him to urge Israeli authorities to drop the charges against Amro.
Arrest by the Palestinian Authority
On September 2, 2017, he was arrested by the Palestinian Authority (PA) on charges of violating the new "electronic crimes" law. The actual offense was "denouncing on Facebook the arrest of a journalist calling for the resignation of PA head", acts which others have been tantamount to criticizing the Palestinian Authority. President Abbas has been criticized for the decree under which Amro was arrested which uses words such as "harming national unity" and references to "social fabric". Amro has complained that the decree is an attack on freedom of expression Diana Buttu, commenting on the law, parallels between the PA actions and Israel's crackdown on dissent with the occupation, stated:
The passage of this law, and the PA’s subsequent actions, make clear that neither Israel nor the authority will tolerate dissent.
On September 9, 2017, he was released on bail, following an outpouring of protests to the PA by human rights NGOs and others.
While being interviewed by Lawrence Wright in Hebron on February 13, 2023, Amro was grabbed by the neck and thrown to the ground by an IDF soldier. The soldier was jailed by Israeli authorities for ten days for the assault.
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- Helen Murray, ‘Education is Freedom’, Adalah’s Newsletter, Volume 18, September 2005:’Reminiscent of the first Intifada, Hebron University and the Palestine Polytechnic University were closed down by military order for most of 2003, affecting more than 6,000 students.'
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- Charging and detention of human rights defenders Mr Farid Al-Atrash and Mr Issa Amro Front Line Defenders. March 4, 2016.
- Mass Demonstration in Hebron to Open Shuhada Street Youth Against Settlements. February 26, 2016
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