By Alicia Koutsoulieris, Case Coordinator for Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Palestinian Authority
Freedom of speech has suffered a tragic start in 2015.
As the world calls for the release of Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi, there is another person who also deserves our support. While you read this, Palestinian Murad Shtewi sits in an Israeli prison. His “crime?” Daring to protest the Israeli military occupation that his village lives under.
Murad Shtewi is an Amnesty International-designated prisoner of conscience. He has regularly protested the Israeli military for closing his village’s main road and handing it over to a nearby illegal settlement of Jewish Israeli citizens for their use.
In Murad’s village of Kufr Qaddum, much of the land has been confiscated by the Israeli authorities for the purposes of building and servicing the illegal Israeli settlement block of Kedumim. In 2002 during the second Intifada, the Israeli authorities closed off the main road connecting the village to the Palestinian city of Nablus. Today the road remains closed, preventing residents of Kufr Qaddum and other Palestinians in surrounding areas from using roads now designated for use by Israeli settlers only.
Since 2011, villagers in Kufr Qaddum have been holding weekly peaceful demonstrations to demand the reopening of the road. They protest to express their opposition to the Israeli military occupation and the expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. Murad Shtewi has played a leading role in the weekly demonstration in Kufr Qaddum. Fully armed Israeli forces are also in attendance, attempting to silence him and other protesters.
The Israeli forces frequently use unnecessary and excessive force, in breach of international law and standards, against the demonstrators, which include children. This has resulted in hundreds of injuries to villagers, many of them serious.
Murad has been injured a number of times due to his participation in the weekly peace protest. In September 2013, a tear gas canister hit him directly in the leg during a demonstration. He was treated in a hospital for a broken leg. He is also been arrested a number of times as well. After Amnesty International USA declared him a focus of our 2014 Write for Rights campaign, an Israeli military court announced that he would be released from prison in February.
Even so, he still won’t be truly free. Like so many other Palestinians, Murad faces re-arrest if he chooses to participate in any future protest.
Join Amnesty International in making sure that the rights of Murad Shtewi and all Palestinians are respected. From January 23 to February 3, raise your voices on Twitter to #FreeMuradShtewi as Amnesty delivers the hundreds of letters you wrote as part of Write 4 Rights to the Israeli embassy:
- .@IsraelinUSA, @Amnesty is delivering our letters to #FreeMuradShtewi. Will you respect his right to protest after his release?
- .@IsraelinUSA, will you stop violating Murad Shtewi’s human right to peacefully protest? #FreeMuradShtewi
- Palestinians should be allowed to live free of fear. @IsraelinUSA, read @amnesty letters! #FreeMuradShtewi
From February 3 to February 15, bring Murad’s village Kufr Qaddum to your campus or community. Create awareness about how illegally built Israeli settlements and the crackdown on peaceful protests are a violation of Palestinians’ human rights. Sign up here and use #InKufrQaddum on social media or on your Facebook events to join the conversation.
Kufr Qaddum is but one of hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages that have been squeezed and suffocated by illegal Israeli settlements in many ways. From seizures of roads and homes to arrests, indefinite detention and the use of teargas and rubber bullets against peaceful protestors, these communities are in jeopardy. Whether you have a group of 5 or a group of 20, you can shed light on these human rights violations by educating the people around you.