Hamas military prosecutors on Thursday charged three Palestinian activists in the Gaza Strip with “weakening revolutionary spirit” — a charge that could lead to years in prison — for holding a video conference with Israelis.
Rami Aman, a 38-year-old peace activist and Gaza resident, was detained in early April after holding a public “Skype With Your Enemy” video call in which Israelis participated. He has said his organization seeks to empower young Palestinians and that many in Gaza share his view that speaking to Israelis should not be forbidden.
“If I were to go into the streets and tell people ‘let’s talk with an Israeli,’ thousands of people would be here,” Aman said during the videoconference, which was conducted in English.
According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, which is providing legal representation to the defendants, Aman was arrested shortly after the call, along with seven colleagues who also allegedly took part. Five of them were subsequently released.
The activists are members of the Gaza Youth Committee, an organization that sponsors peace-building initiatives. Before Aman’s arrest, the group become a member of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, a coalition of Israeli and Arab nonprofit organizations.
Authorities in Gaza, which is controlled by the Hamas terror group, view “normalizing” with Israelis as a criminal offense. While Hamas does permit merchants and those seeking humanitarian assistance inside Israel to communicate with Israeli authorities, it has cracked down on those who have sought to establish person-to-person ties with Israelis.
“Holding any activity or communication with the Israeli occupation, under any cover, is a crime punishable by law; it is a betrayal of our people and its sacrifices,” Interior Minister Iyad al-Bozm wrote in a Facebook post in April.
Hamas routinely arrests and tortures critics and dissidents within the coastal enclave. Aman himself had already faced harassment by security forces for his activism. In July 2019, Hamas detained him for two weeks after organizing a joint bike ride with Israelis: Gazans biked side by side with Israelis, with only the security fence dividing them.
On another occasion, Aman was detained for three days after he publicly criticized the alleged beating of a young man by officers from the Hamas-run interior ministry, according to Human Rights Watch.
Although both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International immediately called for the activists’ release, Hamas authorities have held the detainees for five months without trial.
“Laws that forbid ‘contact with the enemy’ or efforts to oppose normalization should not restrict peaceful expression or association between ordinary people,” Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch director for Israel and Palestine, wrote at the time.
For months after his arrest, Aman did not appear before a court, although he was charged with espionage under the Palestinian civil code. Hamas authorities issued a second indictment on September 17 that was made public on Thursday afternoon.
Aman and the other two detainees are now being charged under military law, rather than the civilian penal code. The charge they have been indicted on — weakening revolutionary spirit — harkens back to statutes encoded in 1979 by the Palestine Liberation Organization, well before the establishment of Palestinian civilian legal institutions in Gaza and the West Bank.
“The practice of bringing civilians before military courts and putting them to trial under military law is a dangerous violation of human rights,” the detainees’ defense said in a statement.
While one of the detainees — a young woman — has been released on bail, the other two detainees, including Aman, remain in prison. According to The New York Times, his condition was deteriorating as a result of depression and he has lost weight.
“He’s in a very difficult state,” a member of his family told the Times. “It’s really concerning for us.”