A Hamas military court convicted three Gazans on Monday who had been charged with “weakening revolutionary spirit” for a public Zoom call with Israelis in April, the Gaza-based human rights group representing them announced.
As the activists were charged under military law, the three could have faced years in prison and harsh labor. But the court handed down relatively lenient sentences resulting in their immediate release, according to their legal team from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.
Rami Aman, a 39-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.
In Aman’s case, the court sentenced him to a suspended sentence of one year in prison, including time served. The other two prisoners — an unidentified man and Manar al-Sharif — the court sufficed with time served. Al-Sharif was already out of prison, PHCR said, having been released on bail in June.
“Our lawyer asserted that the charges lacked both factual and moral elements of the crime to permit a conviction based on the pressed charges; thus, the Court released them,” PCHR said.
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.
Although both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International immediately called for the activists’ release, Aman and his two colleagues spent five months in Hamas detention without being brought before a court until September.
Hamas authorities convicted the three activists under military law, rather than the civilian penal code. The conviction — 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.
“Bringing civilians before the military courts is a clear violation of the Palestinian Basic Law,” the detainees’ defense said in a statement on Monday.
Human Rights Watch director for Israel and Palestine Omar Shakir hailed the activists’ release in a tweet, but called the court’s decision to convict them “outrageous.”