US lawmakers urge Tillerson to help Palestinian going on trial in Israel
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US lawmakers urge Tillerson to help Palestinian going on trial in Israel

Issa Amro is facing charges connected to protests he organized in Hebron against the Israeli army and settlement expansion

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives for a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on June 13, 2017. (AFP/Brendan Smialowski)
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives for a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on June 13, 2017. (AFP/Brendan Smialowski)

Thirty-two Democratic members of Congress have urged the US secretary of state to help a Palestinian human rights activist who is going on trial in Israel.

In a letter sent Wednesday, the lawmakers asked Rex Tillerson to utilize his influence in the case of Issa Amro, who is facing charges connected to protests he organized in Hebron, his West Bank hometown, against the Israeli army and expansion of settlements.

US Representatives Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum, both of Minnesota, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin circulated the letter organized by the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Code Pink, Jewish Voice for Peace and American Muslims for Palestine — all groups that support the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.

Amro will appear on July 9 in a military court to face 18 charges, most dating back to 2013, that include “spitting at a settler, obstructing soldiers and insulting them, and entering closed military zones,” Haaretz reported. An Israeli military spokesman described his actions as “disturbances,” but did not claim his protests to have been violent.

“After evidence of these offenses was collected, the indictment was served,” the spokesman said.

Issa Amro, who leads the 'Youths Against Settlements' organization, criticizes the Israeli government and Hebron's Jewish settlers in the old city on November 5, 2015. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
Issa Amro, leader of ‘Youths Against Settlements,’ criticizes the Israeli government and Hebron’s Jewish settlers, in the Old City of Jerusalem, November 5, 2015. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

According to the Congressional letter, Amro has been recognized by the United Nations and the European Union as a human rights defender for his organization, “Youth Against Settlements.” The UN and Amnesty International have condemned the case against him.

The letter questioned whether Amro would be judged fairly in the Israeli judicial system.

“We fear that Israeli military courts deliberating over Mr. Amro’s charges will be unlikely to render a fair and impartial verdict given that the conviction rate within that system is 99.74 percent,” the lawmakers said.

They added: “Although we strongly support Israel’s right and, indeed, obligation to ensure the security of its citizens, we also support the right of Palestinians to peacefully politically organize and demonstrate.”

The members also appealed to Tillerson by noting that the US and Israel have shared values.

“We should encourage our steadfast ally in the region to uphold our shared values and respect activists like Issa Amro: freedom of expression must be a foundation for a just and lasting peace for the Israeli and Palestinian people,” they wrote.

Last year, the State Department featured Amro’s case in its Human Rights Report, highlighting the issue with freedom of peaceful assembly in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor at Northwestern University who opposes boycotts of Israel and the settlements, criticized an earlier version of the letter which was signed by just four representatives.

“The letter takes as holy writ the statements of the UN Human Rights Council, whose obsessive, biased and untruthful campaign against Israel is well-known, and has recently been denounced by America’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley,” Kontorovich told Jewish Insider in a June 5 interview.

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