Why Amnesty International is right: Both the village of Kafr Qaddum and Murad Shtewi must be freed

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The village of Kafr Qaddum in the West Bank was the scene of some of the worst violence I saw during my half year working as a human rights monitor there.

The village holds weekly demonstrations to demand that their main road be reopened. It was closed by the Israeli military authorities in 2002 to prevent Palestinians from travelling on roads designated for use only by Israeli settlers and adds on nearly 20km to their travel to the main town.

These demonstrations are violent affairs. This is my account of a ‘not so peaceful protest’ which includes footage of a Palestinian being mulled by an Israeli military dog (see below) as well as multiple protesters being shot directly by heavy metal tear gas canisters. This is my account is of a 17 year old boy who was relearning to talk after being shot in the head by a tear gas canister.

As I said – the demonstrations are violent affairs littered with human rights abuses. It is not surprising then that on a number of occasions the Israeli military tried to stop human rights monitors and members of the press from entering the village. On one occasion before a particularly brutal response to the protest I had to travel through the olive groves to avoid the Israeli military checkpoint to gain access to the village.

In midst of this madness trying to marshal events was the figure Murad Shtewi. Murad is (was) a leading activist in the weekly demonstrations held in his village. I met him on a number of occasions normally over strong Arabic coffee and cigarettes to discuss what had occurred in his village during the previous week. Invariably the conversation focused on army raids and arbitrary arrests (painfully common events across the West Bank) but this was juxtaposed to Murad’s middle-eastern understanding of lavish hospitality and his talk of non-violence resistance.

I liked Murad for having optimism in the face of such continued violence (violence that Murad experienced first hand, in the video of the dog attack you can see Murad being pepper sprayed in the face for trying to intervene in the dog attack on his nephew).

Despite witnessing so much violence Murad was also committed to non-violence. This commitment to non-violence is one of the key criteria for Amnesty International who now consider Murad a ‘prisoner of conscience’ after his arrest at around 3am on 29th April of this year (arrests in the middle of the night are common place in the West Bank – even when detaining minors).

Murad is charged with organizing a demonstration without a permit, causing a public disturbance, and throwing rocks during a demonstration. Amnesty International has responded to these charges saying:

“In Amnesty International’s assessment, the charges of rock-throwing and of causing a public disturbance are unfounded. Murad Shtewi has been persecuted for expressing his non-violent opinions and for his role in the peaceful protests in Kufr Qadum against Israel’s illegal settlements. His arrest and detention are a measure to punish him and stop him and other village activists from exercising their rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly.”

As such Amnesty International is calling for Murad Shtewi to be released immediately and unconditionally, as ‘he is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression’.

This is a call that I am happy to publicly back. On every occasion that I went to Kafr Qaddum I never once saw Murad throw a stone. On a number of occasions I did see him telling others not to throw stones. I also talked to him at length about the importance of non-violent resistance.

This is also the third time Murad has been arrested (each time released without charge) in the last few years, the first was after the dog attack on his nephew.

Simply put, I can’t see how this latest arrest of Murad has any purpose other than to try and deter him from organizing legitimate protests against the Israeli policy of segregation in the West Bank.

It is in light of all this that I ask you to take a few seconds to send this sample letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that significantly not only calls for Murad’s release but also to:

‘take effective measures to prevent the use of unnecessary and excessive force by Israeli forces against peaceful demonstrators’

Please help me help Murad by taking this small action.

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