Congressional Dear Colleague Letter

News
June 16, 2017
Body

Support Human Rights Defenders in the Middle East

Dear Colleague,

Please join us in sending a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson encouraging him to work with
our Israeli partners to ensure the preservation of internationally recognized Palestinian
nonviolent activist Issa Amro’s rights to due process, freedom of expression and peaceful protest.
The 2016 State Department Human Rights Report highlights Mr. Amro’s pending case before the
Israeli military courts among its chief concerns regarding the freedom of peaceful assembly and
association. Special Rapporteurs with the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights
also drew special attention to the case against Mr. Amro. He is facing 18 charges dating back to
2010, which human rights organizations like Amnesty International consider “baseless” and
“politically motived,” and could result in years of imprisonment.

Mr. Amro is a Palestinian human rights defender who runs the Youth Against Settlements in
Hebron. He and his group are committed to peaceful activism against settlements in Hebron and
movement restrictions placed on Palestinians by Israeli authorities in the city.

Peaceful protest has been widely recognized as a fundamental right both in the United States and
abroad. 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.

If you would like more information or if you would like to sign onto the letter to Secretary
Tillerson, please contact Leslie Zelenko in Rep. Pocan’s office at Leslie.Zelenko@mail.house.gov.
Sincerely,

Mark Pocan Betty McCollum Earl Blumenauer Keith Ellison

Member of Congress Member of Congress Member of Congress Member of Congress

June X, 2017

Dear Secretary Tillerson:

We write to request that you urgently pursue all diplomatic tools at your disposal to encourage the
appropriate Israeli authorities to reconsider the charges against Issa Amro, a community leader,
nonviolent activist and previous recipient of the United Nations’ “Human Rights Defender of the
Year in Palestine” award. He faces charges described by Amnesty International as “baseless” and
“politically motivated” within Israel’s military court system, which could result in years of
imprisonment.1 United Nations human rights experts expressed concern that Mr. Amro is “being
unfairly targeted due to his legitimate and peaceful human rights work.”2

Mr. Amro founded a Hebron-based advocacy group that counsels Palestinian youth on nonviolent
means of opposing Israeli settlement activities. President Trump himself recognizes illegal 
settlement activity is unhelpful to achieving a lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

In 2011, Mr. Amro was a guest of the State Department as part of its International Visitor
Leadership Program. In 2016, the State Department highlighted Mr. Amro’s military court case in
its Human Rights Report among its main concerns regarding freedom of peaceful assembly in
Israel and the Occupied Territories.3 A representative of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv attended
Mr. Amro’s court hearing in November of last year alongside representatives of other concerned
governments such as Germany, the United Kingdom, and Spain.

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.4
Indeed, among the 18 charges that Israeli authorities allege against Mr. Amro, several—such as
“participating in a march without a permit”—are not internationally recognizable criminal
offenses. Amnesty International noted that a charge of assault supposedly committed by Mr. Amro
in March 2013 would have been physically impossible, as Amro had already been arrested and
video evidence clearly shows another man responsible for the incident. Unfortunately, such
inconsistencies do not tend to deter legal action within this forum: as respected Israeli human rights
group B’Tselem has observed of Israel’s military courts, “the threshold for meeting the
requirement of prima facie evidence is so low that it poses no obstacle to the prosecution.”5
Peaceful protest has been widely recognized as a fundamental right both in the United States and
abroad. 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. We ask that you take any and all measures to urge Israeli authorities to reconsider
the charges against Mr. Amro, a principled and internationally recognized nonviolent human rights
advocate.

We believe that nonviolent means of political engagement should be encouraged rather than
suppressed, and that the persecution and imprisonment of peaceful activists such as Mr. Amro only
threatens the safety and human rights of both Palestinians and Israelis. As the United States seeks
to assist in brokering a peace agreement between both sides, 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.

Sincerely

[Members of Congress]
______________________
1 Amnesty International, Israel/OPT: Drop baseless charges against Palestinian human rights defender,” 11/22/16.
https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/11/israel-opt-drop-baseless…
2 United Nations Office of the High Commissioner, “Human rights defenders under growing legal pressure in the
OPT – UN rights experts,” 12/16/16.
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21041
3 Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “2016 Human Rights Reports: Israel and The Occupied
Territories,” 3/17. https://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2016/nea/265502.htm
4 Chaim Levinson, “Nearly 100% of All Military Court Cases in West Bank End in Conviction, Haaretz Learns,”
Haaretz, 11/29/11. http://www.haaretz.com/nearly-100-of-all-military-court-cases-in-west-b…
5 B’Tselem, “Presumed Guilty: Remand in Custody by Military Courts in the West Bank,” 6/15.
http://www.btselem.org/publications/summaries/201506_presumed_guilty