Interview with Janan Abdu

Posted on 26 June 2010

With thanks to Richard Silverstein (Tikun Olam) and Nadia Hijab.

You can show your solidarity and support by writing to Ameer at Room 4, Department 1, Gilbou prison, 10900 Israel. Please also join the Facebook group.

Janan Abdu interview June 19th, 2010
“I have lost both my parents in the past two weeks. My mother had been in a coma at the hospital since last November as a result of a severe asthma attack. My father was suffering from cancer and because of my mother’s illness he did not have the strength to fight it. You know how close our families are, and the emptiness she left during her coma was not easy. My father’s funeral was just two weeks ago, the day our family was due to have its first meeting with Ameer, so we had to decide whether to visit Ameer or go to the funeral. I went from the prison to the funeral.

“I decided to tell Ameer about my parents’ death. He knows how hard this is for me, which makes it hard for him – but I wanted to tell him myself so that he would see that I’m strong. It is a strange, emotionally wrenching period. Yesterday was my daughter’s high school graduation ceremony. Ameer’s birthday is today: he will become 52.
We believe that the main purpose of arresting Ameer – other than to frighten the community – is to silence his voice. His voice is significant for many reasons. He has been writing many strategic, forward-looking pieces to help shape thinking among the community and elsewhere. When I visit with him I urge him to keep writing. He’s allowed to send two letters a month. And I write to him and I’m keeping a journal so we can document his story.

“Another, even more important, reason that Ameer’s voice is so important is that he works at three levels, locally, in the Arab world, and internationally. Locally, he previously helped to found political parties and organizations but now he does not belong to any party. Rather, through Ittijah (an umbrella organization for about 80 civil society NGOs established by Palestinian citizens of Israel), he serves a rallying point for Palestinian civil society and political groups. He recently co-founded the Popular Committee for the Defence of Freedoms to track and expose Israel’s harassment of its Palestinian political leaders. The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, which represents all political forces among the community, upholds the Freedoms Committee’s activities and declarations. Any time there has been harassment of a Palestinian political figure in the past few months the Defence of Freedoms Committee would issue a statement.

“In February, they started holding community festivals in Palestinian localities every Friday to inform the community about what was going on and about the harassment of its leaders, and to mobilize people. They held meetings in Jaffa, Nazareth, Haifa and other places. The night he was arrested he had been at the community festival in Ber al-Sabi3.

“When he and I used to talk about the Committee’s work, I would say to him your turn will come. And his turn has come. So part of silencing his voice is an attempt to silence a defender of political freedoms. His arrest also aims to silence his voice at the regional level. He was one of the Palestinian leaders who took the initiative to link Palestinians of 1948 to the Arab world. He was one of leaders of a conference held in Cairo in 2002 “The 1948 Palestinians knock at the door of the Arab world.” He led efforts to reveal Israeli racism to the Arab world and to call for boycotting Israel, especially since Durban conference where Ameer was one of the Arab key leaders of the conference.
Even before his arrests some Israeli writers were calling for his punishment. Ameer was also active at the international level and Ittijah has consultative status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council, alongside other major NGOs. This ability to network locally, at the Arab level, and internationally, coupled with the refusal to give up fundamental Palestinian human rights and his clear strategic vision – this is what I believe Israel is trying to silence.

“Last year, during the war on Gaza (December 2008 – January 2009) the GSS called him in for questioning for several hours and said to him accusingly: You are mobilizing the youth. His ability to reach across generations and his success in reaching the new generation of Israeli Palestinians scares them. And they warned him: We can ‘disappear’ you and the next time we bring you in you should know that you will not see your family again for a long time.

“And this is exactly what they did. They kidnapped him from home in the middle of the night and kept him with no possibility to meet with anybody – neither family nor lawyers – and imposed a gag order on his arrest. They just disappeared him. Such a thing can happen in the state that calls itself democratic and law abiding! He is a thinker who writes and speaks at conferences, a civil society organizer, and an activist who leads demonstrations and establishes committees to protest violations of human rights. He was part of the group that produced the Haifa Declaration that sought to put forward a vision for Israeli Jewish and Palestinian relations within a comprehensive vision for the state. This should not be threatening to the state.

“Since its establishment the state has treated the Palestinian community as an enemy; it has tried to erase our identity and to control us through racist laws and practises. By insisting on being a ‘Jewish state’ it cancels out our very existence. We cannot feel that we belong to a state that treats us as enemies. So we are calling for a change in its nature: It can’t continue to insist that it is Jewish and democratic – there is no such thing.

“What has happened to Ittijah? The first  two weeks were difficult as the Israeli authorities by the GSS confiscated computers and equipment and ransacked office. But Ittijah regrouped quickly and it is now standing on its feet and active.

“You say you find my strength inspiring? The truth, I don’t have a choice. There are only two choices: to be strong or to be crushed. And when I see so many people working to support Ameer’s human rights this gives me hope and power to continue . And when I tell Ameer what people are doing and the ring of solidarity, it gives him hope and power too. I have a reponsibilty to my family members, Ameer, myself and the things we believe in. I”m strong because I believe in Ameer and what he is doing. We have dignity and identity, we have the right to protect ourselves , we have nothing more to lose more – they they pushed us beyond the limit . We need to keep going on and believing in what we are doing and in our rights, even if the personal price is so hard.

“I’m afraid that Ameer was not the first  and well not be the last one to be detained, to be harmed and suffer from persecution and torture, unless we all see the issue as our personal and collective issue. But I’m positive when I see all the support and solidarity locally and internationally, and I want, on behalf of Ameer and myself to thank all who supported us and to ask them to continue doing that and believing in Ameer.”

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