Challenging Israel's war on protest

Issue 

Bridget Chappell, an Australian solidarity worker in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank, was arrested by occupying Israeli forces on February 7 and threatened with deportation for simply engaging in peaceful protests alongside Palestinians.

Solidarity activists have asked Australia's foreign affairs department to intervene in support of Chappell to allow her to continue her work in the West Bank.

Chappell was arrested in a pre-dawn raid for alleged "visa irregularities" — even though she had a valid bridging visa.

At the time, Chappell's arrest featured prominently in the Australian media. But since the Israeli Supreme Court declared her arrest illegal and released them on bail on February 9 the case has faded from view.

Chappell is fighting to be able to continue her work in the West Bank with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) — a Palestinian-led movement committed to resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land using non-violent direct action.

She is also fighting attempts by the Israeli government to have her deported — the fate of other ISM volunteers.

Israel's "war on protest" — as Israeli daily Haaretz put it — is intended to undermine a joint non-violent campaign by international activists and Palestinian villagers challenging a land grab by Israel as it builds the separation wall on farmland in the West Bank.

The arrests are in response to those organising protests against the wall.

The last major confrontation between Israel and the ISM resulted in deaths and injuries of international activists at the hands of the Israeli army. The horrendous case of US ISM volunteer Rachel Corrie, who was run down and killed by an army bulldozer in 2003 as she attempted to stop a home demolition in Gaza, is the most well known.

On March 10, the Haifa District Court began hearing eyewitness testimonies in a civil lawsuit filed by Corrie's family against the state of Israel for her unlawful killing.

Chappell told Green Left Weekly that she is very worried about being able stay. She said Israel does not want people, like herself, bearing witness to Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine, and its continued settlement building.

She is concerned that Australia's consular assistance has been minimal. Given the Australian government's close relationship with Israel, a number of people have signed a letter, drafted by the Sydney Stop the War Coalition, urging the foreign affairs department to assist Chappell.

The letter states that Chappell was not participating in "illegal riots", as claimed by the arresting officials, and that she "was certainly not involved in the dirty business of scamming passports to assassinate political leaders – as agents of the Israeli state have allegedly been recently caught out doing".

The statement concluded: "We would like to know what Australian consular officials are doing to assist Ms Chappell. She should be allowed to return to the West Bank; she should not be deported."

Signatories include (organisations listed for identification purposes only): John Pilger; Antony Loewenstein; Archdeacon Philip Newman; Dr Jake Lynch (Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Sydney University), Peter Slezak (School of History amd Philosophy, UNSW), Vivienne Porzsolt (Jews Against the Occupation), Cathy Peters (Marrickville Greens councillor), Ned Curthoys (Australian National University), Peter Boyle (Socialist Alliance) and Sonja Karkar (Australians for Palestine).

[You can read the full letter, and add your name, at Stopwarcoalition.org. Pip Hinman is an activist in the Sydney Stop the War Coalition.]

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