Hebron’s Issa Amro, founder of Youth Against Settlements, says he was inspired by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
Photo: Oren Ziv
Issa Amro is (2013) coordinator of Youth Against the Settlements.
Ahmed Amro is his brother.
Alice Rothchild reports (24 October 2012):
Luckily for my coronary arteries, we next meet up with Issa Amro from Youth Against the Settlements. He is an electrical engineer, born in the Old City in a house that is now a closed military zone. He is married, owns a house, and has a wife and eleven month old son. He describes the 550 Palestinian shops that have been closed by military order on Shuhada Street, once a vibrant market and city center. Because of the flying checkpoints and enormous military presence, a host of other shops are closed due to lack of shoppers, afraid for their own safety. Settlers have freely attacked and humiliated Palestinians and defaced and destroyed their homes and shops. In the small area where we are standing, there are twenty checkpoints, and he describes humiliating body searches, two to three hour waits, a "killing from the inside." He talks about Israeli military preventing him from helping his 70 year old ill mother out a side door of her home because she is also forbidden to go out the front door onto the (Arab-rein) street. He points to the graffiti ridden concrete wall at the end of the street, blocking access to the Muslim cemetery on the other side. As he talks, his energy and sense of outrage about all the obstructions rises, as he explains, "I can jump!" I look up and spot a soldier watching us from a roof top; the eyes of security are everywhere. When Issa and his friends get arrested at demonstrations, his Israeli friends are released in 24 hours, (Israeli civil law); while he sits in jail for up to eight days before seeing a judge, (Israeli military law).
We gather at a long table facing a courtyard where I have eaten before, the falafel with fresh lettuce, tomato, and tahini sauce topped with French fries (why do they taste so good here?) arrive along with the mandatory Coke and orange soda. In 2000 during the Second Intifada, seven shops in this courtyard were closed by military order. The adjacent building is desperately in need of restoration, but the Israeli military will not grant permits so the building will gradually collapse and then the IDF will seize the land, although there is strong evidence for Palestinian ownership. He predicts settlers will get into the building and through various machinations, the land will be declared public and ultimately become part of the settlement He adds that the role of the IDF is not only to get rid of Palestinians in Hebron, but also to destroy Palestinian identity here.
Talk turns to David Wilder, "The crazy man," as Issa remarks. According to Issa, two weeks ago on Olive Day, settlers attacked Palestinians harvesting their own olives and as usual the Israeli soldiers dismissed the Palestinians. David took photos and film of the event, describing Issa on his website as "the head terrorist in Hebron." Three months ago, according to Issa, David directly threatened him at Tel Rumeida Street and David told him that he will be hanged by a ledge and eaten by birds. This was all captured on video: (google: Hebron human rights press). Such a lovely man, David Wilder! Issa talks about a protest in June where international, Israeli, and Palestinian women dressed in traditional Palestinian dress and walked down the forbidden Shuhadah Street. February 25th is now an international day of action to Open Shuhada Street. Youth Against the Settlements has a samoud project where volunteers choose a home close to the settlers (which has been repeatedly attacked, defaced, etc) and help with repairs, painting, and gardening. They teach human rights journalism and have a center for teaching Hebrew, English, law, and nonviolence. They act as Hebron defenders, forming human shields when settlers attack. He worked with the Freedom Bus where six activists went inside a settlement and boarded a Jewish-only bus. "We were beaten." Memories of freedom marches, sit-ins, and bus boycotts from the 1960s clearly come to mind. I shudder at the parallels Jews faced in Germany, only the roles here are reversed, victim becomes victimizer. I know in my head that anyone can be a fascist given the right economic/political/psychological circumstances, but this is still emotionally wrenching and enraging to witness, particularly because the settler community is protected and funded and used as a spearhead by the Israeli government.
Issa explains that Israeli soldiers have two roles: protecting Jewish settlers and harassing Palestinians. Issa has been personally beaten by settlers twice and required five stitches. He has had his life threatened, and is the target of frequent verbal abuse. He admits that Palestinians do attack settlers, but it is rare, (I have yet to see an armed Palestinian, while armed nonmilitary settlers are commonplace). Additionally settlers do not get punished for their appalling behavior. When a settler broke Issa’s nose, he was suspended from coming into Hebron for one month. That is about as punitive as it gets. Ironically, Issa notes, the oppressors are afraid of the oppressed.Issa tells of receiving a phone call at 3 am that Jewish settlers were picking olives belonging to the local Palestinians. "Who picks olives at 3:00 in the morning?" The next day a group of activists ambushed the settlers at 2 am, the settlers took their cameras, soldiers arrived, more soldiers, stones were thrown by both parties. No charges. The impunity is official.
Issa Amro reports (10 March 2015):
Two years after the start of the second intifada the Israeli army designated the Palestinian Polytechnic University a military zone and sealed all its gates. At that point I was in the final year of a five-year engineering degree. I had dreamed of being an engineer since I was six years old, and I knew I couldn't let this happen. After four years of hard work, just at the moment that I was on the cusp of graduating, my university had become another casualty of the occupation.Events involving Issa Amro:
I decided to organise sit-ins to get the university reopened. I convinced fellow students that we had to resist this. For six months we moved into classrooms, organised protests and demonstrated. We would conduct lessons while surrounded by soldiers. We agreed that it had to be peaceful and non-violent, and in the end we won. The army moved out and the university reopened. After so many defeats against the occupation, that one campaign was a great moment.
...My major project is Youth Against Settlements, where we protest against the settlements that have been created in Hebron. We wanted to get the young people to adopt the non-violent approach but also to be active in fighting the occupation. In 2007 I organised the B'Tselem's camera project. We gave the youngsters video cameras and trained them to document the human rights violations they suffered at the hands of the settlers. The cameras are the most trusted witnesses and can be used as evidence when we are arrested and have to face the courts. I have used the evidence when I have been arrested and it's allowed me to go home. The response of the youngsters to this project and the opportunity to handle technology and better their situations and lives with it and fight the occupation is encouraging.
Over the years I've had my wrist and nose broken, been arrested dozens of times, and been constantly threatened – both me and my family. I have been kidnapped, blindfolded, driven around for hours, then dropped off home. Yes, this really affects you. For hours you have no idea of what is going to happen to you, or whether you will ever go home. You can't feel safe about yourself, your children, your people. I've been shot in the legs three times, and had stones thrown at my head. The “pattern of harassment” against me was raised by UN special rapporteurs in 2013, and even EU ministers have spoken out about my safety and treatment at the hands of the settlers and army.A few weeks ago when I was showing Swiss parliament members around Hebron and explaining to them what was happening, I was arrested by the Israeli army and detained for six hours. The Swiss diplomats were left confused, but this is a normal situation for me.