More than 50 years after occupying the West Bank, Israel is still systematically denying Palestinians civil rights, including the right to gather, Human Rights Watch said in a report released last month. Israel has also stepped up its campaign against the Palestinian-led international boycott movement, and the U.S. and other countries have adopted legislation to suppress it.
Israel says the Palestinians should address their grievances in peace talks. But negotiations ground to a halt more than a decade ago, and the current government's position on core issues is rejected by the Palestinians and most of the international community.
The country also came down hard on Palestinian attempts to seek redress at the International Criminal Court. Last month, after a five-year preliminary investigation, the court said it was ready to open a full investigation pending a ruling on territorial jurisdiction. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the court's decision "pure anti-Semitism."
Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, claimed Israel has "all but declared Palestinian opposition to the systematic discrimination they face illegitimate." Shakir himself was deported from Israel in November over his alleged support for the boycott movement.
If it succeeds in banning forms of peaceful advocacy, he says, Israel will have "effectively left Palestinians no choice but submission to a regime of systematic repression, or violence."
For decades, the Palestinians were branded terrorists because of their armed struggle against Israel which included suicide bombings and other attacks on civilians.
One candidate for such a title might be Abu Rahma, who for several years organized weekly protests outside his West Bank village of Bilin against Israel's controversial separation barrier. Israel says the barrier is needed for security but would have cut off village residents from their land. The protesters eventually forced authorities to reroute the barrier following a court order.
The protests often saw Palestinian youths hurl rocks at Israeli security forces, who responded with tear gas and rubber-coated bullets. But Abu Rahma says he never threw stones and told others not to do so, partly out of concern they would hurt other protesters.
That didn't keep him from being arrested.
Peace talks between the two sides broke down after Netanyahu was elected in 2009. In September, he vowed to annex large parts of the West Bank, a move that would almost certainly extinguish any remaining hope of creating a Palestinian state.
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