This article was originally published on March 27, 2017 on Canada Talks Israel Palestine.
On the morning of Sunday, March 19, Israeli tax authorities barged into the home of Omar Barghouti, the prominent Palestinian human rights defender and co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for the freedom, justice and equality of the Palestinian people. They detained and interrogated Omar and his wife Safa for 16 hours that first day. Omar has subsequently undergone at least four more days of interrogation.
The charge against him is “tax evasion”. Israeli authorities claim he has accumulated over $700,000 over the last decade and “hidden it in a Ramallah” bank. It’s hard for an outsider to know whether there is any basis for this, although it would seem surprising that Ramallah banks are not under close surveillance by Israeli authorities. Some commentators have suggested that arresting Barghouti for tax evasion is a safer route for Israel than an outright arrest for political activity.
However, what is known is that for the last 24 months Israel has been ramping up its threats and legal action against the BDS movement and against Barghouti in particular. In the past few weeks, Israel has arrested (and released) one prominent Jewish Israeli proponent of BDS and deported a British BDS activist.
(We are) concerned for the safety and liberty of Palestinian human rights defender Omar Barghouti, and other Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists…
Amnesty International, April 2016
Last year Amnesty International expressed grave concerns “for the safety and liberty of Palestinian human rights defender Omar Barghouti, and other Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists, following calls alluding to threats, including of physical harm and deprivation of basic rights, made by Israeli ministers at an anti-Boycott Divestment and Sanction conference in Jerusalem on March 28, 2016.”
Details of Barghouti’s arrest are still scanty and he is apparently under a “gag” order. In a strongly worded statement, the BDS National Committee claims that the arrest of Barghouti is yet another step in a campaign of harassment and intimidation. Barghouti could be forced to spend a lot of time and money over the next few years defending himself in court even if the charges are completely groundless.
Canadians who share Amnesty’s concern for Barghouti’s safety and liberty, could write a letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland (firstname.lastname@example.org) encouraging her to review the situation. Alternatively it would be possible to write to His Excellency Rafael Barak, Ambassador of Israel to Canada (at ambassador-sec@Ottawa.mfa.gov.il).