Gaza Court Convicts Peace Activists for Video Call With Israelis

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JERUSALEM — A military court in the Gaza Strip convicted three Palestinian peace activists of “weakening revolutionary spirit” on Monday for their role in holding a video call with Israelis in April, but it ordered the authorities to release the two who remained in jail.

The activists belong to the Gaza Youth Committee, which organized the virtual discussion as part of a bridge-building initiative that they named “Skype with your enemy,” although they used Zoom to hold the calls.

The Palestinian military court sentenced Rami Aman, the head of the committee, to a year in prison, but decided to “halt” the implementation of his sentencing, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, the organization representing the activists. The court released the second activist, whose name has not been made public, on the basis of time served, the group said.

The ruling came in the wake of human rights organizations’ repeated calls on Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, to free those two defendants, who spent more than six months in the custody of Hamas authorities. They could have been sentenced to years in prison.

The military court also convicted Manar al-Sharif, a third activist who participated in the video call. But it ruled that Ms. Sharif, who was released on bail in June, would not need to serve additional time behind bars. She moved to Cairo on Sunday.

In an interview, Mr. Aman, 38, emphasized that he would not give up on his vision for coexistence with Israelis, or leave Gaza, but hinted that he would not return to his activism swiftly.

“I’m a stronger person with the same vision,” he said, “but I need to think about how to approach things in the future.”

Iyad al-Bozm, the spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry, did not respond to an inquiry on Monday as to whether authorities would rearrest the activists if they returned to interacting with Israelis.

In an April Facebook post, Mr. al-Bozm accused the defendants of participating in a “normalization activity” and declared any communication with Israel “a crime punishable by law and a betrayal of our people and its sacrifices.”

While Hamas permits Palestinian merchants, Palestinian Authority officials, ill people and some other groups to communicate with Israelis, it has taken a hard line against Palestinians engaging with Israelis on a sociopolitical level.

The nearly two-hour video call in April, held in English, drew more than 200 participants on Zoom, but was highly criticized by Palestinians in Gaza who oppose befriending Israelis. Hamas responded by arresting Mr. Aman and several others who had participated in the virtual meeting.

The call attracted participants from Europe and the United States, in addition to Palestinians and Israelis. It gave left-leaning Israelis, mostly in their 20s and 30s, a rare chance to hear directly from a handful of Gaza residents about life under the Israeli-Egyptian blockade.

Omar Shakir, the Human Rights Watch director for Israel and Palestine, said the fact Mr. Aman was released “makes today a good day,” but he cautioned that his lengthy detention highlighted “Hamas’s larger persecution of journalists, opponents and activists who do not toe the party line.”

“So long as Hamas continues on this path, we’ll continue to hear about activists like Rami jailed for their nonviolent speech,” he said.

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