Global Independent Analytics
Max J. Schindler
Max J. Schindler

Location: Palestine-Israel

Specialization: Politics

He’s a human rights activist. Yet how does his employer, the Palestinian Authority, obstruct him?

If all Palestinians were like him, Israeli would have had no chance.

He’s been arrested and detained more times than he can recall.

Palestinian militant-turned-human rights activist Younes Arar has sat in an Israeli prison for terms as long as six months to as short as 24 hours.

He's not alone. Approximately 40 percent of all Palestinian males have seen the insides of a jail cell. In Arar’s case, he spent the time perusing the jailhouse library, devouring books on philosophy and short stories in Arabic. He also taught himself Hebrew and became ever more political.

For the past decade, Arar has championed “popular, non-violent resistance,” in his hometown. And before then?

“I was a stone thrower. I don’t mind stone throwers,” he says with a chuckle, considering the act almost symbolic in its nature. “We’re demonstrating our opposition to Israeli occupation.”

Younes Arar (holding sign, center) in a non-violent demonstration against the Israeli occupation. Photo by Joshua Tartakovsky

Today, Arar runs a commission funded by the Palestinian National Authority, the provisional quasi-government overseeing Palestinians.

Defiantly entitled the “Colonization and Apartheid Wall Resistance Commission,” his staff of 20 lawyers files lawsuits and organizes protests against Israeli settlements and the separation barrier in the West Bank. Last year, the office opened 2,100 cases against the Israeli army, ranging from land confiscations to arbitrary military decrees.

Arar's place of employment may complicate his human rights work. When lamenting the small-scale of today’s “third” knife Intifada in comparison with the first Intifada, Arar does not mention the PA.

“During the first Intifada, there was a united leadership. It was more massive, more popular.” Yet today, Arar added, nobody protests in the streets. (During the past few months of unrest, none of the major Palestinian political factions have joined in the fight.)

What has changed since then is the rise of the Palestinian Authority and the growth of hundreds of NGOs. When asked if those organizations stifle energy towards resistance movements, Arar defended the entity.

“The PA is the result of long years of resistance. It has not come by chance. A lot of blood was shed,” Arar said, defending the autonomous PA as a first step in ending the occupation.

(Some Ramallah-based critics have criticized the PA as a “subcontractor of Israel’s occupation” by providing security to the IDF and offering welfare programs to the occupied population. The PA’s services relieve burdensome Israeli responsibility for Palestinian quotidian affairs.)

When challenged if Arar’s paycheck may complicate how he can maneuver or critique the PA, he first waved away the concern.

“I don’t care where the money comes from. I don’t ask.”

In Arabic, Arar began to argue animatedly with a colleague about Palestinians who claim that there are “two occupations,” one by Israel and one by the autocratic PA, which engages in unpopular security coordination with the IDF.

When asked about the increasing unpopularity of the PA among ordinary Palestinians and the youth, Arar disagreed.

 “I hear these activists complaining about the PA but where are the protests? Where are the masses demonstrating against the PA?” (In fact, many journalists and critics of the PA are routinely arrested.)

“The PA is our crowning achievement of the struggle,” he said. “We are elected.” [The last election was in 2006, and it culminated in Islamist Hamas winning. Since then, the legislature has not convened.] “And for those who are calling [for the dissolution of the PA], what are their alternatives”?

The personal and the political

Outside the office, Arar has gained notoriety for leading creative direct actions.

He will sometimes stand in the middle of busy Route 60, the road bisecting the West Bank’s north-south spine to connect Israeli settlements. With incessant honking from angry drivers, Arar backs up traffic to protest against the military occupation.

Arar is a stately man with a toothy smile. Born in 1973, Arar came of age during the first Intifada. Middle-aged and slightly balding, he wears a rumpled collar shirt. He speaks near-perfect yet slightly accented English, despite never residing in an Anglo country. And he intersperses his speech with fricative consonants, to humorous effect.

Arar hails from Beit Ummar, a verdant village covered by olive trees and nestled in the Judean hills north of Hebron. Arar is married to Gardner (meaning “spring” in Arabic) and fathered a set of older paternal twins, Amar and Suluf, and two younger daughters, Sarah and Haifa. For generations, his family has lived in the town. Few if any relatives were exposed to the 1948 war and the subsequent Palestinian refugee crisis.

After leaving the law office, Arar returns to his 7,000 square meter plot of land, where he farms grapes and plums.

Younes Arar facing Israeli soldiers in Beit Jala. Photo by Joshua Tartakovsky

His hometown overlooks six settlements choking its breadth, including Kfar Etzion Efrat, and Karmei Tzur. The last one is partially built on Beit Umar land, with Israeli authorities discarding land title deeds dating back from the Ottoman and British periods.

In 2006, the Israeli authorities confiscated further farmland to build the separation barrier adjoining Karmei Tzur. Since then, Arar has been avid in fighting to reclaim his birthright.

With a spacious workplace in the heart of Hebron’s old city, Arar sees settler brutality firsthand. With soaring Arabesque arches and a panoramic photographic gallery, Arar’s office is located at the nexus of Shuhada Street and Tel Rumeida, a neighborhood that has been closed to Palestinian residents and open to incoming Jewish settlers.

In light of the ever-growing settlement construction and the right-wing drift of Israeli society, what keeps Arar going and fighting? It’s what he perceives as the unjust, “evil” nature of Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories and expulsions within the pre-1967 borders.

I’m not demanding to throw them in the sea, as [Israelis] claim. I’m willing to live with them. But they’re trying to get us [Palestinians] out of here.”

When asked for a long-term prognosis of Israeli-Palestinian relations, Arar was quick to jump.

“Fuck,” he retorted. “I’ve been asked this question hundreds of times. But for the first time, my answer is different. I’m not optimistic.”

“We are under the occupation of people who do not recognize our right to be,” Arar added, emphasizing the Shakespearean “to be.”

“And the international community is turning a blind eye.”

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