Stop the Criminalisation of Sawt el-Amels Activists!

Sawt el-Amel/The Laborer’s Voice is an independent grassroots
organisation founded by Palestinian Arab workers in Nazareth in 2000,
in order to defend and promote the rights of Arab citizens of Israel
to decent work and social security.

September 6, 2007

Stop the Criminalisation of Sawt el-Amels Activists!
Call on Attorney General Menahem Mazuz to Drop the Charges

What you can do:

Forward this appeal to your friends and colleagues;

Express your support of Sawt el-Amel through solidarity messages
and/or donations;

Send a fax/letter to Attorney General Menahem Mazuz, asking him to
drop all charges (please find official address and suggested sample
letter for copy-paste below);

Attend the trials as an independent observer.

original document with pictures:
http://laborers-voice.org/files/070906_trials.pdf

Currently, ten activists of Sawt el-Amel are facing criminal charges,
including illegal assembly, disturbance of the public order, and
assault of a police officer. The defendants plead not guilty on all
charges and in return accuse the authorities of bias against their
social activism and lawful struggle for social and economic rights of
workers and the poor.

Background:

1) State of Israel against Jamal Hassanen et al.

This case goes back eight years, to a time when Sawt el-Amel was still
not officially registered as an organisation. The incident happened in
the job office of Upper Nazareth, Nazareths Jewish neighbouring town,
and involved unemployed workers from Ein Mahel. Ein Mahel, an Arab
village trapped between Upper Nazareth and the Upper Nazareth bypass
road, has one of the highest unemployment rates in the area. Land
confiscation to develop Upper Nazareth has continued over the years,
leaving the former peasant community without a livelihood.

Then, in September 1999, Ein Mahels unemployed became pawns in a major
social-security scam. In a first step, Ein Mahels unemployed were
transferred from the employment bureau in Nazareth to the branch in
Upper Nazareth. There, the jobseekers were faced with systematic
discrimination, and according to an independent investigation by the
Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, 199 out of the 454 unemployed from
Ein Mahel lost their social benefits in September and October 1999 for
allegedly refusing to work. As a result, the Israeli government
claimed that between August and October 1999, the unemployment rate in
Ein Mahel had fallen from 18.8% to 10.5%. Yediot Ahronot reporter
Hagar Enosh said that one of the bureaus main strategies was to send
the Ein Mahel unemployed to workplaces that did not exist (Humphries,
2002).

On October 27, 1999, a group of workers and activists demanded a
meeting with the area supervisor of the employment service. When this
was refused, the unemployed present in the Upper Nazareth job office
spontaneously began demonstrating. The police were called and started
to provoke demonstrators. Three unemployed women were injured, and
nine people were arrested, including Sawt el-Amels director Wehbe
Badarne.

The prosecution refused a plea by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab
Minority Rights in Israel, to drop the case, and the trial was opened
in November 2002. In the upcoming hearing on October 22, 2007, a final
decision is expected.

Read more:
Humphries, Isabelle, Nine Arab Israelis on Trial for Challenging Job
Office Racism, IslamOnline (November 18, 2002), at
http://www.islamonline.net/English/News/2002-11/18/article73.shtml.

Trial Information:
October 22, 2007, 2:00pm, Nazareth Court (Case No. PA 2185/99):

State of Israel v Jamal Hassanen, Samir Habiballah, Wahida Habiballah,
Khaldiya Hassanen, Mahmoud Habiballah, Wehbe Badarne, Arif Habiballah,
Khitam Habiballah

Charge list:*

Forbidden assembly & Disturbance of peace, a violation of articles
151+152 of the Penal Code of 1977;

Assault of a police officer while performing his duty, a violation of
article 273 of the Penal Code of 1977;

Theft, a violation of article 384 of the Penal Code of 1977;

Possession of weapon, a violation of article 144(a) of the Penal Code of 1977;

Assault, a violation of article 379 of the Penal Code of 1977.

*Only Charge No. 1 applies to all defendants.

Seven defendants are members of Sawt el-Amel; Wehbe Badarne is the
director of Sawt el-Amel. They plead not guilty on all charges.

If convicted, the defendants face either imprisonment, imprisonment on
probation, or a fine.

2) State of Israel against Issam Omar and Awni Shihadat

Since summer 2005, Nazareths unemployed have been faced with the
Wisconsin Plan, Israels neo-liberal welfare-to-work project
implemented by private companies. Ever since the programmes launch,
unemployed workers and Sawt el-Amel activists have challenged the
exploitative Wisconsin Plan through information campaigns, legal
advocacy and public activism. Oftentimes, their public dissent is met
with violence by police and private security guards. After an
escalation on January 16, 2006, which led to the current trial,
activists and potential demonstrators were further deterred by the
deployment of Israeli Border Police (i.e. army) to guard the Wisconsin
centres.

In its press release dated January 17, 2006, Sawt el-Amel wrote:
Yesterday, on January 16, 2006, hundreds of Nazareths Wisconsin
participants voiced their anger and frustration about the policies of
the Wisconsin Plan. In the morning, Sawt el-Amel/The Laborers Voice
had organised a small demonstration in front of the employment centre
in Nazareth Bir Abu-Jej to protest against Agam Mehalevs (the
implementing company) new policy which requires the participants to
attend the Wisconsin centres for 6-8 hours a day without offering
daycare solutions for the thousands of young children. [] The
situation escalated when three women were denied access to the
employment centres by private security guards and policemen. [] At
12:15pm a large police force about 20 police cars arrived at the scene
and used force against the approximately 100 Wisconsin participants
now involved the unrest. [] [T]wo active members of Sawt el-Amel [the
two defendants] were arrested after security personnel had pointed
them out, claiming they had incited the masses. Both of them were
later released without charges.

Later on, however, a new charge list was presented against Awni
Shihadat and Issam Omar, and on September 11, 2007, their case will be
tried in front of the Nazareth court.

Read more:
Sawt el-Amel, Whats New at Sawt el-Amel/The Laborers Voice? (No.
1/2006) (February 13, 2006).
http://www.laborers-voice.org/article_details.aspx?TopID=267&catid=45.

Sawt el-Amel, Wisconsin Plan Causes Civil Unrest among Nazareths Poor
(January 17, 2006),
http://www.laborers-voice.org/article_details.aspx?TopID=265&catid=45.

Trial Information:
September 11, 2007, 9:00am, Nazareth Court (Case No. PA 231/2006):

State of Israel v Issam Omar and Awni Shihadat

Charge list:

Assault of a police officer while performing his duty, a violation of
article 273 of the Penal Code of 1977;

Preventing a police officer from performing his duty, a violation of
article 275 of the Penal Code of 1977;

Assault, a violation of article 379 of the Penal Code of 1977;

Disturbing peace and order in a public place, a violation of article
216(a)(1) of the Penal Code of 1977.

Issam Omar is an activist and former board member of Sawt el-Amel;
Awni Shihadat is a current board member of Sawt el-Amel. They plead
not guilty on all charges.

The State wants to call nine witnesses, four of whom are policemen and
five are private security personnel of Agam Mehalev, the company
implementing the Wisconsin Plan.

If convicted, the defendants face either imprisonment, imprisonment on
probation, or a fine.

What you can do:

Forward this appeal to your friends and colleagues;

Express your support of Sawt el-Amel through solidarity messages
and/or donations;

Send a fax/letter to Attorney General Menahem Mazuz, asking him to
drop all charges (please find official address and suggested sample
letter for copy-paste below);

Attend the trials as an independent observer.

Sample letter to Attorney General Menahem Mazuz

(If you send this or your individual message to Mr. Mazuz, please fax
a copy to us: +972 (0)4 6080917)

Attorney General Menahem Mazuz
Ministry of Justice
Salah ad-Din Street 29
Jerusalem 91010; Israel
Fax: +972 (0)2 6467001; Tel: +972 (0)2 6466522

Dear Attorney General Menahem Mazuz,

I have been following the pending trials of 10 citizens of Nazareth
and Ein Mahel (Cases No. PA 231/2006 and PA 2185/99) who are charged,
inter alia, with illegal assembly, disturbance of the public order and
assault of a police officer. The upcoming trial sessions are scheduled
for September 11, 2007 and October 22, 2007 respectively. The second
case has already been pending for eight years, a disproportionately
long time for the charges involved.

All ten defendants are activists and members of the workers rights
organisation Sawt el-Amel and plead not guilty on all charges. They
further claim that the indictment is a result of biased police and
other public officials and that they are being persecuted as social
activists demanding their socio-economic rights as citizens.

If this is the case, all charges against them must be dropped.
Therefore, I call upon you to review the two cases and drop the
charges if there is indeed evidence of bias.

Sincerely,

Dont hesitate to contact us for more information:
Wehbe Badarne, Director
Sawt el-Amel/The Laborers Voice; P.O.Box 2721; Nazareth 16126; Israel
Tel: +972 (0)4 6561996; Fax: +972 (0)4 6080917; Email:
laborers@laborers-voice.org

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