An Israeli court has sentenced a prominent Palestinian activist to one year in prison for organising non-violent protests against the barrier that separates the West Bank, the occupied territory, from Israeli territory.
The verdict on Monday came after Abdullah Abu Rahma was convicted in August of incitement and organising illegal demonstrations.
"(Abdullah Abu Rahma) was sentenced to 12 months in prison, out of which he has already served 10," Jonathan Pollak, an Israeli activist who attended the hearing, said. He was also fined $1,250.
But Pollak said the military’s prosecution team, which had sought a sentence exceeding two years, was likely to appeal the ruling, which could see Abu Rahma serve additional time.
Abu Rahma, who was arrested in December 2009, was one of the chief organisers of weekly demonstrations in the West Bank town of Bil’in that are regularly attended by scores of Palestinian, Israeli and foreign activists.
Though dubbed non-violent, the protests have seen Palestinian youths hurling stones at Israeli troops, who often fire tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the demonstrators.
Abu Rahma was acquitted on charges of stone-throwing and weapons possession for exhibiting tear-gas canisters that had been fired by Israeli troops.
Shortly after Monday’s verdict was announced, the European Union’s foreign policy chief criticised the prison sentence, saying it was intended to undermine Abu Rahma’s "right to protest".
"The possible imprisonment of Mr Abu Rahma is intended to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest against the existence of the separation barrier in a non-violent manner," Catherine Ashton said.
Her reaction drew a critical response from Yigal Palmor, Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman, who was quoted as describing it as "highly improper".
According to UN figures, Israel has so far completed 413km of its planned 709km barrier – a network of walls, barbed-wire fences, trenches and closed military roads.
When completed, 85 per cent of the structure will have been built inside the West Bank.
Israel says the barrier is needed to prevent Palestinian attacks. But Palestinians, who refer to it as an "Apartheid wall", say it cuts them off from occupied land that should be part of their future state.
(Agencies via Aljazeera.net English)