Issa Amro is a Palestinian human rights defender who has lived in Hebron (West Bank) since his birth. For over two decades, he has been advocating for Palestinian rights, with his unwavering dedication earning him international recognition by the European Union, the United Nations, Amnesty International, and US Senator Bernie Sanders. He founded Youth Against Settlements, an organisation advocating for resisting the occupation through peaceful means and through empowering the Palestinian community. Issa is also involved in several other non-violent movements, such as the Hebron branch of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), the Arab Non-Violence Network, and the Hebron Defenders. He is involved in monitoring the application of international human rights and humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
CJLPA: Good morning, Mr Issa Amro. On behalf of The Cambridge Journal of Law, Politics, and Art, we would like to thank you for your time today to provide valuable insight on your experience as one of Palestine’s most highly prominent activists. You were named Human Rights Defender of the Year by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the European Union. Your work has made a real meaningful impact on the decades-long Israel-Palestine situation, and we look forward to further learning about it in order to engage the wider international community and fight against the ongoing human rights violations.
We would like to begin by asking how your early years such as your childhood or your teenage years in Hebron have inspired you to choose the activist path?
Issa Amro: I am happy to contribute and thank you very much for interviewing me. I hope that this interview will enrich people’s awareness and knowledge about the reality of the situation on the ground. I am a Palestinian who was born in Hebron City. I was born very close to an Israeli illegal settlement in the old city of Hebron. I suffered from the presence of the settlers, and I suffered from the presence of the Israeli soldiers.
A main memory for me was the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre, which happened in 1994, when Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli retired army doctor, broke into the Ibrahimi Mosque and killed 29 Palestinian worshippers in the early morning who were praying. That was the main shock for me—to see that someone can just kill innocent people in the mosque. The consequences of the massacre affected me. I did not attend school for four months. It was really difficult for me as a child, that time. We lost one student who played football with us every morning at school. The streets were closed, segregated, and shops were closed. So, we were the victims of the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre, and we were punished under the hands of the Israeli military operation because we are ‘weak’ and they are the main power. Nonetheless, I continued my education at high school, then I graduated from high school, and I went to university to study engineering. My dream was to become an engineering professor. I was doing very well in school and at my university, and I continued to pursue academic achievement to fulfil my dream to become a professor.
Unfortunately, in the last year of my degree, Bachelor’s Degree, the Israeli military closed my university. I went to the university in the morning, I found the campus sealed, the doors were welded by the Israeli military and the porter paper said that the university is closed indefinitely, without giving any explanation. I became very disappointed, very angry. I wanted to get my degree by any means. It was about education for me, not about occupation.
So, I went home, broken, disappointed, and very angry. I searched ‘how to create a revolution’ on Yahoo’s search engine. I wanted to create a revolution. Luckily, I firstly came across Martin Luther King, involved in the civil rights movement in the United States, Gandhi, and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. I studied these non-violence campaigns and I started a campaign with other students to reopen the university to get our degree. It was about education, because Palestinians on the daily, all over Palestine, fight to get to their schools, fight to get to their universities. We believe that education will empower us to make us stronger, to resist the Israeli occupation and to be able to keep our identity and keep our steadfastness as Palestinians who are living under Israeli military, apartheid, and oppression. And from that point, I graduated from the university as an engineer, but also as an activist. From there, I started campaigning, creating non-violent committees, organisations, movements, up to the point where I am now.
CJLPA: We are inspired to hear that through your passion, you wanted to emphasise the importance of education. You have lived in Palestine all your life and your work is in the heart of the occupied city of Hebron. How would you say the situation has changed since you started your career?
IA: I started my activism 20 years ago, and as time passes, it is getting much worse. There is a war against our rights as Palestinians.
We live under Israeli military law without any basic rights. Imagine that non-violent resistance, according to the Israeli military law, is not allowed, and it is illegal. Personally, I was indicted, and I was convicted in the military court, arrested for practicing non-violent resistance. By the Israeli military law, we are guilty until we are proven innocent. It is the opposite of the civilian law. So, whenever I am arrested without evidence held against me, I have to prove to the judge, to the court, that I am innocent. This can be really difficult.
So, it is not easy to see that in my 20 years as an activist, to control Palestinians, there are more checkpoints, more restrictions, advanced technology to track them, spy on them, to violate our privacy, and to intimidate us. I feel and see that every day, we face further challenges. Their policy is that they do not evict you directly from your home, but they make it impossible for you to remain in your home. How do they make it impossible for you to remain in your home? By making you not feel safe. At any given point, I know that the settlers and soldiers may break into my home and arrest me, attack me, or shoot me. I do not feel safe in my house now. I do not have access to any protection. I am afraid for my safety, I am afraid for my neighbours’ safety, and I am afraid for my friends’ safety. We live in fear all the time.
Secondly, there are no services—electricity, plumbing, or even ambulance services! If I were to require access to an ambulance now, I would need coordination for the ambulance to come in and assist me. So, you skip all the emergency cases, the doctors because there are no services at all. From checkpoint to checkpoint.
Thirdly, there is no social life. Part of our culture is the social life. How is it that there is no social life? Public events are not allowed. Visitors from outside the area are not allowed. We have 22 checkpoints within less than one square kilometre. It is up to the soldiers to decide who gets into the area. Imagine that the soldiers decide if you may bring friends into your home or not. The soldiers decide if you may throw a birthday party or not. So, there is no social life, there are no services, and there is no safety.
This is the situation. And it is getting much worse. There are more restrictions. There is more ‘blue and white’, they call it. They are building more and more settlements; they are closing more and more streets, they are closing the markets, etc. They are working to displace the Palestinians and to make them lose their homes, they make them not think about freedom. Instead, they keep us busy struggling for basic rights, in order for us not to call for freedom. We do not ask for equality. We do not ask for justice. Freedom is a dream for us. Justice is a dream for us. Equality is a dream for us. But we do not have any of that.
CJLPA: I was particularly interested to hear that the Israeli authorities track Palestinians, and I have not heard of this before. So how does that work? Do they just track where Palestinians are going or what kind of technology is being used?
IA: The whole world is utilising artificial intelligence to make human being lives’ easier, but unfortunately, in Israel, the Israeli occupation is using artificial intelligence and advanced CCTV cameras with facial recognition, eye recognition, and body recognition in order to track and spy on Palestinians. I have no privacy. They know everything about my life. This interview, it is recorded by the Israeli authorities. When I talk to my friends, it is recorded. They track us on social media on our daily lives on social media—they know who gets into my house, who comes to visit me, what is going on around me, my location wherever I go. They then create a profile of me holding information without my consent – they have all my history of activism, my personal status, my personal needs, they have it on their profile without my consent. I cannot say ‘no, do not do such research on me’.
They use two types of technologies now. One is called Blue Wolf. Blue Wolf is a mobile application whereby Israeli soldiers approaching you with a phone and taking a photograph of your face, can access all the information about you. Imagine, 19 or 20 year old soldiers, with a military system that provides them the ample space to act according to their ideology, come to you and know that you are a human rights defender and you are against the occupation, even if it was in the form of peaceful resistance. This happened to me a few times this year. I was detained and ill-treated by the Israeli soldiers because they dealt with me as per their ideology. Additionally, settlers may access this app as well, because there is no difference between Israeli settlers and Israeli soldiers.
The other application is Red Wolf. For the Red Wolf app, the Israeli military have installed CCTV cameras everywhere. In my house, from one direction, there are three CCTV cameras. From the other direction, there are two more. So, the families feel monitored inside their homes. The women in our community, when they are in their homes—considering that it is a conservative culture—they do not want others to be able to see them, especially a stranger being able to see their hair and their body. They close the curtains when they are in their homes. Some women have asked me, ‘Issa, can these cameras see us inside our bedrooms?’ That is the fear, that intimidation, so this is the technology that they use.
The Red Wolf is to do with CCTV cameras and computers in order to track Palestinians. However, a very important point is that these cameras are not used to track Israeli settler violence. So, whenever the Israeli settlers attack us, attack our homes, they do not use their footage to prove that settlers attack Palestinians. It is only used against Palestinians. And we do not know what they do with it. Perhaps, they do medical research, or other kinds of research into our bodies or behaviour in order to then sell this data to big companies. There is Smart Shooter at the main checkpoint— a private company from Tel Aviv. They came to install the security Smart Shooter in Hebron by the checkpoint: first, to intimidate me and then to be used us as a simulation object. They do simulations on us for their technology. So, they are misusing the artificial intelligence against the Palestinians to withhold our right to privacy and our right to live equally without fear.
CJLPA: It is shocking to see that such basic rights to privacy can be violated, leaving Palestinians live in this state of paranoia. With regards to the settlements, how does the process work with regards to the expanding illegal settlements over time?
IA: Unfortunately, Israel is building more and more settlements every day and building infrastructure for these settlements all over West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Hebron—bypass roads, industrial zones, agricultural zones.
On the one hand, they fight the Palestinian presence through the idea of not evicting Palestinians directly, but by making it impossible for them to stay—by cutting off water, electricity, etc. On the other hand, they encourage Israeli settlers to build commercial centres, educational centres, universities, bypass roads and infrastructure to annex the West Bank without the Palestinians. High Israeli officials say ‘we should remove that city’ or, ‘we should remove and burn that community’. There are many Palestinian communities now in areas where they are facing eviction and the lack of water. The Israeli army just last week put cement in water wells in order to cut off Palestinians’ access to drinking water. Imagine that in some areas the agriculture is restricted, because they don't want us to have any infrastructure for basic rights in certain areas. This is happening in H2 in Hebron, in East Jerusalem, and in Area C, in general, in Palestine, to displace the Palestinians. And the over-turning of the Israeli judicial system is a tool to legitimise and to get legal approval for all their actions against the Palestinians because we are the ‘weakest’ group in this situation, it is not easy for us at all.
We are fighting for our existence; we are fighting for basic rights. We do not talk about more than basic rights these days. But, even with basic rights, we do not have access and our existence is in danger. There are hundreds of new settlements every month; thousands this year, which is the highest it has been in a long time. Settler violence is the worst it has been in the last, maybe, 20 years, and without any accountability. Something that is very important about settler violence: they steal your property, they attack your house, they attack you physically, and all without any kind of accountability, with full impunity. There are organised programmes against Palestinians by Israeli settlers’ militia, and they are now getting more guns, more weapons from the Israeli government. I see settlers in the neighbourhood here, they never have machine guns, automatic machine guns or semi-automatic machine guns. That is an indicator that we are facing a very dark future and that maybe, we are facing massacres in certain areas to force the Palestinians to leave so to take over their land. I can see that what happened 75 years ago at the time of the Palestinian Nakba, it will be repeated if we do not stop these current extremists who now are the government as well.
What the Israeli army cannot do legally, the Israeli settlers’ militia do it by themselves with the protection and escort from the Israeli military, the Israeli government, and the Israeli media.
I was attacked last February by an Israeli soldier when I was working with a famous American writer. And I was attacked. I was the victim of that soldier. Meanwhile, the Israeli military accused me of being in an illegal area. The army and the Israeli army spokesperson said that I am the problem. Then, the Israeli media accused me of being a provocateur, and said that I deserve what happened to me. The Israeli National Security Minister also tweeted that I deserve what happened to me and that the soldier should be backed up. So, the Israeli government did nothing to make this soldier accountable, and the Israeli public treated the soldier as a hero. This is a small example of the atmosphere of the Israeli soldiers’ and settlers’ violence.
CJLPA: It is truly unbelievable to hear about the type of propaganda that is being spread and the support for these violations. With regards to other activists in Hebron, is it also common for them to be attacked by or harassed by the authorities?
IA: I am not an extraordinary human rights defender. I am a Palestinian and the majority of Palestinians face harassment and ill-treatment from the Israeli military, the Israeli government, and the Israeli settlers. So, it is a phenomenon—using this level of oppression against Palestinian women, Palestinian children, and Palestinian human beings, this is a phenomenon.
If you are a human rights defender, or a journalist, you are further targeted because they want to silence the voices of those who are trying to expose the Israeli oppression, the Israeli occupation, and the Israeli apartheid. So, we became the target as a means to silence our voices. For example, Shareen Abu Akhleh was assassinated. She was a famous Palestinian journalist who was assassinated by the Israeli military. She was shot, killed, and the killing was confirmed by the Israeli army, without any accountability for who killed her. So, it's a common phenomenon to target journalists and human rights defenders, so as to not allow us to tell the story of what is going on the ground. Mainly, what's happening to me is because I tell the truth, because I document the truth, because I give a first-hand testimony to the international community about what Israel is doing.
When we say Israel is not defending itself, it is because Israel is defending its occupation, its apartheid and its settlements. When we say that Israel is not a democracy, it is because I live under the Israeli military law without any basic rights while Israeli settlers live under the Israeli civilian law. So, when there are two sets of law, for different people, we say it is an apartheid, it is not a democracy. It is a democracy for its own people. I do not choose or vote for the authorities who are controlling me. Israel does not want that. Israel wants to play the western country, which respects human rights, which respects democracy, but that is not the truth, it is fake. It is so obvious that it is fake when I tell my story as a Palestinian human rights defender who believes in non-violent resistance as the best method to obtain our rights. This is about our rights as Palestinians who are calling for freedom, justice, and equality. Israelis do not want that—they are not ready to give us our rights or to be equal with them. They do not want us to hold them accountable for their violations of international law and for their violations of our basic rights.
CJLPA: It is almost as if Palestinians and Israelis live in completely two different countries, despite living on same land. Can you please share some details of how Palestinians are attacked, tortured, and killed specifically by those authorities?
IA: If you are passing a checkpoint or in a certain area, you may be shot and killed. Or you may be arrested. I was arrested many times without any reason. They detain me between four to eight days in a military detention centre without me seeing a charge. This has happened to me many times and to many other Palestinians. There are now 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in ‘administrative detention’, also known for us as jail. You do not know why. Your lawyer does not know why. The judge sometimes does not know why. Imagine that there are 1,000 Palestinians—among them children and women—in administrative detention, without trial where they may intimidate you and beat you. That is against international law.
They can also make your day really hard and impossible to get through: they can close the streets, close the cities, or impose collective punishment. It is truly not easy for us.
A further very important note is that we feel the supremacy of the Israeli soldiers over us. The way they treat us—they dehumanise us at the checkpoints by treating us less than they would treat animals. They see us as suspect and treat us like extremists all the time, despite the fact that we all are civilians and it is the soldiers who are the extremists violating international law. And they are the violence machine. This is the worst feeling for me, that they dehumanise me.
Imagine at the checkpoint, there is the layer of advanced security artificial intelligence, and there is another human layer to provoke you, to dehumanise you, and to really intimidate you. In winter, they force you to take off your shoes on muddy ground. When it is very sunny, they close a checkpoint and make you wait. They say bad things to you, they harass the women when they pass the checkpoint, without any accountability and without any kind of mechanism to address complaints, or even to bring awareness of what is happening to us. It is not reported on in mainstream media, and our content is highly restricted on social media these days. So, we escaped from the mainstream, biased media to the social media. They followed us to the companies, to the social media companies, to restrict our content. Imagine that I posted Shireen Abu Akleh’s photo on social media and my account was then restricted. Shireen Abu Akleh was an American, Christian and a very famous journalist, assassinated by the Israeli military and almost everybody around the world showed sympathy with what happened to her. I posted Shireen Abu Akleh’s photo on social media and social media deleted my post and restricted my account for posting her photo. This is the life we live under as Palestinians.
CJLPA: The international community is beyond disheartened with the attack on the Jenine refugee camp last month. Do you have comments on the situation and how Palestinian refugees are affected by such attacks?
IA: When the international community talks about Jenine, they forget that those camps were created 75 years ago, that those people who are living there were evicted from their cities, from their communities, and from their properties. They are refugees, and they are the victims of Israel. They are the victims of the international community’s double standards. How is it that for so long, for 70 years, those people are unable to travel a few kilometres back to their homes, to their villages, and to their land? And for 75 years, these camps have been in a very bad condition.
They do not have well-built roads, they do not have sewage systems, they do not have enough water, they do not have enough electricity. It is so tense to live there—the density of people is so high, it is house to house, and they spent all their money to build small houses to live there with basic rights. Then, the Israeli bulldozers, the Israeli advanced army, go in, destroy everything, and kill nearly anybody who was in their way. A Palestinian was merely running, and he was killed. A young girl was filming Israeli soldiers raid the camp, she was also killed.
We say the Palestinian Nakba is continuous, it is being repeated every day. It is not easy to describe the situation in the camp. You are a refugee, and the Israelis are working to make you a refugee again. It is not acceptable whatsoever that those refugees are targeted by the same offenders who made them refugees in the first place and that the international community blames the refugees for what is happening to them. The international community is not holding Israel accountable for its violence, for its occupation, for its apartheid and for its eviction of the Palestinians 75 years ago.
CJLPA: Moving on to your organisation, Youth Against Settlements, which works to strengthen the community of Hebron against the illegal expansion of settlements and to document human rights violations. What are some memorable achievements of your organisation and other organisations you are involved in, such as the human rights solidarity movement, or Non-violence Network and Hebron defenders? Additionally, what are the challenges faced by such organisations?
IA: Our centre was raided many times by Israeli soldiers and settlers. The soldiers confiscated all our belongings a few times, while the Israeli settlers attacked our centre and destroyed our property, such as the water pipes, fences, etc and stole our CCTV cameras. We are under continuous pressure.
The organisation has different focuses. Firstly, we conduct direct action through rallies in order to increase awareness about what is happening. We document the human rights violations that occur and also train families to document such violations using video cameras. We also undertake legal work and organise a lot of campaigns, such as the Open Shuhadah campaign. To bring back Palestinian families to the community, we work to help them feel more safe by making patrols on the streets, walking the children to the school, or teaching women to speak English and Hebrew.
Another very important point is to keep our narrative alive, to protect the identity of the Palestinians. It is Free Palestine. The Palestinian flag is everywhere here, even in the middle of an area which is targeted by the Israeli occupation. So, we do not say that we are merely victims, but we are fighters using non-violent resistance to make the occupation costly and this is my message to everybody. Make fighting the occupation part of your daily routine. Think and be creative as to how the occupation can be made costly to the media and the economy.
And a very important work is to level up Palestinian voices by boosting Palestinian culture, education, sports, economy. This is very important to do—along with making Israel accountable for its occupation and apartheid and telling the truth to the world.
I would like for the international community and the international people to act according to their principles, according to their morals. This is something very important because it is about equality. It is about justice. It is about freedom. How can we live as slaves in our own communities, without basic rights? Do the international people accept to live as slaves in their own land, in their own homes, without security, without social life and without any form of services? We are not asking for much, we are asking for equality, justice, and freedom as Palestinians. We practice non-violent resistance on the ground to act and we have many achievements.
The house I live in was a military base, and I took the soldiers out of it. We established a kindergarten, we established a women's centre, we are now establishing a cinema public space, to show that the land is Palestinian it. It is Palestinians’ land, but we really want to affirm it and still stand strong in front of the soldiers and the settlers without fear and without giving up. We do not want to give up our rights and in no way do we want to become refugees again.
This is what we tell the families—we pick them up, we stay with them, we support them, and we will continue to do so in spite of the challenges we face. Challenges such as violence, smear campaigns, the false rumours about us, the propaganda, and the attack our social media. We struggle for donations to survive as activists, and we do our best to fundraise, but it is not easy. It's almost impossible with the attacks and the restrictions imposed on us.
CJLPA: We truly commend your efforts through your organisation. In addition to bringing awareness to the violations, you empower the community and foster a mindset of resilience, despite the struggles. We are aware that Open Shuhadah Street project is a big project part of the Youth Against settlement. We wanted to know more about this and what does Shuhadah Street mean for the Palestinians? Why is it so significant?
IA: Shuhadah Street is the main street in Hebron, similar to Oxford Street in London and Times Square in New York. It is the main street, the historical area, it has the most markets, the symmetry, so it is really the main street of the city. So, we chose the campaign, Open Shuhadah Street campaign, to increase awareness as to how is it that we are segregated in our own streets. How is it that I am not allowed to walk in my own street because of the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in 1994? How is it that we were the victims of the Israeli terrorists who went into the mosque and killed 29 Palestinians, and we were the ones punished, even though we were the victims?
Open Shuhadah Street campaign means no to the occupation, no to the Israeli apartheid, no to the Israeli segregation. Palestinians are bringing awareness to the situation, by fighting and resisting peacefully and commemorating the Palestinian massacres. We will not forget and we will not forgive, until we get our rights, until we make Israel accountable for its occupation and apartheid, according to international standards. It is a symbolic campaign to inform the international community about who the Palestinians are.
I want the world to understand that we are human beings and that we have our own characters, our own education, our own culture, our own habits. This is part of what we do to show the human side of Palestinians and that we are just like any other nation. We want to be treated as a nation who has freedom and justice. We don't want to be treated as animals who are seeking shelter.
CJLPA: We want to touch on the point you said earlier about the administrative detention. You said that sometimes, the soldiers, the lawyers, the judges are not even aware of the reason a detainee is in detention. So, in that case, what happens to these people in detention? How long are they kept for and what is the procedure, or challenges in this procedure?
IA: They come to your house, they arrest you, they tell you that you are under administrative detention. That is the end. You will be in jail until they decide when you may leave—it could be four months, six months, one year, two years, or ten years. This is administrative detention. When you go to court, the judge does not open the file, there is no trial, and your lawyer does not know why. This is the reality—only Israeli intelligence decides how long you stay. And a further very important point is that your family does not know the end of it, does not know what you are charged for, and will be continuously waiting for you.
CJLPA: With regards to children, what are the prison conditions like for children and other Palestinians?
IA: The worst experience for me when I was arrested was to be arrested with children. I was arrested one time, and I found children in the detention centre handcuffed, blindfolded, intimidated, and harassed, left without water or being able to go to the restroom. They were crying, they were ten or eleven-year-old children. My heart was broken, how were they able to treat them this way? How could they make them confess to throwing stones when they did not do so? How can they refuse to give them their legal rights, intimidate them, try to destroy their dignity, as young children?
The children are a target for the Israeli military, they try to make people afraid for their children. They target the community by targeting the children. My child, two weeks ago, was detained at the checkpoint to target me. My neighbour's children were also arrested to intimidate me as a human rights defender, thinking they were my children. When I went to the soldier, I told him they are not my children, they are my neighbour’s, but they were kept for two hours, detained and beaten by Israeli soldiers.
CJLPA: This is all very valuable information to know, and it is important that the wider international community be aware. Before bringing the interview to an end, what do you think the international community can do in order to place pressure and to make Israeli authorities accountable for their violations?
IA: I want the international community to see Palestinians as a nation who deserve full equal rights, not just to try and give us shelter. We do not want shelter, we want to be treated as a nation, as every nation on earth, which is very important.
On the other hand, to do everything possible to make the Israeli occupation and apartheid costly— to use Parliaments, to not import Israeli settlement products, to use the media to further increase awareness, to support Palestinians economically and politically, to make Israel accountable before the International Criminal Court. and to use all the international mechanisms available to make Israel accountable.
Without making the occupation costly, nothing will change. Without doing concrete actions, nothing will change. I want them to understand the Palestinians’ need freedom, justice, and equality. I plead with the world to support the Palestinians by supporting their economy, education, and voices, fostering friendships with Palestinians, being more engaged with pro-Palestinian organisations, pro-Palestinian groups, and to not fall for the trap of the fake anti-Semitism accusations because Israel is politicising the term anti-Semitism.
We, Palestinians, are against all kinds of racism and support all kinds of free speech. Anti-Semitism is not part of our cause, neither is islamophobia, homophobia, or any other discrimination. We, Palestinians, believe that all human beings are equal and deserve full equal rights. This is what we want we will continue to fight for the name of our rights and for everybody's rights.
CJLPA: Definitely, as you mentioned, it is very important for the wider community to bring awareness and hear the voices of the Palestinian people and use all the international mechanisms available and work with all types of organisations. Mr Amro, thank you very much for your time today, it has been an absolute pleasure speaking with you. We thank you once again, for allowing us to obtain valuable insights from the brave work that you and your organisation do. And we wish you all the best with your endeavours to create a better future for your people. And we hope to see that the occupation comes to an end at some point.
IA: Yes, I agree that the occupation will end. I am very optimistic, and we are almost there, but we need to work harder.
This interview was conducted by Shahad Alkamas, who graduated in 2021 from Middlesex University and obtained her LPC the following year at the University of Law. In addition to her Legal Researcher role at CJLPA, Shahad is currently working as an in-house litigation paralegal, with previous experience in various legal fields such as personal injury, immigration, and civil litigation.