Three Arab Israelis arrested after calling for boycott of Peres lecture

Three Palestinian citizens of Israel who study at the Jerusalem College of Engineering (JCE) were arrested on Wednesday for allegedly threatening other students planning to attend a lecture by Israeli President Shimon Peres.

While they themselves openly boycotted the lecture, their arrests were made as a result of a complaint filed against them for making threats and incitement. They however claim that they were arrested for calling for the boycott of the lecture itself.

They have been placed under house arrest by a local court and expelled from Jerusalem for one week so as to prevent them talking to other students. The names of two of the three students were released: Khalil Gharra from Jit and Rafat Shaban from Majd Al Koroum.

According to both Arab news sites and Ynet, the three students wrote on the college’s Facebook page that they would not attend the lecture – in fact, according to reports, not a single Arab student attended the event. Other students commented that this was a blatant violation of their basic right to freedom of expression and implied this was a consequence of the “Boycott Law,” which went into effect last July.

The Boycott Prohibition Law makes it a civil offense to openly call for a boycott of any Israeli business or institution, whether inside the 1967 borders or the occupied West Bank. It allows all those who feel they have been harmed by a boycott, whether against Israel or an Israeli institution or territory to sue the person or organization who publicly called for it, without proving any damages.

Since it passed last year and sparked outrage not only by Israeli leftists and human rights organizations but also by the American Jewish community, there have been no reports of any breach of the law or suits filed.

One cannot be arrested for calling for boycott, and the Jerusalem District Police claim they only made the arrests after a complaint was made that the students were threatening other students. Still, this story appears to reek of the spirit of the “Boycott Law,” since it is not yet clear what the students did to warrant the charge of threats and incitement. It is also not clear who filed the complaint.