Frank Romano, a peace activist, lawyer and professor with Ashland roots, was released Sunday after being arrested Friday by Israeli border police for standing in front of a bulldozer that sought to level a Bedouin village on the West Bank, according to his longtime supporter and spokeswoman, Susan Alleman of the Applegate.
He fasted for three days in jail. Speaking before a crowd of 500 after his release, Romano said, in a video on his Facebook page, that he was tossed in a prison with common criminals who beat him up, then was ordered brought before a judge who was angry at such treatment.
Romano said the dispute is not a Bedouin issue but “is a Palestinian issue, us in solidarity and fighting a monstrous, illegal, repressive government that is being assisted by the United States. All Palestine has to be free of this terrible occupation…
“The power I have is to tell the world it’s wrong is by a hunger strike. I am still doing it. I want the world to know it’s worth the sacrifice and all I have is my body and my heart and I can do something, even in jail.”
Romano said police lied when they accused him of being violent and organizing riots. He said Israel plans to destroy the Bedouin school and move occupants of the shanty town next to a sewage dump. He said Bedouins are viewed as nomads but are in fact are an educated people with strong family traditions who want the right to a secure settlement.
Romano used his allowed one call from jail to phone Alleman, she said. He voicemailed her, she adds. Romano, who spent many of his growing up years living in the historic Taverner house on Siskiyou Boulevard and attending Lincoln School in Ashland, now teaches university-level law at the Sorbonne in Paris and is committed to non-violence.
The Times of Israel says the arrest took place as bulldozers tried to level the village of Khan al-Ahmer. Alleman notes that AP news pics show him wearing a white shirt that is clean, meaning he was likely not injured in any tussles with police.
The story quotes his lawyer, Gaby Lasky, “In a very exceptional way, military legislation that is enforced in the West Bank has been applied to Frank Romano, who is accused of obstructing the action of Israeli police and soldiers, so that the maximum time before he comes before a judge is 96 hours.”
The story says Romano was among dozens of pro-Palestinian activists trying to block destruction of the village — and that the Israeli action “has drawn international condemnation.” Israel says the settlement of corrugated metal shacks was illegally built and that Israel plans to settle inhabitants seven miles away.
Alleman says Romano was under protection of the French consulate.
“He is a well-known peace activist who has put his life on the line for people who can’t do so. He went to college here (Ashland) and has spent many summers and holidays here and has lived with his parents, on Siskiyou Boulevard.”
Alleman said Romano's supporters were worried that Israeli police would appeal his release. Romano said in his video that police wanted to deport him home to France and that such a move would mean he couldn’t return to Israel for 10 years, so he declined.
She said, “We need support in the Mideast. What’s appalling is that you hear things in our media and from the pulpit that are semi-biased or don’t tell the whole truth. Every person has value … I have a love for Israel and the Jewish nation, but there are a lot of atrocities going on, all over the world … and people are so self-absorbed, they don’t know what’s going on.”
The Times of Israel story notes that, “Opponents of the demolition argue that it is part of an effort to enable the expansion of the nearby settlement of Kfar Adumim and to create a region of contiguous Israeli control from Jerusalem almost to the Dead Sea, a move critics say will bisect the West Bank, making a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.”
Romano, the author of “Love and Terror in the Mideast,” said in a 2015 Tidings interview, “I’ve been accused of having a death wish or a messiah complex. I had a comfortable bohemian life in Paris. But everyone has to have a vision and I figured out what mine was. Fear is a problem sometimes and I know when to be a fair-weather activist — although it’s never fair weather in the Mideast. I take risks but not unnecessary risks. I try to make it a better world in my own little corner.”
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.