Tag Archives: Palestinian political prisoners

Palestinian Prisoner Self Education

copied from my Palestine Chronicle article here

Books freed prisoners. (Photo: Rana Way)

On the third floor of the Nablus Municipality Library, there sits a room of over 8,000 books set apart from the rest. Many of these books are very old and tattered; many of them, in lieu of a normal face, are adorned with images taken from old National Geographic or Reader’s Digest magazines. Some are laboriously written by hand. The spines of the books show a variety of languages, from Arabic to English, French and Spanish. ‘The New English Bible’ is flanked by ‘The Great American Revolution of 1776’ on one side and ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ on the other; across the aisle, Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’ and ‘The Greek Myths’ look on silently, next to ‘Elementary Physics’ and a study of ‘The Chinese Road to Socialism’.

One day in 2008, Italian artist Beatrice Catanzaro became fascinated with this section of the Nablus Library. “I would return day after day”, she related, “to pour over every detail- how the work was sown, the notations, the drawings.” A librarian, seeing her fascination, told her a story:

“A few years ago an old man asked me for a specific book. [She picks up and shows me a thick hard covered grey book with old yellowish pages.] He started to explore the perimeter of the cover with his fingers, searching in the bookbinding gap. When [I] asked him what he was searching for, the man looked at [me] with a discouraged expression: ‘in prison I use to hide my embroidering needle in the binding of this book’.”

What fascinated Beatrice about this collection? This 8,000-book collection is no ordinary collection, but the Prisoner’s Section of the Nablus Library. Here are gathered books that lived with generations of Palestinian prisoners behind the bars of Israeli prisons. The shelves are adorned with weathered tomes of economic theory, slim volumes of poetry, well-worn novels, textbooks on mathematics and physics, classic works of philosophy and history, and much more. Personal and political annotations, scribbles and drawings adorn these pages, which captivated the hearts and minds of decades of Palestinian prisoners before finding their way, after the closure of two ex-Israeli military detention structures in 1996, to this library.

PFLP leader Abdel-Alim Da’na, who was imprisoned for a total of 17 years between 1970 and 2004, spearheaded PFLP educational programs behind bars to spread the philosophy of resistance to less experienced prisoners. He explains the foundation of prison pedagogy- “everyone, when they enter the prison, must learn to read and to study. Some people, when they enter the prison, cannot read or write, and we put an end to their illiteracy. Some of them are very famous journalists now, some are poets, some are writing in the newspapers and doing research in the universities, some are men in the Palestinian Authority, some are activists!”

Khaled al-Azraq, a refugee from Aida Refugee camp who has been a political prisoner for the last 20 years, testifies that “through the will and perseverance of the prisoners, prison was transformed into a school, a veritable university offering education in literature, languages, politics, philosophy, history and more…Prisoners passed on what they knew and had learned in an organized and systematic fashion. Simply put, learning and passing on knowledge and understanding, both about Palestine and in general, has been considered a patriotic duty necessary to ensure steadfastness and perseverance in the struggle to defend our rights against Zionism and colonialism. There is no doubt that the Palestinian political prisoners’ movement has played a leading role in developing Palestinian national education.”

Khalil Ashour was a Palestinian political prisoner from 1970 to 1982. Years later, he became Director of the Ministry of Local Government for the PA in Nablus until his retirement in 2005. He was also a central figure in Beatrice Catanzaro’s aptly-titled exhibit in the Prisoner’s Section of the Nablus Municipality Library, ‘A Needle in the Binding’.

In conjunction with the exhibit, Khalil Ashour wrote a moving personal testimony called ‘The Palestinian Detainee and the Book’. In accordance with the wishes of Ashour and Catanzaro, it is reproduced here in full ..

The Palestinian Detainee and the Book

By Khalil Ashour

The tragedy of detention is the deprivation of freedom of choice, or the limiting of this freedom to the minimum. If someone imposed their rules on you and oppressed you, you are their subject even if you are not a prisoner. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have lived this tragedy in the Israeli detention centers starting from the year 1967 until now, and the ugliest image of this tragedy was when Palestinian detainees were prohibited from reading and writing. They were allowed only to write letters of ten lines to their families, and if they were to write more than ten lines by one word or more, the prison administration used to tear up the letter. During this period Palestinian detainees used to spend their time in narrating stories they knew and films they had watched before detention.

I recall that a detainee narrated for us the story “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo, in several chapters. He used to narrate one chapter a day, until he finished the story after two weeks. We used to wait anxiously everyday until nighttime to listen to a new chapter. We all felt as if “Jean Valjean” the hero of the novel, was living among us. The last night we were so sad, as “Jean Valjean”  was leaving our detention center, knowing that we were never to meet him again. And when the moment of separation arrived, a sorrowful silence fell upon us all.

This was our situation in Asqalan prison in the years 1970-1971. However, in Biet Led, in 1972, the prison administration allowed three things: the first one was to allow the “Jerusalem Post” Newspaper into the prison, which is published in English. One of the detainees who is fluent in English used to translate articles and news relevant to our interests as detainees for freedom. The second was distributing Israeli books which explain and defend the Zionist Movement, the Jewish right to Palestine, and that the Palestinian Organizations are a group of “terrorists” who are going to fail, in order to inject detainees’ minds with the Israeli version of the situation, bring despair to their hearts and smash their morale. The third one was that every detainee’s family is allowed to buy two books every month for their detained family member, however, these books were to be approved by the prison’s administration first, in addition to the fact that they should remain in the prison if the detainee is released or transferred to another prison. This is how the first library was established in Beit Led prison.

However, cultural life in Nablus prison was rather different. The prison was managed by the Jordanian Police before 1967, there was a small library of tens books in this prison. Most of the books were novels, poetry and few school books that talk about the Jordanian History. However books that address philosophy or politics were originally prohibited in the Jordanian Reign. A remarkable improvement occurred during one of the Red Cross’s visits near the end of the year 1972, the delegation handed us a long list of the books that are allowed and approved by the prison’s administration. The list was distributed to the detainees to choose whatever they wanted, it included books about Marxism, Leninism, Communist theory, and Socialist thought. It was a golden opportunity for the Popular Front and democratic front organizations’ members, as their leaders say that they are leftist organizations that defend laborers’ rights, and lead the proletariat revolution from the inside of the Palestinian national movement and Arab nationalism. This was the first time that the communist books were seen in prisons.

Every time a delegation from the Red Cross used to visit the detainees, the number of red books increased, as well as religious books, especially those authored  by Hassan Al-Banna, Sayed Qotob and his brother Mohammed Qotob, as well as Mohammed Al-Ghazali.  Those authors were the founders and poles of the Muslim Brotherhood that was established in Egypt in 1928.

Based on these books, the thoughts that lie within their pages, and according to their viewers and readers, three intellectual trends appeared and spread among detainees. 1. A patriotic and national movement 2. A communist and socialist movement 3. A religious and Salafi movement. Fruitful and rich discussions and debates occurred between these three parties, which improved the intellectual and cultural level of the detainees. These movements also influenced residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as its ideas spread among the populace, especially amongst university students and educated people. When the communist and socialist movements disintegrated as a result of the fall of the Soviet Union after the year 1989, the leftist parties and organizations suffered from a sever tremor, and a deep shock, as they started flopping aimlessly searching for an identity, which resulted in the spread of the Religious and Salafi movement’s values, thus gaining more popularity, as it found itself more free to compete with the national movement.

In addition, books’ spread in Israeli prisons, and the variation in its genres and subjects, opened new horizons for the detainees; even those who were illiterate, mastered reading and writing. Detained students completed their education, became Tawjihi degree holders, and joined universities after they were released. Those who were interested in language learned Hebrew, English and French. Those with little knowledge read books about geography, history, economy, politics, philosophy, astronomy, religion, and literature. This is how Palestinian detainees turned prisons, through reading and writing into active and living workshops, as a room in any prison used to be calm at time allocated for reading and noisy when holding sessions and conducting debates, regardless of the number of inmates. In order to test erudition and level of knowledge, they used to conduct a weekly “question & answer” tournament, and award the winning team. As a result of this tournament, the spirit of competition spread among detainees, they started reading more, and copying books to send to other prisons that lacked them. It is known that copying books helps in memorizing more than reading. Translations also became common from Hebrew or English into Arabic. Detainees used to hold a special meeting to listen to translated articles’, which used to be read by the translator himself. They even held meetings in order to listen to translated literature.

One of the cultural activities also was that a group of detainees worked on preparing and distributing magazines, where they would hand write their articles in notebooks. Here one can see how the desire for learning, reading new books and self-education, was spread amongst detainees, as it was their priority. Books played a pioneering role in the significant change in detainees’ lives and hearts, and the clear evidence was that detainees were different when they were released; different than how they were several years ago when they were arrested. They occupied important and influential positions in society after they were released, in fact, some of them were top students at universities, and some of them went on to complete their MA and PHD degrees.

It is natural for detainees to pursue any mean in order to free themselves from imprisonment, and search for a way to escape from their harsh and bleak reality. Those who are deprived of bread dream of bread, and those who are deprived of freedom seek freedom. The Palestinian prisoner resorted to books in order to dream and free themselves through words as well as to escape to an alternative to their lived reality. If the book was a novel, the prisoner lives with its characters and moves amongst them from one place to the other, eavesdrops on their discussions, experiences their feelings, and walks around in their homes. This feeling creates another life for the prisoner, another world, and another reality.

Hence, books transferred and freed prisoners, even if it was temporary, it is the path to their salvation, as it also brings new ideas to the reader, and new beliefs, it introduces us to different lived experiences, which leads to a widening of horizon and an openness towards difference. The more books a human reads, the more minds he tackles and deals with, the more he enriches his knowledge.

A book is a spring of knowledge that quenches the intellect’s thirst for learning, blessed are those minds that are forever thirsty.

A book is a new world – we add to the world we know a space for another. The book is a transformation tool from a state to a better one, if we listened carefully to what it says and comprehended what it means. A book does not redeem humans from illiteracy, ignorance, delusion and myth only, it redeems one from corruption, bad manners, bad behavior, narrow mindedness, and bias.

Books reveal your true self, guide you to what you will become, and illuminate your world just like the sun lights your day. There are two truths in this world, the first is God which is a permanent truth, and the second; the world, is temporary. We came to this life to read the second truth in order to understand the first, and those who do not know are the ones who do not read.

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Interview with Prison Rights Journalist Raed Atrash and Activist Issa Amro

Today myself and fellow ISMer ‘Alistair George’ walked over to the Youth Against Settlements outpost on a sunny Hebron hilltop, in the middle of a windy fall afternoon. We expected to interview a recently released Palestinian prisoner, but instead we were greeted with Raed Atrash, a human rights journalist who writes extensively about the rights and plight of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. He works with Al-Arabiya broadcasting on a radio programme as well, covering mainly Hebron and Gaza occupation-related news. We interviewed him extensively about the condition of Palestinian prisoners, and our translator, nonviolent resistance organizer, Youth Against Settlements activist and ISM co-founder Issa Amro, used the opportunity to talk to us at length about his own political views. I am putting up the interview- which touches on everything from prisoners’ rights, education in prison, prison resistance, media censorship, the Gilad Shalit deal and the Third Intifada- as it occurred, mostly unedited.

Issa Amro with Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak in Hebron

——————
Raed-
Life inside prison is organised very well. Every prisoner who is arrested by the Israeli army will go to the prison and he will have to put [align] himself with a party. The responsibility of this prisoner will be on these parties. For each party, there is a leadership committe which organises the life of these prisoners.

Prison is divided into many parts, in each part there is a commitee from all the parties which  control and organise the life. Inside every part this committee decides laws which the prisoners have to follow in order to organise their life. There is a cultural committee in order to raise the awareness of the prisoners of what’s happening outside and inside to give them the experience to deal with their situation. There is also a management committee to solves clashes between prisoners if something happens.
There is a religious commitee which will conserve the right to pray for every prisoner.

[There are] rarely [clashes/rivalry between different political groups in prison].
There are a lot of problems between the prisoners and the Israeli management of the prison. They interfere and they try to make problems for the prisoners. They try to interrogate them in the night in order to annoy them and not to create stability in their lives. They also try to strip search them. They try to take the electronic machines which prisoners use – televisions or hot-plates. It’s not easy to continue the life without these things.

There is also an educational committee. There are very intelligent [and well-
educated] prisoners inside the prison who have a very high level of educational
abilities. The task of this committee is to teach the prisoners how to read and write, simple education.

Before 5 years ago the management allowed papers and pens into prison. After Shalit [was captured] they prevent books, pens and paper from entering. There were books in the past but now new books cannot enter the prison. They are allowed now to buy pencils but not new books.

[Are any prisoners studying for degrees or taking high school exams?] Absolutely none.

Issa – In the past they were letting the schoolchildren take the high school exams but not anymore – not the high schools or even any degrees as a collective punishment for all the prisoners for Shalit. After Shalit was captured they launched a new law (‘Shalit’s Law’) against the prisoners. After he was released everyone thought they might stop Shalit’s Law, to let the Palestinian prisoners study, to let the families from Gaza vistit their family members. Until now, nothing has changed – only the isolation because of the hunger strikes.

Raed- Many prisoners volunteer to teach the other prisoners but the main issue is to have a formal education – to have a degree at the end of the education and they are not allowed to do it. They call it self-education, the prisoners teach each other many subjects. It’s continuous and working well – you need education to fill your time, otherwise you will go crazy.

Criminal Palestinian prisoners are put in an Israeli civic prison..

Issa – in 2010 I was arrested but they put me with the civic prisoners! This was a form of punishment [for me]. Criminal prisoners are equal to any Israeli prisoners, they have many rights. They have as many rights as Israelis.

Raed– Around 30% of the Palestinian prisoners are political prisoners; they didn’t participate in any armed resistance. We have more than 250 adminstrative prisoners, around 5% of the prisoners, which is illegal. I [personally] know 10 journalists in jail but there are a lot more.

They teach the prisoners about the Palestinian cause in general, about the history of the Palestinian people and the tragedy and teach them many case studies in the world, Che Guevara and these kind of revolutions – the French, Indian, Colombian – to use them as a case study for revolutions across the world. There are many political meetings, debates, discussions among the prisoners to teach them and empower their discussions. For many prisoners this is a form of steadfastness for them and a form of remaining in their cause and supporting their motivations and their willingness to learn more and more. Without this kind of education and empowerment I don’t know if they can survive.

[Resistance in prison] Usually they have many steps and they have their own
nonviolent resistance history – the hunger strike and disobedience. They have
representatives in there, a structure, people who negotiate with the authorities, they try to talk to them and convince them. They start with boycotts, not listening, not going for the count, missing meals until they go to the hunger strike. After the hunger strike is the disobedience – they ignore the security completely and they don’t listen at all – which makes it very hard and its not easy to count the prisoners every three hours without their willingness.

Issa – Historically nonviolent resistance was very successful inside Israeli jails.
Many writers have written about the prison resistance – it’s nonviolent resistance. They got many achievements – they got right to education, to family visits, more TV channels, reading, writing, food – prisoners negotiate about every small detail of their lives. It’s a continous conflict and it’s about who will give up first and usually the prisoners get their rights through many hunger strikes – many people died because of their resistance. If you are strong they [the Israelis] listen to you.

Raed- Israel considers children older than 15 as adult – although from 15-18 they put them in a special jail, they don’t want them to let the political prisoners affect them politically. In many countries they have special arrangements for the children that are detained, in Israel they treat them as adults.

All the prisoners consider the jail as a school. Prisoners in Israeli jails learns political issues, languages, religion – anything you can imagine. It’s not optional for the prisoner not to study or participate in these courses – all the Palestinian parties/ factions oblige their members to join the educuation system both political and other education. There are some optional courses, which are extra, but the basic education is compulsory. This obligation fulfills the prisoner’s needs, so you don’t have anyone refusing this.

Many prisoners go into jail without any political education. When they go in they have a lot of time to study why they are doing this [resisting] and they study thetheory behind their practice. They give them all these case studies and international law, tactics to resist and they share their experience fighting the occupation.

Because of the division that happened between Fatah and Hamas, the West Bank and Gaza, the institution that created the unity charter was the prisoners. The prisoners from Fatah and Hamas inside Israeli jails had a meeting and published a unity charter and now all the Palestinian factions are implementing it outside jails.

Issa – The prisoners are creative in what they do and they have a huge influence on the outside, this is why you saw all the people were more than happy when the Shalit deal gave them hundreds of prisoners, it was 10% of the Palestinian prisoners but the happiness was much more [than this] as if all the prisoners were released. All Palestinians are united in listening to the prisoners – they see them as holy people, in spite of their political background or agenda. All of them are equal and all of them are heroes in our eyes.

Raed- [Is the Shalit deal good?] It’s a very good achievement to release [even] one prisoner. This deal released 315 prisoners on life sentences in Israeli jails and usually they don’t give them a release date – even their bodies usually stay in Israeli jails [after they die], they keep them in special freezers or they bury them in cemetaries – just to punish the families. It was a good achievement.

Issa – I have a poltical concern about the deal. I thought that if they insisted to
release Marwan Bargouti he would make a change in Palestinian political life,
especially to Fatah. Marwan Bargouti will start the third intifada for sure. He’s the only one who can unify Fatah and all the Palestinian factions, everyone agrees on his leadership. He was leading the second intifada and sentenced to six life sentences. It gives him uncountable credit from the Palestinians from all factions. All the factions consider all the prisoners as heroes. If he is already a leader and he is high up in Fatah – this will make him the future President of Palestine.

[There will be a third intifada] next year or the year after – we are very close. It will for sure be an nonviolent intifada, as the first intifada. The Palestinians learned from the second intifada and the political factions, even Hamas, are now talkign about nonviolence and the influence from the Arab Spring is so influential and we have very good experience. The second intifada was problematic for us. It was not normal – we were led to the second intifada. I was one of the people starting the second intifada because I was a leader in my university. How it became a violent intifada or an armed resistance, I don’t know. I stopped following it after it became an armed intifada. I can’t use arms. The majority of the guns were from Israel – Israel wants us to be violent and to keep us violent to justify killing our children and killing us. In the beginning of the second intifada the students were demonstrating in the streets and
one day 10 people were killed in Hebron and they were only nonviolent
demonstrators. More than 100 people injured. They were shooting at us with rubber bullets – I was injured – from zero distance [point blank range] which made it hard for the intifada to stay nonviolent – it was not proportional force. They deal with us as gunmen – they don’t have any methodology to stop the nonviolent resistance, they are only trained to shoot, and to kill, and to be violent. The hatred inside them is so high. Blind support from the UK, USA, Germany – if you know that all the strong countries support you, why follow international law. Gaddafi described his people as rabbits – they don’t [even] see us as rabbits, they see us as less than rabbits or mice. They don’t see us as human beings, so we deserve to die. A rabbi in Kiryat Arba wrote a book syaing that you are allowed to kill Palestinian children, you are allowed to kill Palestinians even if they are not attacking you. He is a religious leader and he
is trying to transmit this poison to his followers. Hate speech in Israel is illegal….I filed complaints. You can’t challenge violence, even with all the evidence – you will not achieve anything in Israeli law [if you are Palestinian] it will vanish in Israeli courts.  Everyday in 2008 I went to the police station to make complaints. I went once to the court last year and they found him [a settler] guilty – he confessed that he broke my camera. I had the video to prove that he attacked me. The prosecutor representing me didnt [even] want him to go to jail or to do voluntary work, she just wanted to send him to the behavioural officer where they tell him ‘how come you let him film you doing that, next time don’t leave evidence’ – this is the behavioural officer! To file complaints to the same authories that are violating the law – it’s useless.

Raed- [What motivates him to work with prisoners] It’s my patriotic duty, my national duty. I am supporting human rights and the prisoners cause is a human rights case, it’s not even a political thing. I have been in jail in 2009 for six months for ‘incitement’ against Israel, through my work.

Issa – If he was in a political party or in a poltical movement they would not accuse him of incitement – as a journalist or an activist these are the only charges that they can use. They use it for many other Palestinian activists and journalists.

Raed- When I was released, one of the intelligence commanders told me ‘I hope not to listen or hear you on the radio again’. I work with 10 radio [stations] now! During the investigation they showed me the timetable of my programmes and they were following my media programmes.

Issa – This shows for me that it is not about terrorism or violating Israeli law. On the contrary, putting a journalist in the Israeli jail is violating Israeli law and international law and the Geneva Conventions. He has special protection as a journalist. This is one of the main violations of the Israelis and why you don’t have many Palestinian journalists working hard against the occupation as you are a target. Even if you are not a terrorist and you don’t believe in violence, if you are a journalist, a writer, a musician, a football player – whatever – you are a target. They are targeting any active member in the Palestinian community, it’s about destroying Palestinian society and this is why we [Youth Against Settlements] are a target here because we are trying to empower the
community. They want the community to be without a leader, without a guide. All the Palestinian leaders, in spite of their ideology, are a target for the Israeli security in a different way. If you are within the law they put you in jail according to the law – I was accused of incitement and it wasn’t a mistake – it is a systematic way to kill any voice against the occupation. Take Abu Mazen’s step to go to the UN [bid at UN] it is a completely nonviolent step, he is allowed to do it according to international law, and they can oppose him politically, not to threaten to destroy Ramallah or the West Bank or to cut the money. Because the international community is silent. The Israeli security forced are the real terrorists, not us.

Raed- I was once in the studio giving my programme – I was live – and the Israeli forces came and stopped the programme and raided the radio station and detained me for an hour. This is normal for the Israeli security. There is more harassment when I am out working in the field; they detained me many times. I was detained at one of the checkpoints after I participated in the journalists forum election. They detained me for 2 hours even though they knew I am a journalist and I showed them my ID as a journalist.

Issa – You are a terrorist in spite of any identity you have. All the Palestinians are terrorists – this is how they treat us. We are all Bin Laden! This is how they try to show us to the world.

Raed- [On media coverage of prisoners/Shalit] – The international media covered the Shalit case and put him equal with 6000 Palestinian prisoners. Some media agencies ignored the 6000 and only mentioned the victim who was Shalit, and the majority of the Palestinian prisoners are political prisoners and they didn’t participate in killing Israelis, however Shalit was inside a tank [as part of an occupying force that killed people], he was captured from his tank, not from his house, or his city or his school or his university. The Palestinian media was talking about him as a normal prisoner and telling him that he should be treated according to our Islamic culture and that he should be safe and treated well, not as happened to our prisoners in Israeli jails who are suffering daily.

Issa – All of the big international media agencies are biased, all of them are pro-Israel and pro the Zionist movement and even they lie and manipulate and they hide a lot of obvious facts. We use social media [to get past the media agencies], it’s our method to teach all the people in the world what’s happening. [On being challenged] – let’s say that all international journalists are either pro-Israel or neutral. I see the neutral people as biased – when you see violations, when you see oppressed people and you are neutral, you are biased and participating with the oppressor. I meet many journalists who are pro-Palestinians but they are a tiny amount compared [to pro- Israelis]. I’m not against Israel by the way – I am aganist the occupation! This is very important – if you are against the occupation, it doesn’t mean that you are against Israel – on the contrary, if you are against the occupation you are going to protect Israel in the long-term. No solution [to the occupation] doesn’t help Israel.

[Why is this?] People are afraid of [being called] anti-semitic. I met one
of the main journalists from the Washington Post. He said either you are pro-Israel or you are silent, this is how to be successful’. What about transparency, freedom of information etc and what about funds – they will cut your salary. Usually rich people are cowards. I don’t think Obama is against out
cause, I think he is pro-our cause but I don’t think he thinks his country’s interest is with our cause. This is when we will reach our freedom, when our cause will be connected with the national interests of the UK, Sweden, USA, China, Russia – it’s about politicians, not about pricnciples, morals or anything like that. There are many good people in Israel who want to live in peace and love with the Palestinians but they are controlled and hidden [by the media].

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Israel’s Brutal Repression of Palestinian Prisoner Hunger Strike Spurs, Not Deters Resistance

copied from my Alternative Information Center article here

 

On the thirteenth day (11 October) of hunger strikes held by some 3,000 Palestinian political prisoners imprisoned behind Israeli bars, Israeli authorities have agreed to meet some demands for better treatment, an attempt at partial concession that, according to most spokespeople for Palestinian prisoners’ rights, does not go far enough.

hunger_strike

On Sunday, Ma’an News Agency reported that the Israeli prison administration “has agreed to allow the transmission of satellite television, has allowed prisoners to go on family visits without handcuffs, has permitted visits between different sections of prisons to take place…[and has met] a demand by prisoners to be given whole chicken, instead of chopped chicken”[1]. These minor allowances, however, fail to address central demands of the prisoners, chief among which is an end to solitary confinement. In fact, solitary confinement has thus far been used by the Israeli prison administration to punish prisoners who declare a hunger strike! To quote the words of Ma’an, these peripheral concessions by Israeli authorities fail to recognize that the hunger strike is ‘about isolation, not chicken’.

 

The initiative of the Palestinian political prisoners began on Sunday 25 September, when prisoners belonging to the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) issued a statement announcing their intention, beginning on the 27th, to reject all prison orders and to refuse to wear uniforms, stand up for daily counts,or accept food, in order to “declare to the steadfast, struggling brave masses of the Palestinian people and to all free people in the world…[that] we demand our rights and our dignity, as we struggle for the victory of our values and ideals.”[2]

 

Their principal demand is to free Ahmad Sa’adat, a Palestinian national leader and the General Secretary of the PFLP, who has been imprisoned since March 2006 and, since winter 2009, has been held in solitary confinement following his call to resist the Israeli military attacks on Gaza in December 2008-January 2009 (Operation Cast Lead).The additional demands of the political prisoners include the right to family visits (which are frequently denied), the right to academic study (which is mostly denied), an end to the use of solitary confinement as punishment, an end to humiliation and harassment of visitors, an end to the abuse of prisoners while they are transferred from one prison to another, an end to the excessive use of fines as punishment and profiteering, an end to the shackling to and from meetings with lawyers and family members, an end to the denial of books and newspapers, an end to all forms of collective punishment such as night searches of cells and denial of basic health treatment, and more.

 

By 2 October,all political prisoners from PFLP were participating in the open-ended hunger strike on a full time basis. Currently, political prisoners from other Palestinian factions- Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)- have joined the strike in a partial or complete manner in eight Israeli prisons, bringing the estimated total of participants to 3,000. This means that some 50% of all Palestinian political prisoners are participating in the hunger strike.

 

The strike inside the prisons has been met with an outpouring of support in Palestine and abroad. Within Palestine, solidarity tents have been pitched for over a week in the center of all main cities in the West Bank and Gaza, complementing demonstrations that have erupted over the last two weeks in Hebron, Nablus, Ramallah and other communities.

 

On the ninth day of the hunger strikes, volleys of tear gas and showers of rubber-coated steel bullets greeted Palestinian and international activists who were protesting and standing in solidarity with the prisoners outside of Ofer prison, near the Betunya checkpoint adjacent to Ramallah.

 

The over 200 protesters, many of whom were students at Birzeit University, marched and gathered in the early afternoon outside of Ofer Transmit Terminal, a temporary holding cell and transfer point for prisoners, before their voices were quickly silenced by the brute force of the Israeli army which, in response to isolated incidents of stone throwing, shot tear gas from behind the barred metal gates of the prison before charging the crowd. This marked the first confrontation between protesters and Israeli forces in the nine days since the hunger strikes began, a time in which protests have been frequent, but frequented only by Palestinians and Palestinian Authority policemen.

 

As the hunger strike grows, so is the international solidarity as groups as diverse as the Irish Republican Socialist Committee, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and others have publicly announced their support. The latter insisted in a public statement that “we stand with these political prisoners and prisoners of conscience all around the world who are imprisoned unjustly, and unjustly treated”[3], while the former echoed this rallying cry of solidarity- “Our strength is your strength as you commence your hunger strike, and your victory will also be our victory.”[4]

 

The Israeli government has been quick to punish prisoners in an attempt to deter them from striking. In addition to heightened intensity of everyday oppression and mistreatment, prisoners have been denied access to lawyers and have been warned that for every day of their hunger strike, they will be denied family visits for 1 month. In addition, over 40 prisoners have been placed in solitary confinement, or have been abruptly and abusively transferred to other prisons, for participating in the strike.

 

One woman at the protest outside of Ofer prison, where 9 prisoners have so far been placed in solitary confinement and robbed of all their personal belongings, revealed in an interview that she is the mother of a prisoner who is participating in the hunger strike, and who has now been in solitary confinement for 9 days. Her son was a student at Birzeit University when he was arrested for becoming politically active at the university. Asked if she was scared for her son, she replied, “how can I be scared? I’ve lived like this for more than 40 years. Maybe they will eventually kill my son, they may eventually kill me. We’re all gonna die someday, so why should I be scared?”

 

At a sit-in in Ramallah on Tuesday, Nariman Al Tamimi, a former political prisoner from the village of Nabi Saleh whose husband, Bassem Al Tamimi, is a current political prisoner, related that “all we want is to be able to see our sons, daughters, husbands, fathers and mothers. We want them to be treated according to international law. We want to have our rights like anyone else around the world. I am sure that most of you heard about the Israeli captured militant Gilad Shalit, but I wonder if you heard about the [thousands of] Gilad Shalits in Israeli jails? Most of them are civilians, including women and children. I call all human rights organizations and activists to take the side of justice and save our prisoners.”[5]

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