The Plight and Bitter facts of Palestinian Prisoners

Prof. As’ad Abdul Rahman

As in every year, Palestinians at home and in the Diaspora marked the annual Palestinian Prisoner’s day which falls on April 17th. Activities and events called for by the Prisoners and ex-Prisoners Affairs Committee and other Palestinian grassroots organizations were held to express support to thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, with calls for an end to the Israeli occupation. It is to be remembered that in 1974, the Palestinian National Council set the 17th of April as a national day in support of the struggle of Palestinian prisoners.

By the end of March, 2018, the number of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails reached 6500 facing torture, suffering and medical negligence. They include 63 females, 21 of them who are mothers, 11 minors, 350 children and 500 held in the so-called “administrative detention”. The latter never stop protesting their arrest and deprivation of their freedom with no indictment which is prohibited by international law. Among those prisoners, 534 are sentenced to one or multiple life imprisonment, while 215 of the prisoners martyred whether by killing and physical liquidation, or through torture by special teams or as a result of the policy of medical negligence. Figures show that more than 1,800 of them are ill in Zionist prisons, including those who fight death. Moreover and since 2002, a number of the Palestine Legislative Council members as well as Palestinian Cabinet Ministers were detained in a bid to undermine the Palestinian political rule.  Six representatives were arrested including Mrs. Khalida Jarrar and Marwan Barghouti, held since 2002 and sentenced to five life terms, and Ahmad Sa’adat in jail since 2006 under a 30-year prison term.

The Israeli ‘defense’ forces, which continued to fight regular Arab armies until the year 2000, when they withdrew from Lebanon, have turned to continued “war” of escalated and systematic arrests and killings against a people unarmed, except by its will of resistance. The Israeli soldier, armed with military equipment from head to toe and always ready for attack, is no longer facing another regular soldier! The Israeli army allegedly “invincible” and “the most ethical of armies” is now fighting youth, children, women and senior citizens of a people who does not have an army!! Its last victims will not only be the now-famous minor Ahd al-Tamimi or those who rose to heaven as martyrs, nor the wounded and prisoners in the “marches of return” in the Gaza Strip and before that in the “battle of the capital-Jerusalem” following the American President’s recognition of the holy city as capital of Jerusalem, but there have been more others before and after…!

All parties to the Palestinian national movement – despite all the circumstances and the momentous hurdles – must formulate a clear strategy to deal with and follow-up the prisoners’ issue. Indeed, the Palestinians realize that no matter how much they seek support from Arab and international human rights organizations or resort to the International Criminal Court, they will not be able to reproduce and create a ‘modern occupation’ not to mention a ‘human occupation!!’ Nevertheless, it is imperative to continue in such a way as to support the issue of the prisoners, to work for their release and to demand international protection for them in accordance with the rules of international public law and international humanitarian law and to pressure the Israeli occupation authorities to abide by them and by the articles and clauses of the Geneva Conventions relevant to the rights of the Palestinian male and female prisoners in Israeli jails. It is as well important to activate accountability tools to face perpetrators of violations and crimes against prisoners, consider Israel a racist state and place it on the international “list of terrorism” and even on a list of disgraceful acts for arresting minors and violating all international laws. The world parliaments should be asked to boycott the Israeli parliament for formulating racist laws that pose a threat to justice and human values. It is also necessary to re-crystallize the media discourse on the issue of prisoners and martyrs in a way that exposes the double standards of selective justice with which the West deals with the Palestinian cause in general and the issue of martyrs and prisoners – in particular – so that they will not become mere numbers covered by press reports and satellite channels. The proof of this selective justice can be seen in the resounding reactions that accompanied the abduction of Israeli soldiers-years ago-such as Gilad Shalit, Hadar Golden, Shaul Arun and others, when the world turned upside down!

          Jewish settlement/colonial practices have converted most Palestinian Arab communities to large prisons, a situation further endangered by Israel’s racist policies towards the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and in Palestine 1948, with all the injustices and violations that have not changed with the successive Israeli governments, which boast democracy. Unfair laws have been formulated, such as a bill to sentence Palestinian prisoners to death. Yet, Israel with its apartheid system has all the elements of ‘demise’ as a colonial and racist project, especially with the global awakening that we have begun to witness for the benefit of the just and legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. It is also necessary to make unremitting efforts continuously to knock down the occupation walls!

On Prisoners’ Day, we do not lose hope, no matter how long it takes, for “the night will soon end, and the shackles will break up”. We will re-iterate the prisoners’ chant: “O, darkness of the jail, we hail you, for after the night comes the rising dawn of glory”. We are confident that in the nail biting battle, our prisoners will not be the first to cry!