Mar 3, 2012

Palestinian Political Prisoners

It snowed in Palestine and the heavy rain washed away many things but not human sins.  I thought of the huge amount of water running by friends of mine in Al-Auja near Jericho whow ere prevented from capturibng that water while colonial illegla settlers get all eth water with all eth infrastructure they want.   I watched Israeli children play in the snow in a park built on the ruins of a destroyed Palestinian village.  I thought of the shivering political prisoners in unheated cells hundreds of whom are in administrative detention who do not know when they will be out in any park. Some sacrificed decades for internatioanlly recognized struggle to end colonialism and occupation.  Many joined the hunger strike of administrative detainee Hana Al-Shalaby.   Below are relevant links and material so that we can stand by those freedom lovers.  But first two quick items:

1-Many of you asked about the answers to the test for the course I teach on human rights that I posted earlier to the list. After sending it to over 20 people, I decided to post the questions with suggested answers (but of course much more can be said and discussed) here:

2-Muslim and non-Muslim to join Jerusalem solidarity
(the Zionist movement mobilized to defame the march by claiming it is an Islamist march.  Well, there are many Muslims and also Islamic groups like Hamas that do support the march but also leftist groups and all people who agree that Jerusalem is being slowly transformed and it multiethnic, multireligious character eroded slowly to make it a Jewish Zionist city)

Hana Al-Shalaby entered her 14th day on hunger strike to protest her unlawful kidnapping and being held in "administrative detention". Profile here

Video by Sanaa on prisoners

Israel issues third consecutive detention order against prisoner of conscience Ahmad Qatamesh

In my book on "Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment" I explained how the women movement in Palestine was very strong in the 1920s and even successfully lobbied the British government to release Palestinian political prisoners. And on May 17, 1936, prisoners in Nur Shams (3 km east of Tulkarem, made into a refugee camp after 1948) declared a strike and confronted the prison guards.  The prison warden, a Mr. Grand ordered soldiers to shoot and one prisoner was killed, several wounded as prisoner shouted in defiance “Martyrdom better than jail”. On 9 Sept 1939, freedom fighters took over Beer Al-Saba' government facilities and released political prisoners from the central jail. Political prisoners in Israeli jails organized themselves into effective committees which carried on collective strikes that were especially potent in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Peaceful demonstrators during the 1987-1991 uprising were fined 500-1000 shekels (about $200-400, almost half a year’s pay at the time) and jailed for 8-12 months (ref).  The ranks of prisoners in Israeli jails swelled to over 20,000 at one point. In September 1988, the Israeli army released the number of detainees it held at 23,600 and torture was common (ref.).  In total over 700,000 Palestinians spent time in Israeli jails. 

Israel radio reported on an open hunger strike by prisoners in the prison camps of Jenin, Ramallah and Nablus who demanded improvement in their deplorable detention conditions (ref).  90 prisoners in the Ansar 2 jail in Gaza engaged in an open hunger strike to protest the deplorable condition especially during the harsh winter season (ref.).

In 13 prisons, prisoners from all factions rejected food and water starting on 26 September 1992 (ref.).  These collective actions forged solidarity and raised political consciousness of all who participated

Al-Ansar prison in South Lebanon, where thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese political prisoners were held by Israeli occupation forces, showed incredible acts of resistance and resilience ranging from hunger strikes to refusal to obey orders to writing (ref.). On December 6, 1998 (and during President Clinton’s visit), over 2000 political prisoners engaged in a hunger strike to press for their release.

Thousands of Palestinian prisoners in the Israeli jails started a hunger strike that lasted from 15 August to 2 September 2004.   During this time, the Israeli authorities tried various methods from persuasion to threats to beatings to break the strike and 13 UN agencies operating in the occupied areas expressed their concern (ref.). 

Outside the prisons, Palestinians and internationals protested and worked diligently to spread the word about the prisoners’ demands and their plight.  It started with the prisoners families, many of whom joined the hunger strike.  Crowds assembled August 16, 2004 outside local offices of the Red Cross and marched to the Gaza headquarters of the United Nations where they delivered a letter addressed to Secretary General Kofi Annan, calling for him to apply pressure on Israel and improve conditions for the prisoners. They demonstrated again in the thousands two days later (ref.).  The Palestinian National Authority, Palestinians inside the Green Line, and the International Solidarity Movement called for hunger strikes outside the prisons (ref.).  The strike slowly gained strength. Then Israel's Public Security Minister Tzahi Hanegbi stated: "Israel will not give in to their demands. They can starve for a day, a month, even starve to death, as far as I am concerned" (ref.) but eventually gave in recognized some basic humanitarian rights the prisoners were entitled to. 

Palestinian female political prisoners in Telmud Prison were mistreated and on November 28, 2004 their spokeswomen who complained about the mistreatment was beaten and punished.  When others complained, the prisoners were all punished.  They engaged in a hunger strike (ref.). Prisoners continued to use hunger strikes to protest ill treatment and draw attention to their plight.  For example on February 16, 2006 Jamal AlSarahin died in prison.  He was a 37 year old “Administrative detainee” (never charged or brought to trial) who had been detained for 8 months prior and badly mistreated.  Prisoners declared a one day hunger strike (ref. ) and on 11 March 2006, a sit-down strike in front of the ICRC in Hebron was held to demand better treatment for prisoners

On 27 June 2006, 1,200 Palestinian political prisoners in the Negev Desert launched a hunger strike to protest the arbitrary and oppressive practices of the prison administration. In total over 700,000 Palestinians have spent time in Israeli jails and the latest statistics showed that 11,000 are still held according to the Palestinian Prisoners Society (ref.)

By 2009, Palestinians in Israeli prisons were able to achieve a number of successes by nonviolent struggle and civil disobedience including wearing regular cloths (no orange uniforms), access to news, reasonable visitation rights, better access to health care.  But the Prison Administration continues to chip away at those rights (ref.).

The sacrifices of prisoners were highly appreciated: “Prison became a rite of initiation, so much so that if one had not been imprisoned, his or her loyalty might be questioned, and prison records earned by the young replaced the stature once enjoyed by the elders.” (ref.).  But more importantly prison built common bonds and strengthened social cohesion and resistance under occupation.  One ex-prisoner stated: "Like any human community, there are contradictions, but there is a common thread in the experience in prison that gives us strength, a common goal, a common purpose. We are joined together in struggle, so our shared experiences only make us stronger" (ref.).

Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD


  1. Your writing errors contribute to the power of your narrative.
    I have a suggestion to make about the power of the Israel lobby. It's reported that the lobby gave 96 million dollars to Congress from 1990 to now. That's not enough. So it must be Jewish people across society, in public broadcasting, at the NY Times, in publishing houses, acting on their own like insurgents, but this time acting on the side of the tyrant, who make Israel what it is: a racist colony of Europeans. That means they've turned their Europe (including the US) into a pogrom machine for them to use to kill Palestinians and those "linked to" Palestinians. So the rule of the French Revolution's "reign of terror" is that, when they hesitate, they shall become the new victims of the pogrom.
    Is it too late for them to change course? I note Assaf Oron at TheOnlyDemocracy? as the only Jew I've run across who is indignant about Israel. That proves it's possible, which means the rest are hoping for the best (sarcasm).

  2. I would add to that that the rational and ethical thing, given the Israel lobby's power, is to sit back and wait for it and Israel to destroy themselves. This means getting rid of pet beliefs of some activists: that the public is stupid and the system will fix itself (I count myself in that latter category at least, if it doesn't automatically imply the former belief--I think it does). If you can add to that some New Testament retribution-by-kindness (doing kindness to those who hurt you is like putting hot coals on their heads), such as by warning Israel that it had better be really committed to destroying itself because the denouement is coming closer by the hour these days, that would be even nobler and more ethical.

  3. الله يحبكم
    That's my suggestion for a chant at future demonstrations you attend. "God loves you" in Arabic. I picture it feeling like hot coals on the heads of the Israeli soldier-settlers. That's a New Testament quote: do good to those who oppress you, etc.
    Modern Israel is based on the idea that God is stupid and incompetent.