Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

January 28, 2010

Ramallah rally for Palestinian prisoners

Filed under: Palestinian politics,West Bank — Katya Reed @ 2:54 pm

~ From Katya Reed in Ramallah

Yesterday as I was walking home from Ramallah’s big produce market, I watched huge crowds pour into Manara Square waving Palestinian flags and placards with pictures of Palestinian prisoners.

AFP estimated that 500 people turned out for that rally, which was held to demand that the release of Palestinian prisoners be part of any peace deal with Israel.  Rallies were held throughout the West Bank on January 27,  which is newly recognized by PM Fayyad’s cabinet as the official day for solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners.  Many held signs of Marwan Barghouti and other prominent prisoners, while others held framed photos of imprisoned members of their family.

AFP reports on their interview at the rally with one of the organizers:

“This demonstration is part of a series of events organised to further the prisoners issue in any future political negotiations,” Palestinian prisoner affairs minister Issa Qaraqaa told AFP.

“The prisoners issue must be a main issue on the agenda of any negotiations.”

There are currently some 7,500 Palestinians held in Israeli jails, including 34 women and 310 minors, according to the Palestinian Authority.”

I happened to have my camera on me so I joined the square’s island of TV camera crews and reporters.  Without speaking Arabic, I was at an obvious disadvantage to engage with the protesters.

However, just by holding a camera, I attracted dozens of people pushing their way through the crowds to get my attention.  Entire families would come to me holding the framed picture of their loved one.  I pictured all the living room display cases that must be missing their loved one’s photo at this moment.  The intensity in the eyes of the family members said quite clearly “please show my sister/brother/mother/father now languishing in prison to the world”.

I was particularly struck by one picture that had clearly been taken in a portrait studio with a fake background of the Dome of the Rock – the Palestinian and in fact, global iconic image both of Jerusalem and Palestine.  No doubt most Palestinians would have preferred to have their picture taken in front of the real thing.  However, under the current regime of restrictions on Palestinian movement and travel, a portrait studio’s rendition of this deeply symbolic mosque is the closest most Palestinians ever come to Jerusalem.

According to a recent UN report, over 700,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned by Israel since 1967.  The Guardian reports that approximately one-fifth of Palestinians have been imprisoned at some point since 1967.  According to Addameer, a Palestinian human rights organization providing legal support for prisoners, 40% of Palestinian men have at one time been imprisoned.

Many of these people’s families are unable to visit their loved ones in prison.  Amnesty International, in its 2009 human rights report on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, emphasized this aspect of the detentions:

Almost all Palestinian detainees were held in prisons in Israel in violation of international humanitarian law, which prohibits the removal of detainees to the territory of the occupying power. This made it difficult or impossible in practice for detainees to receive family visits.

In fact on Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem  are able to travel within Israel without a permit to visit their family members in Israeli jails. For all other West bankers, those permits are notoriously hard to attain.

As of last month, 278 Palestinians were being held without charge or trial under “administrative detention” orders issued by the Israeli military government.

B’tselem explains  in their fact sheet on administrative detention that while international law allows its restricted use in emergency cases, Israel’s routine recourse to this detention instrument is  a flagrant violation of international law:

Over the years, Israel has administratively detained thousands of Palestinian for prolonged periods of time, without prosecuting them, without informing them of the charges against them, and without allowing them or their attorneys to study the evidence, making a mockery of the protections specified in Israeli and international law to protect the right to liberty and due process, the right of defendants to state their case, and the presumption of innocence.

One woman at the protest who helped translate a bit of what was going on told me, “It’s just part of life for any Palestinian.”  She shrugged, and went on to say “It’s just part of life that someone you know, someone in your family, someone you love, is in an Israeli jail. ”

The rally reminded me of what Daphna Golan, a co-founder of B’tselem and senior researcher at Minerva said at Al Haq’s 30th anniversary human rights conference in Ramallah last month.  She was discussing the failures of the human rights movement in Israel, and emphasized the tendency of Israeli activists and others to get caught up in the day-to-day abuses of the occupation rather than focusing on the larger picture of the occupation itself.

“We need to start thinking about what this does to a society, when almost half of its men have been imprisoned,” Golan said.

Golan wrote an inspired piece in Haaretz calling on Israel to use a prisoner swap exchange as the beginning of a wider reconciliation process, just as had been accomplished in South Africa.

She illuminates how listening to the stories of Palestinians would not only help secure the release of the one Israeli held in Palestinian control (captured soldier Gilad Shalit), but also how the release of the stories themselves could pave the way for a just and secure future for both peoples living “together and separately, Jews and Arabs, in reconciliation”:

“Is it possible that Gilad Shalit is still in captivity and the Qassam fire is continuing not because there is no one to talk to, but because we don’t want to hear what the Palestinian leaders have to say? We must speak out loudly and openly with everyone – about the past, present and future, about a life of fair, decent neighborly relations. Without red and green lines and with no prior conditions. Only about how we will live here together and separately, Jews and Arabs, in reconciliation.”

Click here for Golan’s piece “From Darkness into Light” and here for more photos of  the pictures that hundreds of Palestinians demonstrating in Manara Square wanted you to see, of their loved ones who are inside Israeli prisons.

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4 Comments »

  1. Katya, I want to thank you for putting the Flickr slide-show up for us. I found myself focusing on the faces of the people holding up the photos of their loved nes in the demonstrations… the older mothers holding up photos of their sons, or the young kids holding up photos of older siblings or of fathers.

    Why on earth do the Israeli occupation authorities think their policy of widespread detentions will help build peace?? Actually, I can’t imagine that they think this. If anything, surely it builds longterm resentment and a sense of resistance, resilience, and opposition among the tragically affected Palestinian community.

    Comment by Helena Cobban — January 28, 2010 @ 11:34 pm | Reply

  2. Those figures don’t make sense. 700,000 people is the size of a major city – it’s half the population of Gaza. It would mean that about 44 Palestinians had been sent to jail every day since 1967. And if 40% of Palestinian men have been imprisoned, and one-fifth of Palestinians in total, then no women have ever been imprisoned – and we know that isn’t the case. And since 700,000 is about 40% of the male Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza, it must mean that no Palestinian has ever been imprisoned more than once – and we know that this isn’t the case either.

    I suspect what has happened is that someone has taken a figure for total arrests (which might be 44 a day, I suppose) and multiplied it by the number of days since 1967, and come up with around 700,000 arrests. Someone else understood this to mean imprisonment, which is where that figure came from. And then a third person noted that 700,000 is around 40% of the male Palestinian population of the West Bank plus Gaza, and said that 40% of Palestinian men had been imprisoned – when of course many of those 700,000 arrests would be people who have been arrested multiple times.

    I’d be interested in hearing other opinions on this – does anyone think the figure of 700,000 imprisonments is accurate, and if so how do they reconcile it with the other figures?

    Comment by Joe in Australia — January 29, 2010 @ 2:53 am | Reply

  3. An interesting commentary for the times.

    Anti-Israelism: Why Zionism Doesn’t and Can’t Get It
    by Alan Hart / January 28th, 2010

    There is no doubt it. More and more people all over the world, and probably many of their governments behind closed doors, are beginning to see the Zionist state of Israel for what it really is – not only the obstacle to peace but a monster1 apparently beyond control; and they, more and more so-called ordinary folk everywhere, are beginning to turn against it.

    That explains why Prime Minister Netanyahu is leading Zionism’s hysterical call for the world to stop demonizing Israel.

    At the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on 25 January, he said: “There is evil in the world, and it doesn’t stop, it spreads. There is a new call to destroy the Jewish state. It’s our problem but not only our problem. This (the re-emergence and growth of anti-Semitism according to Netanyahu) is a crime against the Jews, and a crime against humanity, and it is a test of humanity.”

    That was quite something from the man who has done more than most to assist Zionism in its transformation of the obscenity of the Nazi holocaust from a lesson against racism and fascism and all the evils associated with them into an ideology that seeks to justify anything and everything Israel does. War crimes and all.

    Zionism can’t see, is too blinded by its own insufferable self-righteousness to see, that the behaviour of its monster child is the prime cause of the re-awakening of the sleeping giant of anti-Semitism – except that in most cases it’s not anti-Semitism. It’s anti-Israelism. (The danger is that it could easily become anti-Semitism in its Western sense – loathing and even hatred of Jews just because they are Jews – if the Western world is not assisted to understand the difference between Judaism and Zionism. The difference explains why it is perfectly possible to be passionately anti-Zionist without being in any way, shape or form anti-Jew and, also, why it is wrong to blame all Jews everywhere for the crimes of the relative few in Israel, and not all Israelis).

    It is a fact that prior to the Nazi holocaust, almost all the Jews of the world were opposed to Zionism’s colonial enterprise. One of several reasons for the opposition of the most informed and thoughtful of them was the fear that if Zionism was allowed by the big powers to have its way, it would one day provoke classical anti-Semitism.

    As I note in my book, Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, this fear was given a fresh airing in 1986 by Yehoshafat Harkabi, Israel’s longest serving Director of Military Intelligence. In his remarkable book, Israel’s Fateful Hour, he gave this warning (my emphasis added):

    Israel is the criterion according to which all Jews will tend to be judged. Israel as a Jewish state is an example of the Jewish character, which finds free and concentrated expression within it. Anti-Semitism has deep and historical roots. Nevertheless, any flaw in Israeli conduct, which initially is cited as anti-Israelism, is likely to be transformed into empirical proof of the validity of anti-Semitism. It would be a tragic irony if the Jewish state, which was intended to solve the problem of anti-Semitism, was to become a factor in the rise of anti-Semitism. Israelis must be aware that the price of their misconduct is paid not only by them but also Jews throughout the world.

    Three particular events guaranteed that Israel’s “misconduct” became not only “a factor” but the prime factor in the re-emergence and the rise of what Zionism asserts is anti-Semitism but is actually anti-Israelism. They were:

    1. Israel’s invasion of Lebanon all the way to Beirut in 1982, the initial purpose of this offensive being to destroy the PLO, its leadership and infrastructure.
    2. Israel’s war on Lebanon 2006, the main purposes of this offensive being to cause enough destruction and death to force Lebanon’s political institutions and military to confront and defeat Hizbollah (which would not have come into existence if Israel had not invaded Lebanon and occupied the south of it in 1982); and to teach the Arabs, all Arabs, a lesson.
    3. Israel’s most recent war on the Gaza Strip, the main purposes of it being to collectively punish all Palestinians there (for supporting Hamas) and destroying Hamas militarily and politically, in the belief that when it had done so, Israel would have more freedom to bully and bribe Abbas’s quisling Palestinian National Authority into accepting crumbs from Zionism’s table.

    By any objective consideration those three offensives were demonstrations of Israeli state terrorism. (I have just finished updating the story for Volume Three of the American edition of my book and it has chapter titled “State Terrorism Becomes Israel’s Norm”).

    Because the Western world had been conditioned to see the 1967 conflict as a war of Israeli self-defense – i.e., not what it actually was, a war of Israeli aggression, Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon was the first real opportunity for the watching Western world to see what until then only the Arabs in general, and the Palestinians in particular, had seen in close-up – the ugly face of Zionism. A face so ugly that 400,000 Israelis assembled to express their outrage of what had been done in their name.

    On the subject of the self-righteousness that is the cause of Zionism’s congenital blindness, Harkabi wrote this (again my emphasis added):

    Self-criticism is imperative in order to counterbalance the tendencies to self-righteousness and self-pity that stem from basic Jewish attitudes, from the historical experience of persecution, and from the ethos fostered by Menachem Begin. No factor endangers Israel’s future more than self-righteousness, which blinds us to reality, prevents a complex understanding of the situation and legitimizes extreme behaviour.

    There may be readers of this article who object a little or a lot to my description of the Zionist state as a monster. It’s not an original Alan Hart idea. In 1984, and as quoted by Harkabi, Israeli journalist Teddy Preuss published a book with the title Begin, His Regime. In it he wrote (my emphasis added): “I have no doubt that Begin’s rule will lead to the destruction of the state. In any case, his rule will turn Israel into a monster.” [↩]

    Alan Hart has been engaged with events in the Middle East and globally as a researcher, author, and a correspondent for ITN and the BBC. Read other articles by Alan, or visit Alan’s website.

    This article was posted on Thursday, January 28th, 2010 at 9:00am and is filed under Israel/Palestine, Zionism. ShareThis

    Comment by omop — January 29, 2010 @ 10:49 am | Reply

  4. […] rally for Palestinian prisoners Jump to Comments This piece was originally posted at Fair Policy, Fair Discussion on January 28, […]

    Pingback by Ramallah rally for Palestinian prisoners « Katya Reed on Palestine/Israel — February 19, 2010 @ 1:20 pm | Reply


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