Palestinian Prisoners and the third intifada

 

Occupation, Internment & the Prisoners Intifada

 

At the time of writing (12/05/12), two Palestinian political prisoners, Bilal Diab and Thaer Hahlahleh are on their 75th day of hunger strike. Thaer has been in prison since June 2010, and has a 20 month old daughter that has never met her father. Twenty Seven year old Bilal has been Israeli custody for eight months. Neither of these men has been charged with a crime and may well have died by the time you read this. However, these two men are merely the forefront of a massive campaign of resistance by the Palestinian prisoners, over 2,000 of whom are currently on hunger strike.

There are currently over 4,600 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli Jails. Given that the current population of the Occupied Territories is approximately 4.3 million, this makes for some staggering statistics; one in five Palestinians living in the West Bank or Gaza have been imprisoned by the Israeli state at some point in their lives. Since the majority of these prisoners are male, this figure rises to 40% of the male population.

Over three hundred prisoners, including Bilal, Thaer, and many other hunger strikers, are interned under the Israeli system of Administrative Detention, where they can be imprisoned for a period of up to six months without knowing either the charges or any possible evidence against them. Once the six month time limit has been reached, the detention order can then be renewed for another six months, creating psychologically agonising situation where the prisoners and their families are given a release date to expect and prepare for, only to be denied their freedom once again. It is common for prisoners to spend years incarcerated under this system. Thaer Hahlahleh has spent six years of his life imprisoned as an Administrative Detainee.

Another common feature of the Israeli occupation is the imprisonment of Palestinian children, 218 of whom are currently held in Israeli prisons. Thirty three of these children are under the age of sixteen. The Israeli military practice a barbaric policy of routinely arresting children and holding them for months at a time as a means of terrorising communities into submission, and forcing children to implicate their family members or neighbours. The standard procedure is for the Israeli military to storm the home in the dead of night, and arrest a boy under spurious accusations. These children are often blindfolded, beaten and forced to sign confessions. There have been reports of threatened and sometimes actual sexual abuse inflicted during these interrogations. No contact with the family is permitted until the day of trial, often months after their arrest. The predicament of these children is such that they often choose to sign false confessions and accept a sentence rather than be imprisoned indefinitely.

The high profile cases of Khader Adnan and Hana El Shalabi who spent respectively spent 65 and 43 days on hunger strike, kept the issue at the forefront of the Palestinian consciousness from last December until April, and prompted other prisoners to begin strikes of their own. On April 17th, Palestinian Prisoners day, over 1,200 prisoners announced that they were joining the hunger strike. Within a week, hundreds more had joined. This has done much to much to mobilise the masses of the Palestinian people in support of prisoners and their rights, organising large scale marches across the Occupied Territories, and sparking speculation as to whether or not this could be the beginning of a third Intifada.

The Palestinians have drawn the comparison between their struggle and the 1981 H-Block hunger strikes. In an interview with the Daily Mail, former prisoner Mouayad Abdus Samad claimed that ‘We have studied the Northern Ireland hunger strikes carefully. Ten were martyred, and we are ready to follow their example.’ After her release, Hana El Shalabi issued a statement of solidarity with Irish internee Marian Price.

The Israeli response has been both cynical and cruel, when Bilal and Thaer’s appeal for release received a hearing it was adjourned without a decision or respect for the urgency of the case, before being ultimately rejected several days later. Reports have emerged of prison guards hosing down hunger strikers cells to destroy the hidden supplies of salt which they have been adding to their water in order to delay their bodies’ deterioration, shortening the length of time they can survive the strike. The Shin Bet Israeli Intelligence agency has recommended in the last week that the old practise of demolishing prisoners family homes be reinstated.

The hunger strikes have received little media attention outside of Palestine. In Israel it is considered a non-issue when compared to the Arab Spring, upcoming elections and the scaremongering surrounding Iran’s nuclear programme. Western media is by and large avoiding the issue. In Ireland, the Irish times and Irish Independent have been focusing their attention on the non-issue of Dervish’s cancellation of several tour dates in Israel and the Minister for Justice’s portrayal of pro-Palestinian activists as ‘cyber-bullies’ and ‘cultural fascists’. The Arab media has surprisingly also left the issue uncovered, symptomatic of the recent rightward shift of outlets such as Al Jazeera.

In Palestine however, the campaign continues to gather pace rapidly. With prisoners passing the seventieth day on hunger strike, the prospect of prisoners dying on strike becomes more and more likely. The prisoners themselves, incarcerated by an occupying military and legal system with little regard for their human rights, see this campaign as the only recourse of action left open to them. The release of Hana El Shalabi and Khader Adnan indicate that the Israeli state is scared of the consequences of allowing prisoners to die on hunger strike, however the international silence on this issue may well mean that no resolution or attention will be given to the hunger strikers until people have died.

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