Ashraf al-Ajrami. Photo via Quds News

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network condemns the statements of former Palestinian Authority minister of prisoners affairs Ashraf al-Ajrami and his participation in a “joint conference” with former Israeli occupation military leaders marking the 24th anniversary of the Oslo Accords. We join with Palestinian organizations and activists in demanding accountability for al-Ajrami’s attacks on Palestinian prisoners and their families.

Al-Ajrami’s participation came as Palestinians and their friends and supporters around the world are building a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against the Israeli state and, especially, its military forces of racism, apartheid and colonial oppression. Rather than boycotting and protesting this Israeli occupation conference in occupied Jerusalem, al-Ajrami’s remarks attacked Palestinian prisoners and their families in an attempt to seek favor with the military forces of the occupier.

Among al-Ajrami’s statements were allegations that Palestinian families of prisoners receive large sums of money while their loved ones are jailed. This is far from the case, as even with social assistance or support to the families of prisoners, many Palestinian prisoners’ families live in poverty and struggle to get by at all. He attempted to claim that “Hamas” had created the law supporting prisoners’ families, when in fact it had been approved by the PLC in 1996.

Furthermore, he claimed that during his tenure as minister of prisoners, Palestinian prisoners’ families did not receive “large sums,” implying that there are in fact prisoners’ families who receive large sums of money, and invoking the canard of Hamas as the supporter of social funds for prisoners’ families, when in fact such has broad support from all Palestinian political organizations and, in fact, long predates the Palestinian Authority, when such social support was provided through the Palestine Liberation Organization, as a right for Palestinian family members of strugglers and veterans.

This attack by al-Ajrami comes at a time when Zionist organizations and the Israeli state are engaged in an international campaign of defamation against Palestinian prisoners, especially in European and North American parliaments and governments. The existence of social support for Palestinian prisoners’ families has been represented as an ‘incentive’ to engage in resistance actions, a ludicrous claim in light not only of Palestinian prisoners’ families ongoing poverty, home demolitions, arrests and collective punishment at the hands of the Israeli occupation, but particularly as it seeks to erase the existence of that very apartheid, occupation, racist colonial system that presents a daily threat to Palestinian lives and existence, sparking resistance over 70 years of occupation. The social and physical costs of imprisonment upon Palestinians are already massive and social support income does very little to address that in a land under occupation and constant military assault.

It is quite obvious that this campaign by Zionist organizations is fundamentally racist, claiming that Palestinians’ resistance over 70 years is somehow motivated by money despite the impoverishment, dispossession  and suffering that Palestinians face amid a constant threat of extrajudicial killing and assassination for involvement in the resistance. The existence of social support for the families of prisoners and martyrs at the hands of the Israeli occupation does nothing whatsoever to spark or encourage Palestinian resistance; that is entirely in the hands of the Israeli occupation. In fact, Palestinian prisoners and their families receive too little social sustenance – and, most importantly, action and political support for their freedom – and many receive no funds at all.

Nevertheless, it must be noted that al-Ajrami’s remarks to Israeli officials come in the context of a campaign not only by Zionist organizations but also the U.S. Trump administration to further impoverish Palestinian families in an attempt to crush the resistance (operating hand in hand with Israeli policies of collective punishment, including demolitions of family homes and imprisonment of prisoners’ family members) and break the will of the Palestinian people.

In his speech, al-Ajrami not only played into this mythology but helped to give it “authoritative Palestinian” cover. Palestinian organizations and activists have widely denounced his remarks, including political parties and prisoners’ organizations; even al-Ajrami himself, rather than defending his statements, claimed to have been misquoted or mistranslated despite the confirmed translation of his videotaped remarks in Hebrew.

In addition, al-Ajrami described Palestinian resistance actions as “terrorist” and aimed at undermining the catastrophically destructive Oslo Accords and the Palestinian Authority. While al-Ajrami no longer holds a position in the PA, his remarks were framed as a “defense” of the PA as against Palestinian prisoners and their families. This is particularly relevant in light of the ongoing security coordination with the Israeli occupation pursued by the Palestinian Authority at all levels of its security forces as well as the intensified arrest campaign against journalists, activists and organizers who speak out against PA policies.

It is no accident that al-Ajrami’s remarks to Israeli former officials in Jerusalem took place on the 24th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords. If anything, these remarks represent the devastating path of Oslo in its clearest form – the subjugation of Palestinian rights, including the right to return and self-determination, to the Israeli occupation, and the creation of a Palestinian authority aimed to serve the interests and protect the security of a settler-colonial project.

Furthermore, al-Ajrami denounced the naming of Palestinian streets and squares after Palestinian prisoners, martyrs and revolutionary leaders, another statement that comes directly in accordance with an Israeli campaign that included the invasion of a Palestinian square to uproot the monument remembering Khaled Nazzal, Palestinian leader assassinated by Israel (after an earlier attempt by the PA to remove the honor). This attempt was far from a one-time action. It came amid a slew of attempts to delegitimize and isolate Palestinian institutions for taking the name of Dalal al-Mughrabi, complete with demands from Israeli and European and even U.N. officials to remove the names of Palestinian freedom fighters from community institutions. It also is accompanied by related campaigns outside Palestine – for example, the recent racist attacks on Reem’s bakery in Oakland for displaying a mural of Rasmea Odeh, former Palestinian prisoner, torture survivor and community leader – through the use of the “terrorist” label.

Al-Ajrami’s remarks to this gathering of Israeli occupation retired military officials went beyond the question of the normalization of occupation and the breaking of the boycott, though this in itself is a slap in the face to the over 6,200 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. More than that, his remarks came directly in the context of forwarding two major anti-Palestinian Zionist campaigns being pursued at an international level against Palestinian prisoners, their families and the legacy and continuing reality of Palestinian struggle and resistance. In essence, al-Ajrami’s remarks were an endorsement of the criminalization of Palestinian resistance and the use of the “terror” label to attempt to silence everything from community events to academic scholarship.

This event only serves to remind us and inspire us yet again about the critical importance of the growing movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and the international isolation of the apartheid state. Furthermore, this incident must inspire us to reject these campaigns in our countries and locations everywhere around the world, including resisting repressive attempts to criminalize Palestinian resistance and silence and erase the names, images and legacies of Palestinian struggle, from Khaled Nazzal to Dalal al-Mughrabi to Rasmea Odeh. If anything, this campaign must come as an inspiration to name more squares, streets and spaces, inside and outside Palestine, for all of the strugglers for justice – for Palestine and all liberation movements – who have sacrificed their lives and freedom for the future of the people and the world.

There are over 6,200 Palestinian prisoners struggling for freedom inside Israeli prison today – these campaigns of impoverishment and attack are an attempt to silence their voices. It has been shown that even prison walls and solitary confinement cannot do so, and it is urgent that we continue and escalate our campaigns for Palestinian freedom, justice, return and liberation.