Palestinian prisoners in occupation prisons: current reality and national tasks by Ahed Abu Ghoulmeh

Samidoun is publishing the following article, received from inside the occupation prisons. This article, addressing the current situation and national tasks regarding Palestinian prisoners and their struggle for freedom, was written by Ahed Abu Ghoulmeh, a prominent Palestinian leader who has been held in occupation prisons since 2006. He was kidnapped from the Palestinian Authority’s Jericho Prison in 2006 along with Ahmed Sa’adat and several other imprisoned Palestinians. There will be a Week of Action on October 17-24, demanding freedom for Sa’adat and all Palestinian prisoners. (Click here to download Arabic PDF).

Palestinian prisoners in occupation prisons: current reality and national tasks

By Ahed Abu Ghoulmeh, imprisoned Palestinian leader (Download Arabic PDF)

ahed-smallLet us begin with the words of the great poet, Mahmoud Darwish: “Imprisonment is intensity. No one has spent a night in it, who did not train their throat in what may sound like songs. This is the method available to tame the isolation and maintain the dignity of pain.”

Thus, it is now and it will always be that Palestinian prisoners seek freedom and will sing for freedom, and work by all means to attain it. In order to achieve this goal, they work to preserve their dignity and their natural rights, despite the brutal organized Zionist campaign carried out constantly against the prisoners.  There is no road but the road of freedom.

There is no greater pain than living as a human under oppression and torture, denied the right to determine one’s own destiny.  This causes a feeling of helplessness and loss of human dignity. And when this oppression overwhelms your certainties, it seems that the world has abandoned you, even your language has abandoned you, and you are helpless and alone, facing the constant feeling of being unable to break through the thick, dense media and political fog and raise one’s voice into the world. Yet, the hope remains that the cause of the prisoner maintains its place on the Palestinian national agenda.

At times we resort to simplifying the complexities of our pain for media necessity. It may seem then that the torture is manageable, a small matter, and does not deserve attention; or you exaggerate, making it  easier for the enemy to attack your claims and prove you wrong, maintaining your isolation from the world and intensifying the siege upon you.

Wafa' Abu Ghoulmeh carrying Ahed Abu Ghoulmeh's poster in a demonstration
Wafa’ Abu Ghoulmeh carrying Ahed Abu Ghoulmeh’s poster in a demonstration

We are left with two options to choose between: Either you abandon being yourself and transform completely into the object of your imprisonment; or you become the subject and seek to re-define torture, its reasons and its objectives. It is not easy to be a researcher and the research subject at the same time, to be tortured and study torture, to be the witness at the scene and the analyst of abstract details simultaneously.

Repression and torture have become a complex catastrophe in order to meet the current discourse of human rights. It is the masked, modernized, hidden oppression. It does not have a clear visual representation. It is very hard to identify through one element or one measure. There are hundreds of small measures and thousands of details that are used as tools of daily oppression against prisoners. They are not visible except through examination of the comprehensive logics that stand behind this integrated system of oppression.

Torture and repression is different today from what we read about in the classic prisoner narratives like Julius Fukic’s Notes from the Gallows and novels of prison life like Tahar Ben Jalloun’s This Blinding Absence of Light, and what has been written historically in the literature of Palestinian prisoners.  Now, we face the torture of a different kind, much more severe than the previous in some ways. The enemy, with its  “civilization,” uses your  senses and your mind as tools of torture against you. It comes quietly and smoothly, it does not use a baton, scream, nor provoke an uproar, but all that is needed is to isolate you – and the torture lives with you inside the cell, inside your siege. Whatever you may have in terms of material things, whatever money you may have in the canteen, or material possessions theoretically available to you, can be removed from you in a moment’s time in isolation and raids.

What the enemy seeks to achieve by using this form of torture and arbitrary repression against prisoners is to reshape us again as human beings according to an “Israeli” vision, seeking to destroy our national awareness and consciousness, and in particular, the awareness of the vanguard of the resistance inside the prisons. This is done through the maintenance of control over the movement of prisoners as part of a whole package of repressive actions, including:

  • Separating or deepening the separation between prisoners inside a prison, isolating prisoners from one another, and maintaining a separation between imprisoned leaders and young activists;
  • Undermining the higher committee for prisoners and the committees of prisoners composed of representatives of the factions, and insisting on dealing only with individual prisoners as a tactic to demobilize prisoners;
  • Collective punishment against the prisoners when they take any step of struggle, even if it is symbolic. This includes preventing any collective action, such as the mourning of a death, a farewell to a prisoner, or a ceremony commemorating the anniversaries of the Palestinian factions or national days;
  • Transfer policies and frequent movements of prisoners have a serious impact on national organizing within the prisons. These movements aim to confuse the prisoners, undermine their stability and that of the organizational work inside prisons. The torment of trips called “Bosta”, which transfer prisoners between prisons and courts, is a severe form of torture;
  • Strengthening the relationship of the prison authority with the individual prisoner rather than the body of the prisoners’ movement, turning each prisoner into an individual case and refusing to address collective concerns of the prisoners’ movement.   Thus, for example, we see the results today in the individual focus of struggles, reflecting personal or individual demands and concerns and not the rights and status of prisoners as a collective;
  • Installation of glass barriers in the visiting rooms in order to separate prisoners and their families, even preventing them from touching and embracing;
  • The policy of strip searches and nighttime raids and inspections;
  • Isolating a number of prisoners in solitary confinement or collective isolation cells for many years; and
  • Controlling the quality of books, magazines and newspapers that enter the prisons, as well as restricting television stations; preventing secondary and post-secondary education, prohibiting therapies and other procedures that are too numerous to mention here.

As we can see, the body is no longer the target. The captive is not primarily physically punished, deprived or starved, but the soul, mind and consciousness are systematically targeted. This is the other means of torture that is difficult to explain in words. Associated with it are changes that have occurred in the reality and the role of the prisoners’ movement, from past to present, and the nature of the new challenges we face.

There are different tools, ideas and thoughts on how to confront this within the prisons. The unity of our vision as a prisoners’ movement is vital but, also, prisoners need to obtain the tools of knowledge and access the history of their movement and its sacrifices in order to elevate their steadfastness in confronting all of these measures.

Ahed Abu Ghoulmeh's daughter Rita
Ahed Abu Ghoulmeh’s daughter Rita

In many cases, prisoners today do not know the substantial history of the prisoners’ movement in the Palestinian national struggle, the central role it has played and how it has been looked to by liberation movements around the world. The prisoners today need access to and knowledge of their history, of which the repressive measures of the occupation are intended to deprive them.

What we see today is the inability of the Palestinian leadership to take a position at the right time. This is not meant as defamation or admonishment, but rather to affirm the weakness of our tools in confronting the process of the liquidation of national knowledge. We must examine our tools to modernize, revive and make our national knowledge and history accessible in order to confront the policy of repression. We must fight to maintain our movement’s organizational stability and not be subject to the whims of the occupier.

The reality of the prisoners’ movement, in all of its complexity, cannot be confronted only by prisoners alone. The task of exiting from this reality will also need, in addition to the steadfastness of the prisoners, a political role by all Palestinian forces , committees , bodies and organizations defending human rights, civil society, and unions, as well as the solidarity movement, on Arab and international, official and popular levels, and most importantly, an influential, active and strong mass movement in the streets, in the homeland of the Palestinian people and in the Diaspora.

We follow with great interest the political, media, popular, and official activities which have emerged in recent years around the issue of “the prisoners’ cause and their situation” and attempts to “internationalize their cause.” Therefore, it is important to distinguish between, on the one hand, the philosophy of ending “the file of the prisoners” as part of a process of political settlement and negotiations at the expense of our people, and, on the other, efforts to internationalize the prisoners’ struggle as a beacon of the Palestinian national liberation movement – and the road for the latter is through uprisings, demonstrations and popular revolution that will not end until all of our Palestinian rights are attained.

The continuation of the conflict and the struggle to regain our rights means that there will necessarily be prisons that will imprison activists and fighters. The most important reason for our existence within these prisons is the existence of our national cause, and that our liberation movement is still alive.

The struggle of the prisoners, and the struggle of the refugees of our people to achieve their rights must be in the forefront of the cause and the entire national liberation movement.

As we salute the diversity of the Palestinian, Arab, international and humanitarian efforts to highlight our suffering, we affirm the important historical fact that the Palestinian national struggle has always been an example and an inspiration for people and movements all over the world who seek freedom, and a source of impact for their struggles, which have assured the continued existence of the solidarity movement with our people.

Ahed Abu Ghoulmeh's mother marching in Abu Ali Mustafa commemoration in Palestine
Ahed Abu Ghoulmeh’s mother marching in Abu Ali Mustafa commemoration in Palestine

Accordingly, it is critical that the prisoners’ movement must be at the centre of attention of political movements and international human rights bodies. It must be on the agenda of the solidarity movement as a whole, with events and actions furthering a clear vision.

The media must address the struggle of prisoners from multiple angles. The tremendous role of the media in this regard is known to all, and goes without saying. We recommend working on the production of presentations and programs on the lives of prisoners. There are hundreds of issues, stories and rich themes that define the experience of struggle of Palestinian prisoners and their families. It is also important to connect with Palestinian, Arab and international universities which study the Palestinian history, cause and national movement on an academic level, and ensure that the history and struggles of the prisoners are reflected within these courses and programs as a crucial element of the Palestinian liberation movement.

This work, in order to be comprehensive, must also include addressing prisoners of the Palestinian cause held in prisons outside occupied Palestine, in Arab and foreign prisons. These prisoners include Carlos and Georges Ibrahim Abdallah in France, and many other activists and strugglers in prisons around the world. We also salute the Cuban prisoners held in US jails for seeking to defend their revolution, and have common cause with the prisoners of liberation movements around the world.

The issue of Palestinian prisoners must be visible on the international stage, and it should be a goal of struggle by Arab and international solidarity forces to put pressure on their countries’ governments, official institutions and popular organizations to take a stand in support of Palestinian prisoners, as prisoners of war, prisoners of conscience and prisoners of freedom.

Finally, we call for the continuation and expansion of popular participation in the Diaspora, organizing mass rallies in front of “Israeli” embassies around the world, with the participation of human rights organizations and concerned international organizations, demanding that the occupation authorities to free Palestinian prisoners. This is based on the recognition of Palestinian prisoners as prisoners of war, prisoners of conscience, and prisoners of freedom, which is critically important due to its political importance for our struggle, to regain the path of our struggle as a national liberation movement, and to reassert the true nature and image of the Palestinian people’s struggle, sacrifices and national goals.

Ahed Abu Ghoulmeh is a member of the Central Committee of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the PFLP’s representative on the higher coordinating committee of the prisoners’ movement. He was kidnapped from Jericho prison in 2006 along with Ahmed Sa’adat and his comrades in an Israeli invasion after four years of imprisonment in Palestinian Authority prisons, and is serving a life sentence plus five years in occupation prisons. There will be a Week of Action on October 17-24, demanding freedom for Sa’adat and all Palestinian prisoners.