On 17 April, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network salutes the struggle of 7,000 Palestinian prisoners inside Israeli jails: struggling for not only their own freedom, but for the freedom of the land and people of Palestine. Palestinian prisoners struggle through torture, solitary confinement, abuse, repression, denial of family visits, arbitrary imprisonment and brutal racism on a daily basis. Yet they not only persist and exemplify “samidoun” – those who are steadfast – the Palestinian prisoners are leaders of the Palestinian liberation movement, and of the global struggle for justice and liberation.
Each year, on 17 April, in Palestine and around the world, Palestinians and supporters of justice in Palestine come together to review the situation of Palestinian prisoners and demand their freedom. It is an opportunity to renew our work and our activity to free Palestinian prisoners, and to examine the last year of struggle, inside and outside the prison walls.
Imprisonment has always been a weapon of colonialism in Palestine. From the British colonizers who suppressed Palestinian revolts through mass imprisonment, home demolitions, and execution – and who first imposed the “emergency law” of administrative detention used against Palestinians today – to the Zionist colonizers who for 68 years have imposed a system of occupation, apartheid, criminalization, racism and dispossession upon the Palestinian people, the colonizers of Palestine have imprisoned strugglers, leaders, fighters, and visionaries. Imprisonment targets all sectors of the Palestinian people: workers, strugglers, teachers, journalists, doctors and health workers, farmers, fishers; from Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Occupied Palestine ’48; refugees in the camps inside Palestine and around the world – millions denied their right to return and yet pursued and imprisoned in international jails.
In the past year, as throughout this history of struggle, we have witnessed time and again the resilience, resistance and struggle of Palestinian prisoners. It is not only the case that thousands of Palestinians have been jailed since October 2015 in an attempt to stop the rising intifada in the streets and villages of Palestine; it is also the case that Palestinian prisoners are engaged in daily intifada, daily resistance, behind the prison walls. They are part of the struggle – indeed, leaders in the struggle – confronting occupation, colonialism, settlements, home demolition, land confiscation and extrajudicial executions.
From Palestinian lawyer Muhammad Allan, to Palestinian journalist Mohammed al-Qeeq, to baker and resistor Khader Adnan, to the strugglers of the “Battle of Breaking the Chains” – Nidal Abu Aker, Ghassan Zawahreh, Shadi Ma’ali, Munir Abu Sharar and Badr al-Ruzza – Palestinian prisoners have put their bodies on the line in hunger strikes, demanding not only their own freedom but an end to the system of administrative detention without charge or trial that currently holds approximately 700 Palestinians in Israeli prisons. Today, Sami Janazrah, Fouad Assi, and Adib Mafarjah are on hunger strike against administrative detention. Eyad Fawaghra is refusing food, demanding an end to the denial of family visits. Shukri Khawaja is demanding an end to solitary confinement, joined by up to 88 other Palestinian prisoners expressing their solidarity in daily hunger strikes.
Today, 17 April, thousands of Palestinian prisoners are refusing food in a one-day hunger strike in support of prisoners in Nafha subject to violent attacks by Israeli occupation prison guards and special forces on 14 April. Throughout the prisons of the south, prisoners have joined across political lines in rejection of the violent raids that are a constant of Palestinian prisoner life in Israeli jails.
Statistics: Israeli jails hold approximately 7,000 Palestinian prisoners. These include over 400 children and 70 women prisoners, held in 22 prisons and interrogation centers. There have been 4,800 arrests since October 2015, including 1,400 children and minor teens. Approximately 700 Palestinians are held in administrative detention without charge or trial.
Women Prisoners: The number of women prisoners is now 68, including 17 girls under 18. Imprisoned in Hasharon and Damon prisons, injured women prisoners are being denied access to needed medical services and are instead supported by their fellow prisoners. The longest-serving woman prisoner, Lena Jarbouni, has been imprisoned since 2001. The youngest girl prisoner, Dima al-Wawi, is 12 years old. Khalida Jarrar. Palestinian parliamentarian, leftist and prisoner advocate, serving a 15-month sentence, is also among the women prisoners at Hasharon.
Administrative Detainees: Approximately 700 Palestinians are imprisoned without charge or trial under administrative detention by Israeli military order. Administrative detention orders are issued on the basis of secret evidence hidden from both the detainee and their lawyer. These orders are indefinitely renewable and are often renewed repeatedly over years.
Sick and ill prisoners: Over 1,700 sick prisoners inside Israeli jails suffer from various diseases, worsened by ill treatment, delay and denial of medical care, and dismissal of medical issues. Dozens of Palestinian prisoners suffer from serious diseases, including cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, stomach ulcers and high blood pressure. There are 24 prisoners with cancer in Israeli prisons, and 23 Palestinians permanently confined in the Ramle Prison Clinic, infamous among Palestinian prisoners for its poor treatment. Some of them are unable to move from their hospital beds. Despite severe illness, they are consistently denied medical release or access to private physicians.
Child Prisoners: Over 400 Palestinians under 18 are imprisoned. Many are arrested in traumatic and violent night-time military raids on their homes, and Palestinian child detainees report very high levels of physical and psychological abuse and torture. Six children are held in administrative detention. Several Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 14 are imprisoned in Israeli jails. Recent reports from Defence for Children International Palestine and Human Rights Watch highlight the abuse of Palestinian children in Israeli detention, interrogation and imprisonment.
Former Prisoners, Re-Arrests and Pursuit: Former prisoners, including over 70 released in the 2011 Wafa al-Ahrar prisoner exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, are pursued for renewed arrest and imprisonment. Under Israeli Military Order 1651, released prisoners in an exchange face the reimposition of their original sentence at any time on the basis of “secret evidence.” As in administrative detention cases, Palestinian prisoners and their lawyers are denied access to this evidence, which can include allegations such as “association” or “support” for a “prohibited organization,” a category which includes all major Palestinian political parties. 47 former prisoners have seen their sentences reimposed under this order. The targeting of former prisoners does not only happen inside Palestine. The pursuit, attempt to extradite, and killing of Omar Nayef Zayed in the Palestinian Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria emphasizes the global nature of this targeting. Rasmea Odeh, Palestinian community leader in the United States, is threatened with imprisonment and deportation on the basis of her imprisonment – and torture – by Israeli forces in the 1960s and 1970s.
Torture is a constant reality of Israeli occupation arrest, detention and interrogation of Palestinians, including beatings, psychological torture, threats and insults, including threats of sexual abuse and violence and threats to family members; forced stress positions and shackling; sleep deprivation; long-term solitary confinement and isolation.
Palestinians are facing ongoing and increasing attacks. The extrajudicial execution of Palestinians under the control of Israeli occupation soldiers – including but not limited to the filmed and photographed executions of Abdelfattah Al Sharif and Hadeel al Hashlamoun – are a new attack on Palestinians that is part and parcel of the same system of terror and repression that carries out mass arrests and violent dawn raids on Palestinian homes. This comes alongside the ongoing imprisonment of the bodies of Palestinians killed by Israeli occupation soldiers. Some Palestinian corpses have been held for over 30 years. Today, the Israeli occupation forces continue to withhold 15 bodies of Palestinians. Nearly every week brings news of a new racist and repressive law being considered or enacted by the Israeli occupation: the “Law to Prevent Harm Caused by Hunger Strikers” permitting forced feeding; lengthy sentences for stone throwing; the imprisonment of 12-year-old Palestinians; threats to execute Palestinian prisoners.
The imprisonment of Palestinians is a collective attack on the Palestinian people and their struggle for liberation. These are not individual cases, but part of the comprehensive attempt of a colonial power to erase and suppress the indigenous Palestinian people and their collective struggle. We see this in the criminalization of Palestinian political parties, all declared “prohibited” by military order, and the military courts and trials that convict Palestinians at a rate of over 99% on the basis of these military orders that govern occupied Palestine. We see this in the targeting of Palestinian student organizers and leaders like Abdullah Ramadan, Asmaa Qadah and Donya Musleh, the ransacking of student blocs’ offices and the attempt to disrupt the vibrant political life of Palestinian students on campuses. We see this in the increased threats of arrests or denial of residence made against Palestinian BDS organizers and activists building the international movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. And we see this, of course, in the imprisonment of Palestinian political leaders like Ahmad Sa’adat, General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; Marwan Barghouthi, Fateh leader; Khalida Jarrar, Palestinian parliamentarian and prisoners’ advocate; Hassan Yousef, Hamas leader and Palestinian Legislative Council member; and the countless local leaders targeted for administrative detention and military trials.
We see this in the imprisonment of over 18 Palestinian journalists – 43 in the past six months – and the forced closure of Palestinian TV and radio stations, and in the targeting of Palestinian researchers and human rights defenders like Eteraf Rimawi of Bisan Center, and also in the administrative detention of teachers like circus trainer Mohammed Abu Sakha, 24, who combined Palestinian identity with circus performance as he taught numerous Palestinian children.
We also see the targeting and imprisonment of Palestinians and strugglers for Palestine in international courts and prisons. Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, Lebanese Arab communist struggler for Palestine, has been imprisoned in French jails for 32 years, despite being eligible for release for 16 years. Hillary Clinton – today a US presidential candidate – personally intervened to pressure the French state to overturn its own judiciary to keep him imprisoned. The interior minister who agreed to do so, Manuel Valls, today threatens and supports the prosecution of dozens of Palestine solidarity activists across France for calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions against the Israeli state for its ongoing crimes against Palestinians. In the United States, the Holy Land Five are serving lengthy sentences for fundraising for charity for Palestinians among the Palestinian community. Rasmea Odeh, torture survivor and community leader, is facing imprisonment and deportation because of her time in Israeli prisons. Omar Nayef Zayed was pursued in Bulgaria for extradition and renewed imprisonment over 25 years after he escaped Israeli prisons, only to be found dead inside the Palestinian Embassy in Sofia, where he had taken refuge, on 26 February.
Just as imprisonment is a collective experience, the resistance struggle for the liberation of the prisoners is also collective. As the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council noted in their statement for Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, “The issues of prisoners transcends one of individual human rights; it is also one of collective rights of an entire people – the Palestinian people, who continue to be deprived of the right to self-determination and sovereignty.”
And so the struggle to liberate Palestinian prisoners – and all political prisoners – is not simply a struggle for an individual human right, but for collective liberation from occupation, apartheid and settler colonialism. This is one reason why this struggle finds such resonance with other struggles for justice and liberation, linked in collective confrontation of oppression, imperialism, settler colonialism, Zionism and racism.
The movement to boycott G4S, the British-Danish security conglomerate that provides security systems, equipment and control rooms for Israeli prisons, checkpoints and police training centers – and youth imprisonment, migrant detention and deportation contracts in the US, UK and Australia – has grown even more in the past year. Palestinian prisoners and Palestinian civil society organizations joined with hundreds of international organizations to demand the UN stop doing business with G4S, a demand that has achieved clear victories in Jordan and elsewhere. In the United States, prison divestment movements challenging the mass incarceration of Black youth and other oppressed communities in the US have won divestment from G4S and the cancellation of its contracts at multiple universities. Indeed, the collective movements against G4S have garnered so much strength that the corporation announced that it would be selling off its Israeli subsidiary and exiting other “reputationally damaging” industries like youth incarceration in the US and UK within the next one to two years. At the same time, on a daily basis, G4S and its “security” technology continue to contribute to the insecurity and oppression of Palestinians and other oppressed people. The struggle to boycott G4S must continue until it is out of occupied Palestine and the prison business.
Palestinian prisoners called for “the inclusion of our cause, as prisoners of freedom and fighters for the freedom of our people, human dignity, and the right to a dignified life, within the program of the boycott movement as a major issue of paramount importance.” The struggle of Palestinian prisoners is an essential and powerful part of BDS and boycott struggles, and builds our solidarity and our responsibility to act in support of other oppressed peoples and communities.
As the Black4Palestine statement highlighted, “Israel’s widespread use of detention and imprisonment against Palestinians evokes the mass incarceration of Black people in the US, including the political imprisonment of our own revolutionaries. Soldiers, police, and courts justify lethal force against us and our children who pose no imminent threat. And while the US and Israel would continue to oppress us without collaborating with each other, we have witnessed police and soldiers from the two countries train side-by-side.”
The United States, European Union and Canada are complicit in the imprisonment of Palestinians, funding Israel and its military, supporting its military research and development and defending it in international bodies from prosecution or condemnation for its oppression of Palestinians. At the same time, these states are responsible for the detention and incarceration of migrants, the mass targeting, criminalization and oppression of Black communities, police repression, racist incarceration in countries throughout Europe, and the colonial repression of Indigenous people and communities. These policies represent one logic, that of imperialism.
At the same time, these forces are confronted by a growing movement of joint struggle against racist imprisonment and mass incarceration, in North America and around the world. Black communities, migrant justice movements, Indigenous movements and others have been leading powerful upsurges against the state repression, violence and incarceration targeting entire communities and oppressed peoples. Palestinian and pro-Palestinian activists and organizations are involved – and must be more deeply so – in all of these critical struggles.
These powerful grassroots movements – including the movement for justice in Palestine – are witnessing breakthroughs on a popular level, witnessing real, mass public demand for an end to the policies of mass incarceration and the state violence of imprisonment and police repression. Prison divestment and abolition movements and demands are growing, gathering allies and support.
The movement to free Palestinian political prisoners – and to free Palestine – is a movement to confront settler colonialism, Zionism and imperialism. It is connected deeply to movements to free international political prisoners imprisoned by the same forces: Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, Oscar Lopez Rivera, Ricardo Palmera, the political prisoners of the Philippines, of the Black Liberation Movement, and all prisoners jailed for their struggle for justice.
On 17 April 2016, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, it is critical to escalate the struggle; to consolidate and build on the victories achieved in the G4S campaign; to deepen our collective movements against mass incarceration, racism, police repression and state violence; to raise high the voices, ideas and visions of imprisoned Palestinians, leaders in the struggle for a free and liberated Palestine; and to do everything we can, at grassroots, popular and official levels, to support the demands of the Palestinian prisoners, to seek the freedom of the Palestinian people, and to hold accountable and prosecute the Israeli officials responsible for their oppression and torture in all international arenas, from prosecutions in the International Criminal Court to the international grassroots isolation of settler-colonial Israel through BDS campaigns.
We invite activists and organizations to build on and intensify their work on Palestinian prisoners in the coming year, as we seek to do this in our own organizing. We invite organizers to form Samidoun chapters in your own cities and areas, or to form Samidoun committees and subcommittees to work on Palestinian prisoners in your existing organizations. To join us, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.