2017 – The Year of Prisoners’ Freedom: Challenges and Ideas for Action by Wael Jaghoub

waeljaghoubThe following article on the situation and struggle of Palestinian prisoners today was written inside Israeli prison by Palestinian prisoner Wael Jaghoub, a leader in the prisoners’ movement affiliated to the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was originally published in Arabic by the Handala Center for Prisoners and Former Prisoners. It is presented here in English by Samidoun.

The Palestinian prisoners’ movement in 2012 conducted a battle through the open hunger strike, one of the most important moments of the struggle in recent years. This strike came in order to confront the mounting onslaught of the prison administration, the growing number of prisoners transferred to solitary confinement, the frequent and continuous transfer of the leaders of the prisoners’ movement, and the ongoing denial of family visits to the prisoners from the Gaza Strip over many years. These came in addition to intensified restrictions on family visits to prisoners from Jerusalem, the West Bank and occupied Palestine ’48, and ongoing daily harassment suffered by all prisoners.

The conditions that produced the 2012 strike and led to its development have returned today, perhaps even more strongly and addressing a wider number of the prisoners. Palestinian prisoners are currently subject to a holistic and continuous attack, that expands its scope on a constant basis. Among the issues that led to the 2012 strike were the use of solitary confinement and the denial of family visits, two issues which are once again prominent today in addition to other concerns addressed below.

It is necessary to highlight here that there are several factors that indicate the possibility that in the coming year, amid the ongoing struggle in the prison yards between the prisoners’ movement and the prison administration, will culminate in the announcement of a collective open hunger strike.

Continuous attacks, isolation, denial of visits, and the continuation of medical neglect

The most prominent issues reflecting the escalating repression by the prison administration in recent years are as follows:

1. The policy of solitary confinement – There are over 20 prisoners held in solitary confinement, and many of them have been held in solitary cells for over three years. This comes alongside the isolation of over seven prisoners this year in harsh conditions of life. The situation faced by isolated prisoners is one of the foremost concerns of the Palestinian prisoners’ movement today on a collective level. Many of these isolated prisoners are also denied family visits, forcing them into a complete isolation from the outside world.

2. Denial of family visits – Family visits for Palestinian prisoners are being targeted in order to pressure their imprisoned loved ones. The attacks on family visits have included the denial of the issuance of permits to prisoners’ families, as well as the confiscation and tearing up of already-issued permits at checkpoints as family members proceed to a visit. These incidents have escalated in recent months and come hand in hand with the decision of the International Committee of the Red Cross to reduce its visitation program for adult male prisoners from twice monthly to once monthly. In addition, the denial of family visits is used as a punitive action against protesting prisoners. All of these actions indicate that this is a comprehensive policy aimed at isolating the prisoners, cutting their communication with their family members, loved ones and their community; and convert the visits to a rare event in a context of heavy security.

3. Night raids and inspections – Palestinian prisoners are suffering frequent night raids in prison rooms and sections under the pretext of “inspection.” This comes alongside the transfer and movement of entire sections of prisoners from one prison to another (Nafha to Ramon, Eshel to Megiddo), in order to create a state of instability among the prisoners alongside the policy of the continued transfer of prisoners. This year has also seen frequent raids by repressive Matsada units, notably in Nafha and Gilboa prisons.

4. Medical neglect – Medical neglect is a deliberate policy, particularly against those held in the so-called Ramle prison clinic, isolated physically from the rest of the prisoners and suffering very harsh conditions of life. This comes in addition to ongoing neglect, refusal to conduct tests, and the denial of access to examinations or entry by specialized doctors from outside the prison system to provide treatment to sick prisoners. There is also an attempt to transfer the responsibility for prisoners’ health to Palestinian parties and to deal with this issue as one of cost-cutting and savings. There is an increasing number of prisoners suffering from chronic diseases as well as a great deal of concern about the health effects of devices installed by the prison administration as “jammers” for mobile phone signals.

5. Force-feeding law – The approval of the force-feeding law by the Israeli Supreme Court, rejecting appeals by human rights organizations, is meant as a threat to the lives and health of hunger striking prisoners, in an attempt to target this form of struggle used by the prisoners in order to obtain their rights.

6. Denial of telephone access – There is a complete refusal to allow prisoners to use the telephone, while prisoners have maintained a constant demand to install public telephones in the prisons for communication with their families, especially as permits are only issued for immediate family members and not aunts, uncles, cousins or other close family members. For years, the prison administration discussed the installation of a surveilled and monitored telephone system; however, it has become clear that even this has been rejected entirely by the state.

7. “Bosta” and prison transfer – Palestinian prisoners suffer daily torment on the “bosta” during transfer from prison to prison, and to and from courts and hospitals. The trip on the “bosta” lasts for many hours, and the prison administration has rejected all demands to improve prison transport. In fact, prisoners are subject to continuous attacks by security guards while being transferred in the bosta.

8. Living conditions – The conditions of daily life for Palestinian prisoners have worsened significantly, particularly in regard to the invasion of insects or other pests, and the prison administration refuses to provide adequate minimum sanitary conditions.

9. Financial exploitation – Palestinian prisoners suffer constant theft and financial exploitation at the “canteen” (prison store) through elevated prices for food items and other necessities. Almost all essentials required by prisoners must be purchased from the canteen, including shoes and cleaning products, as the prison administration refuses to provide even basic essentials for prisoners’ lives since 2004 and contracted the canteen service to a private corporation. This means that Palestinian prisoners are also exploited to profit this corporation as a captive market.

10. Administrative detention – Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners are held in administrative detention without charge or trial. In addition, prisoners are threatened with the imposition of administrative detention after the end of their sentence, as in the case of Comrade Bilal Kayed, who was ordered to administrative detention after 14.5 years in prison. Administrative detention has become one of the primary sites of confrontation and struggle within the prisons.

11. Child prisoners – Child prisoners are exposed to penalties and harsh conditions of life alongside their fellow adult Palestinian prisoners. They are denied proper care, education, services and necessities and were subject to torture under arrest and interrogation.

12. Ongoing sanctions – Sanctions have been imposed on the prisoners, sometimes focusing on specific sections or political parties, since the attack on Gaza in 2014, including denial of visits and lack of access to media, including the removal of access to major Arabic-language television stations.

The above points and other procedures and systematic policies of the prison administration targeting the prisoners has produced a reality that requires a response and a confrontation. However, this task is not easy and requires significant effort in order to overcome difficulties and confront the realities of the ossification suffered over the years by the prisoners’ movement. Reconsideration and reassertion of our collective values and concepts of struggle is a necessity, conducted by the prison organization in communication with the rest of the forces.

What is required outside is to be prepared to fill the squares. As the prisoners’ movement makes up a front line confronting the occupation, it is part of a national political reality that requires extra effort to raise the prisoners’ call outside.

I believe that what is needed now is for the national and Islamic forces and all sectors of our people to work on the following points:

The formation of a collective national framework

The issue of prisoners is one that unites the Palestinian movement. This must translate into action through the formation of a unitary comprehensive framework including all Palestinian political forces, including representatives of the Palestinian movements and the Higher Arab Follow-Up Committee inside occupied Palestine ’48, and including Palestinian national figures and released prisoners, to develop a proactive plan to confront this reality and to monitor the conditions in each prison. This framework must aim to provide meaningful support to the prisoners and to work by all means in order to achieve their freedom. This must come together with a real political will with a clear timetable and plan for implementation.

Accountability and prosecution of war criminals

The crimes committed by the Zionist prison administration against the prisoners are clear and visible; for example the killing of prisoners by the Matsada unit in the Negev prison, as well as some of the prisoners killed as a result of direct attacks or medical negligence. Therefore, prison administrators and managers, their assistants and officers, should be pursued for accountability and prosecution through developing files on the crimes against prisoners and the perpetrators responsible, for submission at international courts. This is an important task for Palestinians, with the participation of international supporters, especially in the legal field. These criminals, as well as intelligence officers, are free to roam about the world at present with no exposure, accountability or campaigns to reveal their crimes. In this context, this is an urgent need for immediate implementation.

Innovative form and content of events

The mass popular mobilization is the broadest support for the struggle of the prisoners, which requires the development of the forms of struggle and action. We must not fall into the trap of routine actions, and events must become central and continuous and not merely seasonal commemorations. Support for the prisoners’ struggle must be part of the daily confrontation with the occupation and coalesce with other forms of struggle, including creating hotbeds of confrontation that transcend the formal conduct of specific commemorations toward producing powerful and influential actions.

The role of prisoners’ families and former prisoners

Widespread national and international delegations of prisoners’ families and released prisoners to highlight the struggle and the cause of the prisoners can play an important role in highlighting the centrality of the prisoners’ issue, and the reality that prisoners are freedom fighters and not “terrorists.” Who better than the mother of a prisoner to highlight the issue of the prisoners? Who better than the released prisoner to express the situation and suffering of the prisoners inside? In addition, there is a need for Palestinian embassies and official institutions, including the presidency, to act in service of this goal, including appointing a representative in each embassy to focus on the issue of the prisoners in coordination with all sectors of our community in diaspora. 2017 must be the year of the freedom of the prisoners. Of course we do not trust or rely upon the efforts of embassies, the presidency or the ministry of foreign affairs, but we and our entire Palestinian people inside and outside Palestine must create serious pressure that pushes them to take action on this issue.

We urge the announcement of 2017 as the year of freedom for the prisoners, with resistance and mass action and organized political activity at an international level, including working with international institutions, broad media campaigns, and the initiation of serious efforts at all levels to create an appropriate and enthusiastic environment to support the prisoners to continue their struggle.

The role of Palestinian women prisoners

The role of Palestinian women in the struggle and in all areas of action has been key to all of the achievements of the national liberation movement and has been accompanied by a great deal of sacrifice. This includes the role of Palestinian women prisoners, who are leaders in sacrifice and steadfastness. This requires all of us to focus on the situation and experience of the women prisoners and to strengthen solidarity with their struggle. This includes organizing events and actions as part of the Palestinian and international women’s movement.

The above concepts and ideas can and must be matured and enriched, in order to achieve our goals and our freedom. In order to support the struggle of the Palestinian prisoners, it is important to raise the flag and initiate new projects and actions and confront the dangers to the prisoners. If we prepare well to create a field of action for the prisoners, they can continue towards victory; if we fail, they will pay the price.

Wael Jaghoub
29 October 2016