Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network officially launched its organizing in Athens, Greece with a large event on Monday, 24 April in support of the Palestinian prisoners’ collective hunger strike and marking Palestinian Prisoners’ Day. The event, “Palestinian Prisoners’ Struggle for Freedom and Liberation,” was held at the Athens University of Economics and Business, was attended by over 100 people, including Palestine organizers, students and activists from a number of organizations in Athens.
Mohammed Khatib, the Europe coordinator of Samidoun, opened the event with a welcome to the audience in a large hall hung with a massive “Freedom for Palestine” banner and three posters honoring imprisoned Palestinian leftist political leader Ahmad Sa’adat, the General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, the Lebanese struggler for Palestine imprisoned in France for nearly 33 years; and Basil al-Araj, the Palestinian youth leader assassinated by Israeli occupation forces on 6 March.
Charlotte Kates, the international coordinator of Samidoun, spoke about the current hunger strike among Palestinian prisoners as part of a long history of hunger strikes, struggle and resistance inside Israeli jails. She began her remarks by saluting the hunger strikers and all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, as well as a special salute to Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, who launched a three-day hunger strike on 24 April along with Basque and Arab comrades in Lannemezan prison to join the Palestinian prisoners’ struggle.
Noting that 2017 marks 100 years of the colonization of Palestine and 100 years of Palestinian resistance, she provided a short overview of the history of the Palestinian prisoners’ movement as part of the liberation struggle. Kates highlighted the use of imprisonment as a mechanism of colonial control from British colonization to Zionist colonization.
She provided current statistics, facts and information concerning the approximately 6,500 Palestinian prisoners held now in Israeli jails, including approimately 60 women and 300 children. Outlining forms of detention, Kates highlighted Israeli military courts that convict over 99 percent of those brought before them, as well as “administrative detention,” or the imprisonment of Palestinians without charge or trial on te basis of secret evidence. She provided an overview of the demands of the hunger strikers, including the end to denials of family visits, appropriate medical care, the right to education and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention.
In conclusion, Kates urged international solidarity with the prisoners’ strike, noting that events like this one and the protests scheduled for next Monday and Tuesday in Athens are part of a growing global movement in support of Palestinian freedom; the prisoners’ struggle is not simply to reform their conditions of detention or even for their own release, but an integral part of the struggle for the liberation of the land and people of Palestine.
Tarek Kishawi, a Palestinian youth organizer in Greece, examined the current situation of refugees and migrant people in Greece, including the involvement of NATO and the “Fortress Europe” policy that has led to the criminalization of people migrating and fleeing war and destruction. Kishawi noted that the situation is treated as a “refugee crisis” or a “migrant crisis,” as if there is a natural disaster, without noting the political forces, including the European Union and the United States, whose own policies have created disaster, war and destruction around the world, forcing people to migrate to seek safety.
He noted the increased level of militarization, including the involvement of NATO and the European Union in administering detention camps for people in migration on the Greek islands, undermining Greek sovereignty at the same time that refugees’ own human and civil rights are denied. Refugees, he said, are treated as a security issue or a source of intelligence and at best a humanitarian concern, without real regard for the political and social causes of their forced journeys.
In addition, Kishawi highlighted the role of the EU/Turkey deal in consolidating a security framework with a repressive state, evidencing clear disregard for the rights of refugees. In response, he urged the importance of the self-organization and mobilization of refugees, migrants and communities in exile to demand their rights and address key political questions, including their involvement in struggles for a new society in Greece and internationally.
Kishawi was followed by long-time Greek radical lawyer Yiannis Rachiotis, who provided a legal analysis of the illegitimacy of the Israeli state and the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, national liberation and resistance. He outlined the refusal of Israel to conform to the structures of statehood, including its lack of a constitution or recognized borders, operating instead as a colonial project over the Palestinian people and their land.
He emphasized that this analysis is related to the nature of the state as a settler colonial project before addressing the daily crimes committed by the Israeli occupation against the Palestinian people. In addition, he highlighted Israel’s false claims to “democracy” or being the “only democracy in the region,” when the reality is that a state based on the exclusion of Palestinians is far from a democracy and its current leadership includes an array of far-right, fascist figures.
Rachiotis slammed the role of the Greek state and especially the current Syriza government under Alexis Tsipras, in bowing to the dictates of the United States and deepening cooperation at all levels, especially militarily and economically, with Israel. He denounced attempts to build a “Greece-Cyprus-Israel-Egypt” axis for gas exploitation and “regional security,” noting that it places Greece in the position of alliance with the most reactionary forces, and always under the auspices of the United States.
The event concluded with a presentation on the Palestinian political scene today by Khaled Barakat, Palestinian leftist writer and the coordinator of the international Campaign to Free Ahmad Sa’adat. Barakat highlighted the Palestinian people’s struggle over 100 years, noting that throughout this time, Palestinians have not only faced Israel but also imperialism, especially the United States in the present day, and Arab reactionary regimes who have come together to repress the Palestinian people’s cause.
He further discussed the danger posed to the Palestinian cause by attempts to replace the so-called “two state solution” with something even worse for the Palestinian people, the revival of the “self-rule government” or Village Leagues in line with powerful capitalist interests allied with the Palestinian Authority. Barakat emphasized the importance of confronting and challenging the ongoing “peace process” and negotiations, including the upcoming meeting between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and US President Donald Trump, warning that it may accompany new efforts to impose “apartheid as a solution” on the Palestinian people while mobilizing for intensified and expanded war in the region. Barakat noted that this influential layer of the Palestinian capitalist class in alignment with the PA represents a true threat to the achievement of the national goals of return and liberation for the Palestinian people as a whole.
Barakat emphasized that the “peace process” has always been one of war and devastation for Palestinians, noting the near-tripling of settlement activity in the West Bank, the three wars on Gaza in the last decade, the Zionization of Jerusalem and attempts to eradicate its Arab identity, and the ongoing, racist attacks on Palestinians in occupied Palestine ’48. Despite the difficult and severe situation faced by the Palestinian people today, he emphasized that he remains optimistic, noting that only through struggle may the balance of power be changed.
Focusing on the international nature of the Palestinian struggle, Barakat noted that the Palestinian flag and kuffiyeh are international symbols of struggle and resistance to imperialism, Zionism and oppression. He recalled the long history of mutual support and assistance between the Palestinian movement and other national liberation movements. Barakat advanced a vision of a liberated, unified Palestine based on a framework of social justice, equality and liberation, and urged action and struggle to support the Palestinian people in achieving their victory, a victory for all oppressed peoples in the world today.
The Samidoun event was also officially supported by a resolution of the university’s student council expressing solidarity with the Palestinian political prisoners and the popularization of their struggle in Greece. The event concluded with enthusiastic discussion about the Palestinian struggle and the role of the Palestinian prisoners, including efforts to support the protests next Monday and Tuesday in Athens in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners as part of global actions for the Strike for Freedom and Dignity.