Speaking on Palestinian prisoners and colonialism in Palestine, Charlotte Kates, the international coordinator of Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, joined an evening of solidarity with Palestine organized by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
The event, “What is Palestine?” brought together university students, faculty members and community supporters for an evening of discussion about the history, present and future of the Palestinian people on Tuesday, 3 October.
The event began with an introduction noting that UBC and therefore, the event itself, were situated on stolen, unceded Musqueam indigenous land due to Canadian colonialism, highlighting the relevance of settler colonialism not only to Palestine but to ongoing struggles to resist the genocide of indigenous peoples in North America.
Kates spoke about comparative settler colonialism, noting research that has been done that indicates that in a number of ways, Canadian settler colonial policies served as a later model or inspiration for Zionist colonialism in Palestine. She also discussed the role of incarceration and imprisonment as a colonial weapon, particularly in Palestine.
Noting that the event is taking place as we mark 100 years of the Balfour Declaration and thus a century of British colonialism – and resistance – in Palestine, she discussed the Palestinian prisoners’ movement and the use of techniques like administrative detention and home demolitions from British to Zionist colonialism in an attempt to stamp out Palestinian indigenous resistance.
“Every Palestinian household in occupied Palestine is impacted by imprisonment; there is always a father, mother, cousin, uncle, aunt, brother, sister, son, daughter, niece, nephew, who has spent time in the prisons of the occupation. 40 percent of Palestinian men in the occupied West Bank have been detained by the Israeli occupation. This experience of mass imprisonment means not only that it is used as a major mechanism of colonialism, but also that prisoners’ resistance and steadfastness is a strong line of struggle throughout Palestinian history,” she said, presenting a series of statistics about Palestinian prisoners.
She discussed hunger strikes and organizing within Israeli jails, the use of administrative detention, military courts and discriminatory “security” status to imprison Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, Jerusalem and occupied Palestine ’48, throughout all of historic Palestine. She also highlighted several specific cases, including those of French-Palestinian lawyer Salah Hamouri; Palestinian national leader and leftist parliamentarian Khalida Jarrar; and poet Dareen Tatour.
Kates discussed the work of Samidoun and invited people to get involved with SPHR and work together with Samidoun to free Palestinian prisoners and free Palestine, including joining campaigns to build the campus BDS movement or boycott complicit corporations like Hewlett-Packard, which provides IT support to the Israel Prison Service and occupation military. “Many people say that there is a lack of Palestinian leadership or claim to wonder where the next young Palestinian leaders are. There are 6,200 Palestinian leaders being locked up by the occupation, who inspire us all to struggle for freedom,” she concluded.
The event also included a presentation by Khalil Mansour, a Palestinian community activist in Vancouver, who spoke about the story of the Nakba and the Palestinian struggle to return for over 70 years through a personal perspective. Mansour emphasized the simple, true experience of displacement and dispossession experienced by Palestinian refugees, who today number seven million and continue to be denied their right to return home.
Mansour also urged attendees to become involved in the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. He noted that the occupation of Palestine is also an investment project that benefits imperial powers and global corporations, and that boycott campaigns can create significant pressure to make complicity with occupation no longer profitable. Taking action, he said, is the next step toward achieving justice in Palestine.
The event included group discussions and a dinner hosted by SPHR, and concluded with a performance of several Arab songs by an SPHR member as well as enthusiastic dabkeh dance by event organizers and participants.