The prisoners’ movement: Revolutionary school and ethical compass by Khaled Barakat

Khaled Barakat is a Palestinian writer and the international coordinator of the Campaign to Free Ahmad Sa’adat. This article is translated from Arabic, and it was originally published at Al-Mayadeen:

The experiences of revolutionary strugglers behind bars constitute one of the most important sources of moral strength from which peoples’ movements and liberation forces derive a renewable source of indestructible revolutionary energy, both inside and outside the prison walls. They constitute a revolutionary school of both politics and ethics, from which spring creativity and inspiration. The stories and experiences of these strugglers affect the entire society, as their words and messages escape prison in those secret messages smuggled into open space, reaching the squares, streets, schools, alleys and cafes, from the cells that were intended to serve as narrow boxes of silence and isolation.

In the olden times, it was said: Ideas have wings, they cannot be locked in iron cages and they do not need a passport!

There are exceptional examples, in which prisoners become daily workers who carry on their shoulders the national cause, and also carry the burden of their roles as icons, symbols and “generals of patience.” Those who are imprisoned for lengthy periods of years and decades, become in the eyes of the people models of a moral compass that points to the value of freedom and the virtues of steadfastness, sacrifice and altruism.

The names and experiences are numerous; they are not limited to Nelson Mandela, Mumia Abu Jamal, Larbi Ben M’hidi, Georges Abdallah, Oscar Lopez Rivera and Ahmad Sa’adat, or the imprisoned struggler Karim Younis, who today enters his 37th year in the prisons of the Zionist colonizer.

“The prisoners are part of the resistance struggle,” says former prisoner Ahmad Abu Saud. “They do not spare any chance or opportunity to communicate with each struggler to provide them with the means and knowledge to continue the struggle. Today, for example, the struggler Karim Younis enters his 37th year in occupation prisons. He has not stopped one day from continuing his cultural, revolutionary and academic pursuits. There is no limit to the studies, lectures and cultural contributions produced by this leader in the education of the imprisoned strugglers over his years and decades behind bars.”

Charlotte Kates, international coordinator of the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network believes that “the imprisoned leaders in Israeli jails, like Karim Younis, Khalida Jarrar, Ahmad Sa’adat, Nael Barghouthi and many other fighters against Zionism and occupation, have an influence that extends throughout the Palestinian and Arab movement and beyond, to the international struggle against colonialism, imperialism and racism. They are revolutionaries and leaders in an international movement struggling for a global alternative, for social justice and national and social liberation.”

In the beginning, the word was “freedom”

Each prisoner has a story to tell, and each story is another stone in the construction of the castle of the experience of struggle of the prisoners’ movement. The lessons learned by these prisoners converge and interact within the framework of the national liberation movement and in confrontation of a common enemy, like streams of water that come from all sides and flow together toward the river. From the first moment inside the prison, the fighters enter a new battlefield that affects their life, that of their family and that of their village, neighborhood, factory, camp and city.

The documented writen word of the creative strugglers, the writers and intellectuals behind bars, remains a witness to the history and struggles of the Palestinian people. Their literary, cultural, political, academic and artistic contributions are highly important on the “outside,” especially for the front ranks of the active Palestinian youth. This is especially true if their works of creativity and innovative concepts are made available, taken seriously and exposed to criticism outside the prison, beyond the appeal of sympathy or formal solidarity.

From within the colonial British prisons which have become the Zionist prisons, the poem “From Akka Prison,” written in charcoal on the walls of the cell, has been engraved with its timeless words in the memory of the people. The Palestinian and Arab library today includes dozens of novels, short story collections, poems, cartoons, visual art pieces, political studies, translations and important articles that have been issued from inside the prisons. There, these strugglers had the opportunity to study the colonial entity closely and learned its language, conditions and contradictions.

The novel, “The Secret of Oil,” issued last year by the prisoner Walid Daqqa, aroused the anger of the Zionist security agencies, who met his creative production with punishment and solitary confinement. This novel has been widely distributed among children and youth and is a living example of the need to move beyond the “symbolic relationship” with iconic prisoners to a deeper, closer relationship between the reader and the writer. The prisoner in this case is a creative human first and also a writer and a struggler.

Palestinian memory has cherished the martyrs of the prisoners’ movement since the martyrs of Akka prison in the 1920s and 1930s to the martyr Ibrahim al-Rai, who manifested the slogan “confession is betrayal” into a position written in blood. It is an example of the combination of the combination between consciousness and will in the dungeons of torture. The story of Al-Rai, who decided to stand firm until his last breath, is astonishingly similar to the experience of the Algerian fighter and martyr Larbi Ben M’hidi, in their resistance, sacrifices and extraordinary challenges presented to the colonial torturers and murderers. They became a revolutionary compass and a shining page in the history and conscience of their people.