On Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, 17 April 2021, the Samidoun Arabic website conducted an interview with Palestinian writer Khaled Barakat, below (Arabic at the link):
Question: How do you assess the current state of international solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners’ movement? What are the immediate tasks and priorities for the Palestinian diaspora and exile community regarding the cause of Palestinian prisoners in the occupation prisons?
Barakat: The international solidarity movement with the Palestinian prisoners’ struggle is not separate or isolated from the tasks and reality of the Palestinian and Arab popular mobilization with the Palestinian people in general and their legitimate national rights. However, a direct relationship with the cause of the prisoners specifically requires taking a clear position in support of the Palestinian resistance and its legitimacy. This also means that the focus should be on supporting the struggle and demands of this Palestinian revolutionary contingent, which is intensified and represented by the prisoners’ movement struggling within the occupation prisons, as it defends the cause and rights of the Palestinian people struggling for liberation and return, and, on the other hand, as a solid core of resistance and the front line of defense for the Palestinian people. The prisoners’ movement embodies the concept of freedom and is at the center of the daily and hourly confrontation against the occupation.
The level and state of the Palestinian national consensus and the level of Arab popular mobilization in supporting the prisoners’ movement necessarily affects the reality of the international solidarity movement with the struggle of the Palestinian prisoners in the prisons of the enemy. The primary responsibility is a Palestinian and Arab responsibility.
There is also a state of catastrophic failure witnessed daily by the Palestinian people at the official level of the Palestinian Authority, the role and inaction of the Authority and even complicity with the occupation, the Palestinian embassies largely ignoring the suffering and sacrifice of the prisoners, and there is also a serious failure on the part of the Palestinian factions. Moreover, the presence of a large number of Palestinian human rights institutions, for example inside occupied Palestine in particular, does not necessarily mean that they have an effective role at the international level.
Nevertheless, there is an important role being played by a number of organizations that consider the prisoners a priority and a fundamental task on their agenda, including the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network and the Collectif Palestine Vaincra and other groups in France, and leftist and solidarity forces in Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Canada, the United States, South Africa, Brazil and elsewhere. This role has escalated significantly in recent years, which has caused significant inconvenience to the occupation state such that it has launched counter-campaigns and put in place programs and laws to suppress this movement, reaching the extent of some being included on the so-called “terrorist” list, as is the case with you (Samidoun.)
I think that the direct tasks that must be focused on for the Palestinian diaspora towards the prisoners are: expanding the Palestinian and Arab popular participation in supporting the prisoners’ struggle, engaging in organized work on a consistent rather than a seasonal or symbolic basis, and pushing for revolutionary work that builds true bridges of struggle between our people outside Palestine and our Palestinian people in general inside occupied Palestine, through focused campaigns that expose the crimes of the enemy and reap positive results for the benefit of our people and their prisoners.
The task of liberating prisoners from the prisons remains the major, fundamental task, and this is a condition for building an alternative, new Palestinian revolutionary path. That means building up the Palestinian deterrent force that restrains the occupation and prevents it from violating the rights and dignity of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian prisoners with impunity
Building an organized Palestinian popular force that refers to the priorities of the Palestinian people and raises the level of international solidarity and emphasizes core issues (the right of return, the liberation of prisoners and supporting the resistance) remains a burning, urgent issue that should not be postponed or marginalized.
The role of Palestinians in exile in achieving such a revolutionary alternative and in building its leadership, especially in the refugee camps, is a central issue, just as its role in building a movement to boycott the Zionist entity and fight normalization and to link these tasks of struggle to the situation in occupied Palestine, at the heart of which is the struggle of the prisoners and detainees in the occupation prisons.
We must not be satisfied with criticizing the “self-government” Palestinian Authority that has failed our Palestinian people. We must do so while we build a revolutionary alternative that achieves the goals and aspirations of our people. This is an individual and collective mission and responsibility.
Question: We note, for example, the growing role of diaspora organizations and associations, especially in Europe and North America, towards the Palestinian prisoners’ movement and popular mobilization more generally, perhaps more than in the past. Do you agree with this?
Barakat: Yes, this is partially due to the presence of a wider space of “freedom,” by which we specifically mean freedom of movement, expression and organization in these areas. Despite state repression, this context remains outside the Oslo apparatus and the oppression of the Palestinian Authority as a proxy for the occupation and the hegemony of official Arab states that impose conditions upon and besiege our Palestinian people. Also, the occupation feels somewhat helpless in the face of this role of Palestinians in exile and diaspora, because it cannot freely exercise the oppression that it exerts against our people in occupied Palestine. This margin of freedom, despite its limitations, remains important and should not be ignored.
In addition, there are major changes that have occurred at the popular level in Palestinian and Arab communities in recent years, especially in terms of the increase in the number of Palestinians and Arabs in Europe due to displacement, war, imperialism and racism. This inevitably affects the escalation and centralization of the role of the Palestinian diaspora and will affect the growth of movements and forces supporting our peoples’ struggles on the international level.
In particular, we see the presence of a Palestinian vanguard among tens of thousands of Palestinian youth from the refugee camps of Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, Jordan and elsewhere, leading and organizing the demonstrations in these capitals and cities today, especially those called for by the Samidoun Network. These youth, as Ghassan Kanafani said, “will not learn to calm down.”
On the importance of this activity in general, it is clear that the cornerstone remains building the foundations for action and real revolutionary change in the refugee camps and among the popular classes in the countries and areas adjacent to occupied Palestine. This equation, as I see it, does not need a lot of rhetoric or explanation. The more our Palestinian people in diaspora take on their necessary role, regain their strength and bear their responsibilities toward themselves and towards Palestine and restores consideration for fedayee action, the sooner the liberation of Palestine becomes, and the closer the date of return approaches. These are the goals for which people resist the occupation and enter its prisons.