Palestinian worker Musa Abu Mahameid’s life taken by colonial imprisonment and exploitation

On Saturday, 3 September, another Palestinian prisoner’s life was taken by the Israeli occupation regime’s policy of medical neglect targeting the Palestinian people, particularly Palestinian detainees. Musa Abu Mahameid, 40, from Bethlehem, died in Assaf Harofeh hospital early this morning after his health had significantly deteriorated. Before his arrest, his family told Palestinian media that he had already suffered from neurological problems and other physical ailments.

Abu Mahameid was a Palestinian worker who was detained approximately two months ago for being in occupied Jerusalem “without a permit” granted by the occupation regime, as he is a Palestinian from Beit Tamar, east of Bethlehem. At any given time, there are hundreds to 1,000 of Palestinian workers who are detained simply for being in another part of their own homeland, occupied Palestine, without the permits of the occupier. These Palestinian workers are not included in the counts of Palestinian political prisoners most frequently used — currently, approximately 4,450 — because that number refers to those labeled as “security prisoners,” jailed for their role in defending Palestine politically, from a child throwing a stone to a student organizer holding events on campus to a fighter engaged in armed struggle.

Palestinian workers imprisoned for “entering Palestine without a permit” are not classified as security prisoners; instead, they are jailed for “violating” the occupier’s regulations preventing the free movement of indigenous Palestinians throughout their homeland. Palestinian workers who enter Jerusalem and occupied Palestine ’48 without a permit in order to work to support their families also often face threats and superexploitation by Israeli employers, due to their particularly vulnerable status.

The imprisonment of these Palestinian workers is a deeply colonial project based on the colonizer’s control of Palestinian land and the barring of indigenous Palestinians from accessing various parts of their land, much as the siege on Gaza and the construction of the apartheid wall serve this function. Simultaneously, the permit regime created by the colonial project is another path for ultra-exploitation of Palestinian workers. Workers seeking permits may be coerced into paying for permits or taking jobs for low pay or in unacceptable conditions, all because of the colonial fragmentation and segmentation imposed on Palestinian land.

Permitting for Palestinian workers is also linked to the Palestinian Authority’s “security coordination” with the Israeli occupation — namely, attacking and imprisoning Palestinians for involvement in the resistance — and trumpeted by the U.S. and other imperialist powers as a form of “economic peace.” Meanwhile, Palestinian workers excluded by the system are subject to severe exploitation, colonial violence from soldiers and settlers, and imprisonment, medical neglect and death, as in the case of Musa Abu Mahameid.

Abu Mahameid was himself a former political prisoner jailed by the occupation for five years over various arrest periods and shot by occupation forces in the foot in 2013, reflecting the continuity between Palestinian workers and the Palestinian resistance. The vast majority of Palestinian political prisoners are from the Palestinian working and popular classes, and workers have been particularly targeted by Zionist colonialism from its inception in Palestine, from the forced labor camps created during and after the Nakba to the exploitation of Palestinian labor to construct colonial settlements.

Abu Mahameid’s case is not an isolated example. Medical neglect and negligence is an ongoing tactic of the occupier against Palestinian prisoners, with detained Palestinians receiving poor treatment or no treatment, denied tests or delayed medical attention for urgent conditions. In July of this year, Saadia Farajallah Matar’s life was taken by medical neglect.

As we mourn Musa Abu Mahameid, we also call upon the labor movement of the world to take action and support Palestinian workers against the system of permitting, targeting and repression that is part and parcel of the colonization of Palestine. A growing number of labor unions have already taken positions in support of Palestinian rights and in opposition to Zionist war crimes and Israeli occupation and colonization. Palestinian workers facing a colonial permit system, imprisonment and death at the hands of the occupier must receive solidarity from workers’ movements around the world to confront this system — and to struggle for the liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.