Remembrance and resistance among Palestinian prisoners

Remembrance and resistance among Palestinian prisoners
Comment: Despite the statistics and grandiose statements prepared for Palestinian Prisoners' Day, the reality for Palestinian political prisoners remains bleak and oppressive, writes Ramona Wadi.
5 min read
19 Apr, 2016
The prisoner swap in 2011 remains a notable event in Palestinian history [Anadolu]

The focus upon Palestinian prisoners last week was replete with statistical data, information regarding specific cases, as well as statements from Palestinian political factions declaring their support towards resistance and liberation, not only of land - but also those incarcerated in Israeli jails.


The resonance reached its culmination on April 17, which marked Palestinian Prisoners' Day. Several protests were held in cities across the world, highlighting the injustice of criminalising resistance, as well as the ongoing administrative detention and torture practices inflicted upon Palestinians in Israeli jails.


Several statements by Palestinian NGOs highlighted the humanitarian plight resulting from incarceration in Israeli jails, with statistics not only portraying the inhumane conditions and isolation, but also the ramifications of such lengthy imprisonment upon all Palestinian families. Given the array of alleged "offences" enshrined within Israeli law in order to stifle Palestinian expression, every family in Palestine has experienced the trauma of detention.


However, the discrepancy lies within the inability to reconcile the humanitarian with the political and vice versa - a shortcoming that is increasingly evident across the entire spectrum.

To eliminate the fact that most Palestinian prisoners have been imprisoned due to their involvement in resistance, whether through support or active participation, is a disservice to the prisoners and the entire population.


Reports will continue to regurgitate the details of torture and ill-treatment for the benefit of awareness or useful reference when the need arises, yet rarely is the political experience interwoven into the narrative. The obliteration of colonial violence has resulted in several discordances, including the failure of Palestinian resistance factions to produce a consistent and coherent political framework.

Since 1967, approximately 800,000 Palestinians... have been imprisoned in Israeli jails


Beyond statistics


The Palestinian Human Rights Organisation Council (PHROC) has estimated that since 1967, approximately 800,000 Palestinians, which constitutes 20 percent of the Palestinian population, have been imprisoned in Israeli jails.

This year, more than 7,000 Palestinians - including women and children - are imprisoned by Israel. This number includes 700 Palestinians held under administrative detention - reflecting Israel's penchant for mass arrests as well as security coordination with the Palestinian Authority - escalating at intervals from routine collective punishment to excessive revenge, and intended to curb Palestinian resistance in all forms.


In another newsbrief, the Palestinian Information Centre shed light upon the killing of Palestinian prisoners detained by Israel. According to the senior official of the Commission of Detainees' Affairs, Abdul Naser Farwana, out of 207 Palestinian prisoners who had died in Israeli custody since 1967, seven had been shot dead in prison, while 126 died as a result of medical neglect.


Israeli collective punishment and intentional medical negligence was expounded upon by Palestine's Health Work Committees, which stated that "the Palestinian law agencies have documented the detention of 5,000 Palestinians including 200 children and 60 injured people" since the commencement of what has become known as the "Jerusalem Intifada" in November.


The organisation also added that, in the case of life-threatening diseases such as cancer, appropriate treatment is often withheld and prisoners are instead merely given painkillers. Prisoners with disabilities are also stripped of their mobility by Israel through the prohibition of devices that would assist their movement.


In their recommendations, the Health Work Committees suggested that the international court should be presented with a case file detailing all forms of abuse against Palestinian prisoners.


Resistance and liberation


Last Friday, senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh insisted that Hamas was capable of freeing all Palestinian prisoners:

"The liberation of the Palestinian prisoners is a pledge by all parties of the Palestinian resistance, and any concession in this regard touches our national principles."

Following the 2011 prisoner swap, Haniyeh also asserted that the issue of Palestinian prisoners remained a priority on the Hamas agenda.

Meanwhile, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) stressed the importance of national unity "to support the intifada on the road to defeating the occupation and liberating the land and people of Palestine".

But both Hamas and the PFLP exhibit a series of contradictions in their statements.

It is evident that the 2011 prisoners swap will remain a notable event in Hamas history, and one that depicted a strong bargaining power.

However, Haniyeh's most recent statement is nostalgic, rather than determined. It fails to take into consideration the political changes as a result of Israel's aggressive endeavours in Gaza, which have reduced the enclave to a prison of the perpetually displaced.

Palestinian resistance factions should resort to the historical narrative

In addition, Hamas has sought to reinvent itself diplomatically, making various concessions that have led to its marginalisation. Its inclusion in the formation of the unity government in 2014 was based upon concessions, rather than the concept of unity derived from resistance.

Similarly, its defence of Gaza during Operation Protective Edge was later overshadowed by the ceasefire negotiations brokered by Egypt, which subsequently led to the isolation of Hamas - even with regard to the reconstruction of Gaza.

The PFLP's stance is, meanwhile, tied to both unity and resistance, including the current context of the Jerusalem Intifada. While calling for international efforts shows an awareness of highlighting Israel's colonial violence as one that entails global responsibility and accountability, the reference to the Jerusalem Intifada is premature, given the lack of coordination as well as support that has remained tethered to rhetoric.

Palestinian resistance factions should resort to the historical narrative that has proved the important role of Palestinian prisoners in anti-colonial resistance.

Rather than amalgamate significance to the Jerusalem Intifada, Palestinian factions should tackle the issue of prisoners as an aging, internationally accepted phenomenon intrinsically tied to Israel's colonial existence.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law. Follow her on Twitter: @walzerscent

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.