October 18, 2011

To all released prisoners, it's a good day

To those who are coming back to their homes today and to their families, blessings, and to those who are still not allowed to come home, may you come home soon! Of the 4,347 political prisoners remaining in the jails of the apartheid state, 3000 Palestinian political prisoners are on hunger strike since September 27, demanding end to a number of repressive practices and the release of
Ahmad Sa’adat, a Palestinian national leader and the General Secretary of the PFLP, who has been imprisoned since March 2006 and, since winter 2009, has been held in solitary confinement following his call to resist the Israeli military attacks on Gaza in December 2008-January 2009 (Operation Cast Lead). (AIC)
The Hamas prisoners swap deal has been criticized for, among other issues, accepting some of Israel's conditions, including exile for many of the released, and for the poor timing that is shadowing the ongoing resistance in the prisons. The prisoners strike is getting growing support internationally and should get more, especially in the US, the world leader in incarceration and the slow and systemic torture of prisoners. Meanwhile, Ahmad Saadat's conditions deteriorated and he has been hospitalized.

Toufic Haddad argues on Jadaliyya that, despite valid criticism, the Hamas deal was a success that ought to be recognized and understood. He also makes a number of points that deserve repetition. First, about the success of Hamas in the prism of the choice of prisoners to be released:

Hamas was remarkably successfully in forcing Israel to release large numbers of prisoners with high prison sentences. In fact, 315 of the 477 prisoners released in the first major round have life sentences (310 men, five women); 144 prisoners have sentences longer than ten years; only nine prisoners have sentences less than ten years...

The impressive depth of this deal is best illustrated by adding up the total number of years erased by the deal, at least on paper...If an Israeli civil court understanding for a life sentence (twenty-five years) is nonetheless applied to the number of Palestinians sentenced to life in prison, we arrive at the figure of 23,150 years negated through this deal...In addition to those serving life sentences, however, the total number of years of those serving high but non-life prison sentences totals just over 4,585 years...If both figures are added together, a staggering 27,735 years are technically negated by the deal. All this from less than half the total number of prisoners released (roughly 45 percent). Jedaliyya

Another point that Haddad makes forcefully, and that keeps being lost on the imperial media:

...for any political strategy pursued by Palestinians and their allies to succeed, the enormous disparity in the “valuation” between Palestinian and Israeli people and prisoners of war needs to end. That one single Israeli soldier could be negotiated for more than one thousand Palestinians gives pause to question how a situation arose locally and internationally where such disparity of value became possible.

To illustrate this disparity, suffice it to say that twenty-six Palestinian prisoners in the Shalit deal were already in prison before Gilad Shalit was even born, with the longest amongst them—Nael Barghouti–having served thirty-four years in prison. In fact, ten Palestinian prisoners expected to be freed in this deal spent more time in Israeli prison than Nelson Mandela spent on Robben Island, although not one of them is known to non-Arabic-speaking publics. Not one of them—Sami Yunis, Fuad al-Razem, Uthman Musalah, Hasan Salama, Akram Mansour, Fakhri Barghouti, Ibrahim Jaber, Muhammad Abu Hud'a, Nael Barghouti, and Salim Kiyal—is the subject of a Wikipedia entry, for example. In contrast, Gilad Shalit, who has spent five years in captivity, is a household name in many western countries, holds honorary citizenship in three countries, and has Wikipedia pages translated into twenty-three languages. The disparity in perception, organization and financing between Zionist propaganda and Palestinian organizing is obvious, shocking and humbling. This is the legacy of entrenched racism, complicit media practices, sustained dehumanization campaigns, asymmetrical colonial and global power dynamics, disorganized or incompetent political projects and priorities. Whatever the cause, the disparity must be eradicated, and fast.

UPDATE: Assuming it is accurate, another piece of good news.
RAMALLAH, October 17, 2011 (WAFA) – Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails on hunger strike for three weeks Monday suspended their strike after reaching an agreement with the prison administration to end the solitary confinement punishment, according to Minister of Prisoners Issa Qaraqi. (Wafa , Hat tip to Mondoweiss)

UPDATE 2: From aljazeera, two profiles of the kind of records Israel is famous for, the oldest and the longest serving Palestinian prisoners. Both were found guilty by an illegitimagte apartheid court for having played a minor role in operations that result of the death of, in one case, a soldier, and in the second case, a settlement security officer. Welcome home!

Sami Younis
An undated photograph of Younis.

Younis, almost 80 years old, is believed to be the oldest Palestinian prisoner in Israeli jails; has spent nearly one-third of his life behind bars.

He was born in 1932 in the village of Arara, near Umm al-Fahm, and worked as a taxi driver.

He was arrested in 1983; after several months in detention, he was charged with involvement in the kidnap and murder of Avi Bromberg, an Israeli soldier who was killed in 1980.

Younis was initially given a death sentence, which was reduced on appeal to life imprisonment.

Younis says he was tortured during the months he was detained and interrogated before his trial. He also reportedly has suffered several medical ailments while in prison, including a heart attack.

In an interview earlier this year with the Ahrar Centre, a Palestinian prisoners' group, his daughter Kauthar expressed her hope that her father would be included in a future prisoner swap.

"My father has been frustrated by talk of previous deals because the prisoners from inside Israel itself have been excluded," she said. "Now he hopes that the resistance groups will include them in any future deal and not exclude them under pressure from the Israelis."

Nael Barghouti
Barghouti in an undated photo released by his family.

Fifty-four-year-old Nael Barghouti is the longest-serving Palestinian prisoner in Israel: he has spent 33 years, nearly his entire adult life, inside an Israeli prison.

Barghouti was arrested in April of 1978 and charged with taking part in a "commando operation" which killed one Israeli near the West Bank settlement of Halamish.

Both of Barghouti's parents died during his time in prison, and his sister has been banned from visiting him for the last two years, according to WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency.

"After 30 years in captivity, we are just soldiers returning to our bases," he told the Palestinian newspaper Falastin.

Barghouti's cousin, Faher, was arrested in June 1978 - two months after Nael - and has been in prison ever since.

He is also scheduled for release. Faher's son Hadi was born after his arrest, and the two have only met behind bars, according to an interview in Haaretz.

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